Resilient You: Patching and reinforcing your umbrella, with Karen Schofield

Karen Schofield is an award-winning speaker and experienced consultant. Karen believes that happiness is a choice and that by making conscious changes in our lives, we can all be a little bit happier and more resilient. In her now regular column for the Significant Insights, ‘Resilient You’ series, Karen will draw on both the psychology and academic thinking, and her own personal experiences, to bring the theories to life, and show how you can get through even the toughest of times.

The last year hasn’t been the year any of us were expecting. Little did we know back in March 2020 that over a year on we’d still be under Tier systems and lockdowns, and that the impact of Covid would have been felt across the world. We certainly couldn’t have predicted the unprecedented impact this would have on our collective freedom of movement, and mental health.

Everyone will have had a different experience in the last year. From being confined in close proximity with family, to being alone and isolated; from creating make-shift offices in less-than-ideal spaces, to balancing demands of work with children or other family members we might be caring for. We’ve been cut off from our usual social groups, we haven’t been able to plan, to look forward; we may have been challenged financially, with reduced working hours, or furlough. The list of restrictions we’ve faced goes on.

But regardless of our individual circumstances, we’ve all had to adjust and adapt. And fundamentally, that’s what resilience is all about. Mental health charity MIND’s definition of resilience is ‘not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing’, and this is a great starting point when we think about what resilience means.

If we unpick this definition, it’s about ‘bouncing back’ from ‘challenging circumstances’, which may knock us for six but which we recover from. It’s our ability to stretch, and recover from that knock. It’s also about ‘adapting’; this is recognising we need to change, proactively, and is about making changes in our lives. And there is of course a clear link here between high resilience and stable mental wellbeing.

While some people are naturally more resilient than others, it’s likely because they have found tools or techniques to deal with difficult circumstances, even if they can’t easily articulate them. But even if you’re not naturally one of those people, that’s okay; everyone has resilience, and we can all improve resilience through ‘training’ – it’s like a muscle; it’s not fixed, it’s a skill and a way of thinking which we can develop and improve. (Much like creativity – although that’s probably a topic for another blog post!)

Being from Manchester, which is infamous for the amount of rain we get (although the time I spent living in Asia definitely opened my eyes to ‘real’ downpours!), I like to think of resilience as being like an umbrella. It doesn’t make the storm go away, but it helps to shield us from the storm when the weather is bad. Sometimes the umbrella gets blown inside out, sometimes the spokes end up poking through the material (we’ve probably all been there – literally and metaphorically!). We might still end up with the wind and rain blowing in our faces, and the umbrella might not be perfect, but it’s there to help us to avoid getting soaked in the storm, which helps us dry off (and recover) more quickly. And ultimately, if we work at it, we can strengthen the poles and material of the umbrella (stick with me!) so it works harder and shields us enough that we’re able to bounce back and adapt. To quote an attendee at a resilience training course I ran recently, ‘we’re all in the same storm, just in different boats’. Or, with different umbrellas, if you like 😊

So if your umbrella could do with a little patching and reinforcement, then stay tuned for my series of articles on this topic. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about the factors which contribute to resilience, and giving you lots of practical tips on increasing your resilience day to day, both in and outside of work. If there are specific areas you’d like me to cover, or any questions you have, do get in touch and I’ll make sure those are covered!