Life Mental Health

Friday 22 August 2014

How to bounce back with an emotional suit of armour

People have the answers to situations and the resilience within them

Kathy Donaghy

Published 11/04/2014 | 02:30

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Linda Thorpe offers courses on how to deal with stressful situations. Photo: Patrick Browne
Vincent Blake of e-frontiers

It's being called the armour for modern life. Emotional resilience, the latest self-improvement technique, is being used by everyone from stressed out executives to school children in a bid to overcome life's obstacles.

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So what exactly is it?

The term comes from the Latin "resilio" which means to jump or bounce back. While it was initially studied in terms of how people coped with natural disasters and catastrophes, today emotional resilience is seen as playing an important role in how we deal with the curve balls life sometimes throws at us.

In essence, emotional resilience is our ability to cope with and adapt to stressful situations or crises. And now courses are being rolled out around the country to help people harness the tools to help them bounce back from difficult situations.

And unlike other wellness techniques, experts say the wonderful thing about emotional resilience is that it can be taught and once you learn the key elements, it can be completely transformative and change the way you see things forever.

Linda Thorpe, who works with Mental Health Ireland, has been delivering courses on emotional resilience to schools, farm bodies, community organisations and sporting groups in the south east of the country for the past three years.

She says while there will always be challenges in life, it's how you deal with them that's important.

"It's about being able to acknowledge the feelings and the pain and then saying 'how do I grow from this experience' and not being continually affected by what's happened. It's about being able to adapt to change, looking at your inner strength and not being afraid to ask for help. It's seeing challenges as a way to grow," says Thorpe.

Thorpe uses the analogy of facing a challenge as being like "eating an elephant – you can only eat it one spoonful at a time". She says emotional resilience teaches people not to be overwhelmed by the challenges they face but to take it one step at a time. "It's about asking what can you do today to achieve your goal. It's alright to be upset when something happens like you've lost your job. But emotional resilience is about going forward. Being resilient doesn't stop bad things happening. Being resilient doesn't mean ignoring your feelings either. But it's how you respond to things and how long it takes you to recover from events is what being resilient is and this can be developed by anyone," she says.

Founder of charity organisation Suicide or Survive (SOS) Caroline McGuigan says emotional resilience means investing in our own mental health. She says recognising that our mental health can dip from time to time allows us to take control of our emotional wellbeing. She says it's important that people recognise the triggers in life that make them feel bad or low. In that way, each of us can better deal with the things that take us down emotionally.

"What comes our way in life can sometimes rock the very ground we're standing on. But how we handle it and manage it can turn it around. People have the answers to situations and the resilience within them – they just might need some help to find it," says McGuigan.

The Samaritans is another organisation offering emotional resilience courses. In Britain the Samaritans run courses for universities, housing associations and companies in the financial sector. They are much sought after and are usually discovered through word of mouth. Now the organisation plans to roll them out in this country over the next six months given the hugely positive feedback The Samaritans have received.

Samaritans spokeswoman Nicole Kane says if someone is happy in themselves, they're more likely to be able to support other people and that's where the emotional resilience comes in. "We all go through stressful points at work. If you can provide people with the skills to manage their own emotional health, it has a knock-on effect on others as well. If people, for example those running a housing association who deal with quite vulnerable people, can manage their own emotions, it will mean they can provide a better service," she says.

"At the end of the course, delegates will come up with an action plan to see how they can be working in the best possible way they can. It's about providing delegates with a range of different ideas about how they can change their thought processes. We provide them with several options and they will find one that suits them. It's about making people understand that we all respond to things differently and really it's about understanding yourself," says Kane.

Emotional resilience is also being seen in the corporate world as a valuable tool when it comes to hiring new recruits. Vincent Blake, a director of e-frontiers, a recruitment company for the IT industry, says employers are less interested in hearing about a potential employee's success stories and more interested in how they responded to challenges.

"What they want to hear from a candidate is how they reacted when things haven't worked out. These are the sort of things they try to tease out of the candidate. These are the kinds of questions they're being asked," says Blake.

He says he first noticed this as a trend in the last couple of years when he sought feedback from candidates.

"It's very easy to talk in positive terms about yourself and you can prepare for that. But you can guage the depth of someone by asking them about their negative experiences and how they coped with those," he says. Blake points out that his company has a strong sense that employers really want the candidate who can handle the pressure.

"I think what they want is people who've had experience – they have the scars of defeat but they're still kicking to tell the tale. What we find is that there's two or three different types of people. There are those who tell you everything's rosy – they're lying. There are those who admit problems but say 'they're nothing to do with me' and there are people who will admit 'I've made mistakes but I'm learning from it'." And he says that in the technology sector it's the latter candidate you're going to want to hire.

FOR INFORMATION ON COURSES RUN BY MENTAL HEALTH IRELAND, CONTACT (01) 2841166 OR SEE MENTALHEALTHIRELAND.IE SEE ALSO SUICIDEORSURVIVE.IE

Irish Independent

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