Are you emotionally resilient?

Communicourt runs regular CPD training for our intermediaries. One of our most recent programmes focused on emotional resilience. We asked three of the intermediaries who took part in the training to tell us about their experiences:

Where this started:

We have been finding different ways to keep our skills updated during the challenges of lockdown. Communicourt has been very proactive and a few weeks ago, we were invited to join some online emotional resilience training.

Emotional resilience is a term we have heard a lot during the Covid-19 pandemic. We thought it was about pushing your emotions to one side and powering on. We all consider ourselves quite strong people, we have all survived a very strange and very difficult 12 months. So, we went into this training thinking we were very already very resilient.

Our sessions were hosted by Cliff Hawkins, a consultant clinical psychologist, and the first thing we learned is that we didn’t really know what emotional resilience is. Emotional resilience is not just about how quickly you can bounce back from adversity, it is about how you can adapt to cope with stressful situations.

Stress and ‘The Goldilocks Principle’

Cliff introduced us to the concept of ‘The Goldilocks Principle’. This means that stress can be a result of too much or too little pressure. It surprised us to think that stress could result from too little pressure, however after further discussion this made more sense. Due to the nature of our job, many of us experience a fluctuating work routine. Whilst this keeps things dynamic and interesting, it can also lead to periods of pressure. On the flipside, if we have a few quieter days in our diaries it can feel like unproductivity.

Whilst our work is both rewarding and valuable, it can often come with the exposure to traumatic or stressful situations.

Developing Emotional Resilience:

So, how can developing emotional resilience address some of these issues? Cliff explained that there are many factors to consider when developing emotional resilience, including:

  • Knowing boundaries
  • Cultivating self-awareness
  • Seeking helpful connections
  • Practising acceptance
  • Practising mindfulness
  • Expecting not to have all the answers immediately
  • Allowing yourself to be imperfect
  • Allowing others to be imperfect
  • Practising self-care
  • Considering your possibilities and goals and taking realistic steps
  • Expressing yourself
  • Keeping things in perspective
  • Practising optimism
  • Noticing your warning signs
  • Nurturing a positive view of yourself
  • Trusting yourself

We discussed each of these in turn in our ‘breakout groups’. We explored each of these areas, picking out the ones we feel we do well and also considered the areas that needed some improvements. With the aim to reflect on our progress in the follow up session, Cliff asked the group to pick an area to improve on and identify realistic goals over the next two weeks.

We all agreed that having an awareness of emotional resilience is important, particularly in a job like ours, and we all chose individual aims to work towards.

Briony’s Goal: I decided to focus on practising self-care, since the varied working patterns and staying away sometimes makes me neglect my work-life balance. Over the weeks to follow, I decided to be mindful of the hours I work, ensuring I have time to ‘switch off’ during the evenings from the pressure of work or anything stressful I may be exposed to that day.

I wanted to implement a regular time to stop working in the evenings, and to practise self-care by doing more regular exercise or taking time to do activities which I find relaxing.

Emily’s Goal: The goal I chose after the emotional resilience training was to notice warning signs. I feel that sometimes I can push past the signs that I need a break, or I am not being as productive and try to carry on. This can lead to completing something that is not to the best of my ability.

With sometimes having days where I have less structure, it is easy for me to find myself not managing my time as effectively as I know I can. I would keep pushing myself to work despite needing a break, and then felt guilty when I did take a break.

So, I decided to set a time to complete work, but if I felt that I needed a break as I have been working for too long, I promised myself I would step away from my work. I would allow myself to take a break.

I would also review how I am meeting this goal and how much this has assisted with my productivity, quality of work and work/life balance.

Mollie’s Goal: I decided to work on allowing myself to be imperfect. It can be really challenging when we all have this desire to know everything about this job within a short period of time (which is almost impossible!).

Even with a fantastic training programme and the ongoing support from colleagues, it can be disheartening when we are struggling to find the right strategy to assist a client. It’s important for us to remember that not all strategies are going to work for every single person we work with.

So I decided that I was going to be more accepting, it is ok if I don’t have all the answers yet. Knowledge comes with time and I have a great support network around me, and years of experience that I can draw on.

Each of us were excited to see whether we would achieve our goals within the next two weeks. With the help of our positive and realistic steps, it certainly looked promising!

Two weeks later

When we met again for our second session with Cliff, we looked at what affects our ability to implement effective strategies to assist our emotional resilience? During the second session, Cliff explained that certain messages are instilled within us from a young age, which results in us acting in a way consistent with particular ‘drivers’. These drivers include the following:

  • Be strong – don’t show your feelings and don’t ask for, or even accept help.
  • Try hard – put in as much effort as possible, rather than focusing on the outcome.
  • Please others – doing what other people want you to do is what matters.
  • Be perfect – you have to do everything just right, even tiny details.
  • Hurry up – you’ve got to get everything done quickly, and cram lots into your time.

It isn’t surprising that these drivers can interfere with our ability to develop emotional resilience. For example, if you have a ‘be strong’ driver, you are less likely to seek helpful connections or express yourself.

In smaller groups, we reflected on what we thought our biggest ‘drivers’ were, and the progress we had made on our individual goals in the previous two weeks. We were really surprised to hear that all of the people in our smaller group had made good progress. It can be so hard to keep focused on changes you want to make when life is busy. We all agreed we had been more conscious of our goals and have been taking realistic steps to work towards these. For some people this was just doing more exercise, taking time out to enjoy a cup of tea in the garden, or even committing to having a relaxing bath once a week.

Cliff gave us the opportunity to explore our mindsets, which many of us have never done. We now have a better understanding of the drivers that may explain how we behave and the things that we give value to in our lives. We also learned that you can adjust the influence of these drivers by making small changes.

Small changes

This was perhaps the biggest point to take home for all of us. The changes can be small, and probably should be small to be sustainable. You don’t need to throw yourself into a new hobby or start a course in your spare time. During the first lockdown, there was a focus on what you could achieve when you take away all of life’s distractions. You had all this time now and you could write a novel, or learn Welsh, or become an artisan baker! It was pitched as an opportunity at a time when many people were struggling to see it that way. They were scared, isolated, and unsure of how we would get back to life as it was before.

What we should have been telling each other is sit and drink a cup of tea in the sun. Take some deep breaths in the garden and listen to the birds. Set aside a time for you to read a book or have a bath. Go for a walk. It is the small changes we can make in our lives to help develop our emotional resilience. It is about finding healthy ways to process our feelings, not push them aside or bottle them up. It is about taking time to look after yourself and regularly check in to see how you really feel, which is something we will be more mindful of in the future.