Self care and resilience – Stephen Mordue

In this article originally written for CACHE Alumni, Stephen Mordue discusses how the role of emotional resilience is essential for being able to cope with the stressors of our day to day lives.

In person focussed roles like social care, social work, teaching and nursing, the role of emotional resilience is hugely significant. Such professions are often engaged in emotional labour where the emotions you are able to show in front of the person you are supporting may be at odds with the emotions you are feeling. These professions are also considered vocational in nature with people entering such professions precisely because they want to, or have to be, involved with people in the emotional context of their lives to help them heal, repair, and develop. As Ellie Cannon (2018) notes, “work is a significant part of an adult’s life: it bestows our sense of achievement, success, pride, socio-economic status and self-esteem, and is more than just a job for most people”. This is usually the case with the person-centred jobs mentioned above. While they often have all of these positives, they can often come bundled with a significant level of emotional stress.

Emotional resilience in such circumstances is built upon our emotional intelligence, or emotional literacy. This relates to how we manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. Grant and Kinman (2014) have found that emotional literacy is “one of the most powerful predictors of emotional resilience in social workers” (Grant and Kinman 2014 p. 23) and helps us to manage stress more effectively, leading to better psychological wellbeing.

Goleman (1996) suggests that people broadly fall into three categories of emotional ‘style’. Some, he suggests, are engulfed. Their emotions overwhelm them, leaving then ‘swamped’ and ‘helpless’. They get lost in their feelings, unable to maintain perspective and, therefore, they may lose control over their emotional life. Others, he suggests, are accepting of their emotions. While they can be clear about how they are feeling, they accept the mood but don’t attempt to manage or change it. Through time this can also erode feelings of well-being as the emotions go unmanaged, unchallenged or unresolved. The ideal, he states, is being self-aware. Such a person is aware of their emotions and has what Goleman describes as a ‘sophisticated’ response to them. I would argue that the sophisticated response also relies on the other elements of resilience mentioned earlier in this article, too. What you eat, the exercise you take, how you sleep and how organised you are will help assist your response. If, when overwhelmed by events, you can take time out to go for a walk, you may be able to find time to plan your response to what has just occurred and examine how it made you feel.  If you can do that, you will be showing that ‘sophisticated response’ and developing emotional resilience. The three types of resilience – physical, emotional, and practical – don’t exist in isolation.

Mindfulness has been shown to have a particularly strong impact on emotion resilience. It can help to effectively regulate negative emotions, reducing your reliance on habitual responses. Essentially, it can help us to be ‘in the moment’ in a controlled way, managing our emotions reflexively (Parkes and Kelly 2014, Muller 2016). It can also improve the regulation of emotions and provide greater mental flexibility which, in turn, might improve our ability to see things from different perspectives (McGonigal 2010, Piyawan et al 2017). This can help us to ‘manage’ the emotions of others and our response to them, enhancing our emotional intelligence and, therefore, our emotional resilience.

Resilience is also built through the process of reflection. It is important to reflect upon our actions, thinking about what you did, how it made you feel, what your response was, and how you may want your response to be different next time. Reflecting on your actions helps you build a repertoire of ways to respond to the emotions of others and your own and enhances emotional resilience. Professional supervision (or simply talking to your colleagues) is a helpful way to explore this. Resilience is built in the ‘storm’ of practice, but it is also built slowly. It is important for managers to consider the workload of their team to make sure that there is time to reflect and consider. Resilience is developed by being pushed and confronting new challenges, but this should not be taken too far, too fast or it may result in overwhelm, rather than resilience.

Finally, resilience is finite and must be replenished. All of the elements that contribute to resilience, including sleep, nutrition, exercise, organisation, and mindfulness must be considered and addressed. Recuperation and recovery from the demands of life are essential. In the knowledge and people skills sectors, maintaining psychological capacity is essential. Chris Hoy, cyclist and Olympian, understands this and explains it well. For him, his legs are the thing that he needs for his job, the thing he needs to be resilient. He says that he can’t sprint all of the time, so he sits when he doesn’t need to stand, and lies down when he doesn’t need to sit. We all must rest and conserve the type of energy we need for the job we are doing. Psychological ‘energy’ is built on resilience which is built on your physical effectiveness, your emotional intelligence, and your ability to be organised to keep it all under control.


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