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In June this year Dr Emma Glanville, a psychiatrist at Canberra Hospital, spoke at a women’s evening at Good Shepherd,
Curtin, on the topic of Resilience. We thought the tips for building resilience might be of benefit to the well-being of readers, as they serve Jesus where he has placed them, so here provide a summary of Emma’s presentation:

Resilience has been defined as the ability to bounce back after hardship.

We often hear a criticism of people ‘they’re not very resilient are they?’, or people say of themselves ‘other people have it so much harder, so why can’t I cope?’.

To this I would say –

Sometimes the latest difficulty comes last in a long line of hardships, or you may have had particular experiences that amplify the impact of this experience.

What do we know about the people who are resilient? There seems to be a genetic component. Some people do seem to be born with better coping or problem solving skills, with more ‘bounce’. However this is only a small part of the story.

Resilience isn’t fixed. People can become more or less resilient as they grow and change. Resilience also may be context specific – so I might cope really well with the death of a loved one, but really struggle with a serious financial setback or a major physical illness. And the good news is that some of the things that make us more resilient are within our control, habits we can cultivate and skills we can learn.

Resilience starts before you experience hardship. There are some things you can do, to build up your reserves, to become mentally tougher. So my suggestions fall broadly into 4 areas:

1. Look after your body

Things like getting regular exercise can have a big impact on people’s mood and anxiety.

Try to get enough, but not too much, sleep and foster habits that support healthy sleep.

Eat well – eat your vegies, get enough fibre.

Minimise alcohol, caffeine and other drugs. People in this town love their caffeine. Just about the easiest thing you can do if you are struggling with anxiety is to cut down or cut out caffeine and increase the amount of exercise you do.

These are the basics that your grandmother was probably telling you, and in a sense they are so simple that I feel a little silly saying them. However there is a strong and growing body of evidence for these things as protective factors. These can have a big impact on your emotional vulnerability, your mood, your levels of anxiety and your capacity to problem solve and keep perspective when things are going wrong. They are often the first things to go when we find ourselves a little busy. Self care is not so much wine and chocolate but a long walk and an early night.

2. Look after your mind

There are some ways of thinking that are healthier than others. We all know people who are worriers – who seem to be waiting for the next disaster. Or people for whom life happens to them rather than their having a sense of some control over
their own destiny. And it is of course true, that there are many things in our life that are totally outside our control, but how we respond is something we can control. The good news is that you can change the way you think and the impact your thoughts have on you.

Learning to manage strong emotions in a healthy way is really important. It may sound trite but it is useful to be in touch with your emotions. Identifying your emotions and accepting them as legitimate is the first step in being able to manage them.

Stretch yourself just a little. Take some risks – do some things that make you a little anxious or put you out of your comfort zone.

These can be areas where seeing a psychologist can really help; help you to take a step back from your thoughts and look at whether they are helping you lead the life you want, help you identify and manage your feelings and help you  overcome anxiety, among other things.

3. Look after your relationships

Everyone knows a story-topper. If you had a strange uncle at your wedding, their uncle was weirder. If your kids had gastro, their kids had cholera. If you broke your arm, they needed an amputation. Don’t be that person. Try to find some friends who aren’t like this either.

We all also know the compulsive advice-giver. I don’t want some tips on household cleanliness or hand-washing after I talk about the latest round of gastro at my place.

What I want to hear when I tell my story about the kids with gastro is some sense that the other person understands what this is like, that they hear me. Sometimes people think that if they validate someone’s feelings they will amplify them. I think the opposite is true. Listening to someone and confirming what they feel in a situation as legitimate can be really powerful, and can ease their distress. In many instances, it is the only thing you can do. So really listen to your friends and seek to understand what they are feeling. And find some people who can do this for you too.

4. Look after your community

Making a positive contribution is actually great for your mental health. Helping others, in big ways or small, feels good and helps build relationships. It also builds capacity in the community. Pitch in where you can. And be gracious enough to accept
assistance when you need it. Emma used the story of Joseph from Genesis, chapters 37-50, as an example of resilience, and
how his unshakeable belief in the goodness of God, and that God’s purposes in the world were working as he intended, sustained him. For Joseph, his trust in God enabled him to persevere through some great difficulties. It also provided the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation with his family, which without his trust in God would have been impossible.

by Dr Emma Glanville
Listen online here:

Lifeline: 131144
Head to health:
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
ACT Mental Health Triage: 1800 629
NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511

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