How to train your mental resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a medical and economic challenge, but a psychological one too. It’s easy to worry about you or a loved one getting ill, plus there’s the added stress of loneliness due to contact restrictions and home office.

It’s crucial we’re able to deal with these mixed emotions, especially during lockdown. Mental resilience is all about dealing with crises, stress, emotional burdens and trauma.

In the world of psychology, resilience (from the Latin word resilire –  to jump or bounce back) is described as the ability to stay mentally well under high stress and great strain. Training resilience is like building an “immune system for the soul.”

So resilience practice is important for everybody, especially in our current situation. But what exactly is it, and how can it be strengthened?

Susanne Körtge is head of speech and physiotherapy at Helios Klinikums Berlin-Buch, and is also a health coach (communication courses, company health management) and a resilience trainer. We asked her for some tips and facts regarding resilience, so we can get through this stressful period stronger than ever.

What makes a person resilient?

It depends on the person. Some people fall into a deep hole of despair when faced with stressful situations, while others seem to have a kind of psychological shield. Stress seems to roll off them like water on a duck’s back.

Susanne says resilience depends on how your body resists crisis situations, and what physical and psychological resources you possess to help overcome stress.

She says mastering challenging situations is about building awareness of these resources and strengths. So what are examples of these strength sources?

Negative thoughts, fears and worries should be either eliminated or, better still, transformed into strength generators. This sounds easier said than done, but it’s something you can learn with practice.

Susanne says: “Every time you face a crisis, you leave your comfort zone. With every step out of your comfort zone, you expand your own limits. This makes it increasingly easier for us to cope with difficult situations. That means that with every crisis, resilience automatically grows.”

How can you train your resilience?

Love it, leave it or change it – this is the mantra to strengthen your mental immune system.

Love it

Often we look for problems where there are none at all. We forget to be grateful and focus on the negatives instead of the positives. Therefore, the first step is to check whether the situation is really as bad as it seems and redirect your focus.

Could you succeed in gaining something positive from the situation you find yourself in – could you even learn to love it? Reflection often results in a big, positive step forward.

Leave it

Sometimes a situation can be a burden and you can neither identify with it nor accept it. In this case, leave it behind you and turn to new horizons. We encounter this too often in life – we fret over situations that do not serve us and only cloud our minds. So free yourself from this burden – think about how to avoid unwanted situations and take steps to ensure you do.

Write down how you plan to move forward. This will help you process your situation and will provide a practical way of dealing with unwanted stress. Then all you need to do is put the plan into action.

Change it

Just because you cannot accept an unpleasant or even stressful situation does not mean that you can’t change it. So ask yourself: What can I change about this situation to make it more positive?

Sports and exercise in relation to resilience

According to Susanne Körtge, additional sources of energy in the form of balance help overcome crises and increase mental resilience. You can find these energy sources through exercise as well as through relaxation, meditation, a good night’s sleep and creative activities.

Find out how to improve your sleep quality here.

Susanne says: “Especially now during wintertime, when the days are getting shorter and it’s wet and cold outside, sport is a great way to let your mind be free. Once your head is clear, you can realign your focus and get back to the important things in life, such as your goals. Sport strengthens body and soul.”

Just as with training, you should set bitesize daily goals so you can stay motivated to achieve them. This gives you structure and routine, which will give you security and strength to try new things and have fun.

Resilience is a way of letting go of negative thoughts. With sufficient exercise, a healthy diet and the right attitude, resilience can be increased, and with it so will your optimism and strength – two key ingredients for getting through this difficult time.


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