Embracing resilience for World Mental Health Day

This year's World Mental Health Day theme is based around young people and mental health in a changing world, with a particular focus on the importance of building resilience. Leah Steele, former lawyer and founder of mentoring practice, Searching for Serenity, asks: "What does resilience mean to you?"

We often think of “resilience” in grand terms; the friend coping with cancer treatment, enduring dark and difficult things with stoicism. We see it in others long before we see it in ourselves.

Even without my crystal ball, I can already tell you that you’re incredibly resilient. Lawyers are, simply by nature; to get where you are now has taken years of study, a massive feat of endurance, learning and growing and bigger still, you’ve spent years fixing other people’s problems all at the same time.

That’s what lawyers are, that’s what we do.

We don’t just run our own lives, dealing with problems as they arise, but we help make sense of difficult situations and resolve problems for other people.  To experience that and still keep coming back for more is a daily feat of endurance and strength.

What I find interesting about resilience is that there are two common definitions; you either subscribe to it meaning toughness and the ability to endure, or elasticity and the ability to bounce back to centre.

Semantics, perhaps, but both conjure up vivid images of what happens when resilience fails.  We’ve all seen brittle glass smash or elastic bands lose their ping.

Think instead of resilience as a muscle.

By using and exerting your resilience you can cause it to grow and become stronger, with the right support and rest.  Or you can over-exert it and cause it damage and pain.

I’ve been on both sides of that balance; spinning a thousand plates and loving every moment of it as I became stronger, and over-exerted, over-exhausted and in pain.

So if you’re beginning to feel like an over-stretched rubber band or more exhausted than a calf muscle in a marathon, what can you do?

Remember that resilience is a muscle, apply the same rules.  Good nutrition, support, not going straight for the heavy weights and taking rest days.

That means taking back some control of your diary, your meetings, your workload, your life in general.  And it means saying “No”.

No to overtime.
No to squeezing in a sixth client meeting in the day.
No to running around trying to please everyone else.

Finally, remember that you are already incredibly resilient, you’ve been practising this your whole life.  Even if you’re over-exerted, you are not broken, and there is so much support and assistance out there.  All you have to do is ask.


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