Recently a buzzfeed article went viral describing burnout, and why sometimes even the smallest task can seem difficult. It was a brave piece, and, as so often now was dismissed by those who think the words snowflake and millennial are insults. We are in a strange time, where concern for others is seen as a weakness, and an entire generation between 18 and 35 is treated as naughty children.
The reality is very different, against a backdrop of insecurity and intense pressure I work with people who are often innovative, and producing groundbreaking work with minimal support. One of the vital ways of avoiding, as much as possible, the kind of burnout many of us are familiar with is in cultivating resilience. Unfortunately the concept of resilience has also been seized on as a another stick to beat ourselves with, another failure as we compare with others.
So what exactly is resilience? Perhaps it’s easiest to start with what resilience is not
Resilience is not being able to work 18 hour days, day after day, week after week
Resilience is not being able to ignore your feelings
Resilience is not something we are born with (although positive childhoods and life experiences increase our resilience, whilst negative decrease it)
Resilience is not “powering through” when we are sick, or depressed or in crisis.
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 peer 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.
This article was written by Karen Pollock. Karen is a therapist offering in persona and online counselling based in Newcastle and Northumberland with experience of, and training in, working with gender, sexuality and relationship diverse communities. She’s passionate about empowering people and promoting better mental health for all. She works with I Am Diversity and Inclusions lead for Bi Pride UK
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