Cultivating Resilience

Resilience is a practice, not a trait.

Sometimes people express surprise that despite living almost on the borders with Scotland I grow my own grapes (admittedly in a greenhouse) It is an unheated greenhouse however, with a vine that each September is laden with a harvest of sweet grapes, golden amidst the autumn leaves.

The vine is also a very useful tool for exploring the idea of resilience with people who have come to believe that it’s a quality you either have or don’t, and there is nothing you can do to change which group you belong to.

If I want a bumper crop in Autumn, the work starts in the spring, ensuring the new buds are healthy, fungus free and strong. In order to do this, I have to know what to look for, and what the warning signs of future problems are. If you want to cultivate resilience you need firstly to be able to spot when things are starting to deviate from normal. More tired than usual? Snapping at workmates, friends or family? Finding routine tasks more of a struggle than usual? Resilience means being aware of changes in your moods, your reactions, your energy levels, your responses to stress, not once they become an issue, but before hand.  Journaling, checking things out with a trusted friend, or counsellor can help identify these changes.

Come July I have to do one of the hardest tasks if you grow grapes, I have to ruthlessly cut healthy, growing, clusters of young grapes. If I don’t the vine will try to grow all of them and I will end up with nothing worth harvesting.

So it is with cultivating resilience. A myth that we can do it all, have it all, has grown up, often leading to burnout. Look at those things in your life which sap your energy, which prevent you achieving your goals, which ones might need to be trimmed so you can reap the harvest you want?

Resilience isn’t a trait some are born with, but a set of life affirming behaviours which all come together to mean you can weather the storms, survive the winters, and just like my vine, produce great fruits year after year.


Surviving Christmas

We are told that it is the season to be jolly, however for many Christmas is not the most magical time of the year, but the most difficult. Sometimes it brings back memories, it can be an exceptionally difficult time when we are grieving. For others the memories are of people they would rather forget. The obsession with family at Christmas is painful for those whose families are abusive, who have cut off contact, who have to remain apart for their own safety and sanity. Then there are those whose families have rejected them, who would love the Hollywood movie ideal of sitting round the table together, but for whatever reason are excluded from the list.

Those with chronic mental health conditions can find all the old clichés coming out. People asking them what they have to be depressed about, or telling them to cheer up, its christmas! As if an illness has a calendar and will go into remission when it notices the date. Comparisons between mental and physical health issues can be problematic. For one thing it reinforces the idea that one can only have one or the other. Even so it is telling that people in hospital for physical ailments over Christmas are seen as needing special treatment, visited by celebrities and news crews, while those struggling mentally are seen as letting the side down.

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When self care becomes a burden

One of the positive developments I have noticed over the past few years is the growth in understanding around self-care. There has always been a current of thought which considered its important however many people were excluded from the discussion. A room of ones own might be a wonderful thing, but presumed you had the financial capital to achieve it.

There has been a move to frame self-care as something which should be accessible to all. I wrote here of how cheaply you could make your own self-care box, and try to build nurturing into your daily routine. Income is not the only barrier people can face, disability, caring and parenting responsibilities, space (a luxurious bubble bath is not always possible in a shared house) and a number of other things have left people feeling like they are “failing at self-care”. It can be hugely upsetting, every Facebook meme and self-help book telling people something is vital, and then not being able to do even that. I believe however it is not that people are failing, but that our idea of what self care is fails to be wide enough.

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