Social work is all about dealing with uncertainty and complexity. Social workers often lack self-belief, resilience and focus on perceived shortcomings rather than acknowledging their competency.
Social Work England’s Professional Standards is useful as it can help you identify your strengths and areas for improvement. This can help with developing your resilience.
This is because one of the most important skill in social work is the ability to be resilient.
BUT the meaning of resilience may differ from one social worker to another.
23 Ways To Develop Resilience
To some social workers, resilience means ability to bounce back, to others, it means not giving up after a defeat. So,
What is resilience?
Resilience refers to a particular quality where a person may be knocked down by life situations but comes back stronger and more positive than ever. Instead of allowing the ‘failure’ to overcome them, they bounce back and keep ahead.
Elizabeth Edwards also reminds us that
“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
What does it mean to be resilient?
Being resilient and having control over your emotions and outlook on life will help you overcome a wide range of stressful and difficult situations.
Building resilience will also help you become more self-aware, self-reliant, and a better version of yourself. Developing emotional intelligence and self-discipline takes time, but the benefits of being more resilient are definitely worth it.
Life is full of happiness, celebrations and moments of joy, but with highs inevitably come lows, whether it’s heartbreak, financial problems, a loved one passing away or a trauma of some kind.
It’s important to prepare yourself to face and overcome what life may have in store for you, and knowing that you have the power and strength to remain strong during sad, difficult and troubling times will help you deal with grief, loss, emotional pain and more.
Life is not easy and won’t be forgiving, but we can learn to become stronger and more resilient and turn negative experiences into life lessons.
Here are 23 ways you can start building resilience and becoming stronger as a person.
Putting your needs first is important to build resilience. Difficult situations will try to break you down, and this can often cause you to neglect yourself. By practicing self-care and self-love, you can become more resilient to life’s trials and tribulations.
2: Be Optimistic
This is especially important in terms of stress and anxiety.
Don’t let your emotions run away with you over minor problems, or you’ll risk breaking down when things really turn ugly. By always looking on the bright side, you’ll find a positive outlook even during dark and trying times.
3: Never Fear What Hasn’t Happened
You could go through life fearing the worst, but this will only bring you down and cause unnecessary pain and anxiety.
When a problem occurs, you’ll figure out a way to deal with it, and there is no point wasting your energy on something that hasn’t even happened yet.
4: Be Adaptive
One of the most powerful ways of building resilience is to become adaptive.
Things aren’t always going to go your way and plans can change last minute, so rather than let an unforeseen situation impact you emotionally, you need to learn to go with the flow.
Self-reflection is key when it comes to building resilience.
Looking back on your most joyful moments so far will help focus your mind on positive situations, even when you’re down and struggling through life.
Appreciate how far you’ve come and start to plan what you want to do in the next couple of years.
6: Surround Yourself With Loved Ones
Friends, family and loved ones will form your emotional safety net in life and pick you back up when you’re in despair.
The importance of close friends and family will become apparent when dealing with loss and grief, so build strong relationships and offer your support when others need it too.
7: Grow Your Social Support Network
Having a strong social support means you have a wide network of friends and colleagues around you who provide you with firm support in times of crisis.
It is important not to take these relationships for granted, however, but to nurture them and ensure they are reciprocal: if you give support to others, they will help you when the chips are down.
Some of us find it easier than others to cope with social interactions at work. Consider using “mirroring” techniques to form connections with other people.
Consider using role-play to act out difficult social situations that you are going to encounter, testing your own and other people’s reactions to challenging situations. This is a great way to be better prepared for social interactions, and it will boost your confidence.
You need to develop your social confidence as it contributes to a belief in your ability to cope with a situation and enables you to advocate on behalf of others.
We can all struggle at times with social interactions, and demanding professional situations, like panels or court appearances, are bound to make us nervous.
Building social confidence can help us manage these situations more effectively, and this is an element of emotional resilience.
8: Strive for Positive Relationships
At times, you may have people around you, but they may not be available when things get tough.
You might also struggle to get the right kind of support from your existing social network.
Positive relationships thrive on mutual support–it is important to develop reciprocal relationships where people don’t turn to you in times of crisis only to disappear when you need support.
Consider widening your social circle and spend time nurturing relationships with others as it is a worthy investment.
9: Strive To Achieve & Develop
A big part of building resilience is developing your skills and personal strengths.
By focusing on becoming a better version of yourself, whether that’s through learning new skills, setting your sights on a promotion, or ticking off some experiences on your bucket list, achievements will bring you happiness and great satisfaction in life.
If you are generally confident about your professional capabilities.
Continue to learn and grow and approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that an overly strong self-belief can lead to a reluctance to accept criticism or consider alternative options.
10: Reduce Your Stress Levels
Life is too short to be stressed out all the time, so try to reduce your levels of stress as much as possible.
Stress is also a major contributor to mental and physical health problems, so if you reduce anxiety and stress in your life, you’re also minimising your risk of becoming sick.
You can develop techniques that can help you cope with stress effectively.
Try to identify potential stressors at an early stage and take opportunities to address these before they get entrenched, or out of control.
Continue to utilise support widely, reflect on your practice, maintain firm boundaries between work and home, and seek opportunities to relax.
Recognise that you should not attempt to cope with difficulties alone; your employers have a duty of care to ensure that your workplace is as stress free as possible.
11: Develop Stress Management Techniques
None of us is immune to stress. Sometimes we find our stress levels difficult to keep in check. Focus on developing techniques to manage stress, which suit your current needs and your lifestyle.
As well as trying to make enough time for work and family, carve out some “me” time when you engage in pleasurable and relaxing activities.
If you are finding yourself worrying about work problems excessively at home, create a space to write your worries down together with action points to address them. Put the list to one side and then action them on your return to work.
You need to improve your stress management strategies, as excessive stress can lead to ill-health and burnout. You may need professional support to keep your stress levels in check.
Consider using techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing, as well as more practical methods such as developing your time management skills and using supervision to discuss issues you are finding stressful.
12: Seek Positivity
Rather than soak up negative stories online and watch murders and horror shows that can trigger anxiety and fear, absorb positivity through feel good and inspirational content online.
Building resilience is all about focusing your time and energy on being positive and optimism over negative and pessimistic.
13: Be Disciplined
When dealing with uncertainty in life you can quickly start to feel overwhelmed and a loss of control.
This is where self-discipline comes in. By following a daily routine such as working out in the morning, preparing a coffee before you go to work or preparing healthy balanced meals rather than ordering fast food, you’ll start to physically and mentally feel better and more in control.
14. Seek New Relationships
Relying on just one person for support may make you feel that you are overwhelming him/her with your problems.
Actively seek new relationships and friendships with people who you trust and who trust you.
Make time for other people outside of work so that you have a wide range of support from different people.
Join a gym, do an evening class, or develop a new hobby. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help and try not to see this as a weakness but a strength.
15: Reflect in and on Action
Reflecting on practice and engaging in regular reflection means that you recognise the important role that reflection plays in your practice. Resilient social workers see reflection as a vital technique to develop insight into themselves and their practice and how they might improve this. Remember that it is important to develop holistic reflective practice, using others to check that your thinking is not reinforcing stereotypes or one way of viewing the world.
16: Make Time for Reflection
It is not always easy to dedicate time and energy to reflection as it can be a challenging and time-consuming process.
Try to see reflection not as an opportunity for self-criticism, but as a way of acknowledging competence and examining practice constructively rather than defensively.
Professional supervision must include reflective space, and a supervisor’s role is to facilitate this–try to discuss different ways and models of reflection until you find one which is comfortable for you.
17: Seek Tools that will aid with Reflection
As reflection is strongly linked to emotional resilience, it is important for your personal well-being and your practice that you develop this resource. Seek out tools that can aid your reflection.
Consider the “what”, “so what”, “now what” approach to help structure your reflection time.
Carve out space for reflection, both personally and during professional supervision, and consider creating peer reflective supervision opportunities.
18: Effective use of Supervision
Use supervision as an opportunity to review your capabilities in a non-threatening way.
Consider using peer coaching to seek out feedback from others about your practice; accept constructive criticism and explore options for change.
Enhance your ability to recover from setbacks and consider areas for development as an opportunity to enhance skills rather than engendering a sense of failure.
Use supervision, resilience training and peer coaching to identify training needs and to highlight where you feel competent. Lacking self-belief can be self-perpetuating and indulgent, so try to seek opportunities to celebrate your success rather than dwelling on perceived failures.
19: Be Optimistic
Using positive emotions to help you bounce back from an emotionally challenging experience helps build resilience.
However, being “unrealistically” optimistic can encourage risk-taking behaviour without due attention to the consequences. Also, be aware that having an overly positive world view can lead to optimism bias.
Always seeing the positive in situations and people can lead us to miss warning signs, as we may not want to believe anything could go wrong.
20: Celebrate Life
Sometimes things get you down, and it is difficult to remain hopeful about the future.
Take time out to celebrate those moments when things went well–focus on the “sparkling moments” in your career where you felt successful and seek out opportunities to repeat them.
This can be done effectively using peer coaching techniques.
Use supervision as a safe haven to explore your anxieties about the future and take responsibility for finding solutions to difficulties.
Being solution-focused rather than problem-focused will help you see the future more positively.
21: Develop a Hopeful Attitude
If you feel pessimistic about the world and people’s capacity for change, it can have a negative impact on your well-being and your professional practice. It can also alienate other people who may be important sources of support.
Try to develop a more hopeful attitude; set yourself specific goals and plan how to achieve them step by step.
Celebrate successful milestones in your career and remain focused on why you chose social work as a career.
Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Being empathic means you can support service users by understanding their needs.
Once you have developed an appropriate level of empathetic concern with service users, you are able to respond to intense emotional reactions in others without becoming either overwhelmed or disassociating from them.
There may, however, be some people that you find difficult to connect with emotionally, or by whose pain you feel overwhelmed.
Becoming distressed about another person’s circumstances will happen from time to time in social work, so it is important to know where to seek support if this happens to you.
Sometimes you find it difficult to empathise with service users or may feel that you are in danger of becoming over-involved. It is easy to get lost in the world of the service user: it is important to recognise, however, that if you become over-involved your ability to help is limited.
Recognise that you cannot “fix” people’s emotional hurt, but you can help them find solutions to their difficulties. Reflect upon your own feelings and use supervision to check that your empathetic concern is not spilling over into distress.
Try to ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed when listening to intense stories of grief, trauma and abuse. Consider using techniques to help you develop appropriate empathy.
For example, imagine a semi-permeable boundary between yourself and service users to allow yourself to be receptive but not emotionally overwhelmed. Use supervision to explore ways to do this effectively.
23: Be Prepared to take on a Challenge
Be willing to take on a challenge and actively seek opportunities for problem solving.
Embracing challenge underpins emotional resilience, but remember to utilise critical thinking skills to ensure you are not just repeating the same old patterns of problem solving.
Consider how you might improve your problem-solving abilities. Break down problems and approach them systematically.
Consider using the COPE model where
C= Challenge–identify the problem, consider the causes and results;
O= Opt–select the best option from possible solutions;
P= Plan–make a plan to action your option; and
E= Evaluate–check for progress and revise the plan if need be.
Learning to face challenges head-on will help you enhance your resilience.
Challenges and problems are an inevitable part of social work practice, and we are often faced with situations that are beyond our control.
More resilient people tend to see challenges as something that can be embraced, and recognise there are usually solutions to even seemingly intractable difficulties.
Try to see challenges as opportunities to exercise your problem-solving abilities rather than a threat to your emotional equilibrium. If the initial solution doesn’t work, try another.
How is resilience developed?
You can develop resilience in several ways. Some common ways include exercising regularly, sleeping well, taking up a hobby. Whatever you decide to do, you do need to stay committed and in control.
If you are resilient most of the time and rarely cannot bounce back when life gets difficult. It is important to recognise though that sometimes things may get too tough for even the most resilient person to handle.
Remember that you need to nurture your resilience, even during the good times, by continuing to work on the competencies that underpin this important quality, as this is an investment for your future.
There are situations where you are usually able to manage adversity and recover well from difficulties.
However, you find it difficult to bounce back. It is perfectly normal to find it hard to get over some things.
Gain support from others wherever possible and seek out opportunities to learn more about the stress management techniques that work for you. Use supervision to explore your difficulties and how you might move on.
How do you become emotionally resilient?
You need to invest in your emotional resilience.
Try to think about setbacks in a different way–as learning opportunities rather than negative events.
Resilient people experience frustration and anxiety, but are able to draw upon more positive emotions and use a wide repertoire of coping and problem-solving strategies during times of adversity.
Take time to consider your resources, such as support and supervision, and make sure to learn about other stress management techniques that work for you.
Resilience quotes remind us – we can withstand adversity and bounce back from tough life events.
Resiliency means we can adapt and stay strong when things don’t go as planned without dwelling or wallowing on let-downs.
- “The difference between a strong man and a weak one is that the former does not give up after a defeat.” – Woodrow Wilson
- “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo—far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.”– Jodi Picoult
- “It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”– Dieter F. Uchtdorf
- “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”– Hellen Keller
- “You say you’re ‘depressed’ – All I See is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human.” — David Mitchell
- “There’s no such thing as ruining your life. Life’s a pretty resilient thing, it turns out.” — Sophie Kinsella
- “The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”– Robert Jordan
- “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
- — Steve Maraboli
- “Successful people have no fear of failure. But unsuccessful people do. Successful people have the resilience to face up to failure—learn the lessons and adapt from it.” — Roy T. Bennett
- “If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.”– Shane Koyczan
- “What helps you persevere is your resilience and commitment.” — Roy T. Bennett
- “If I’ve learned one lesson from all that’s happened to me, it’s that there is no such thing as the biggest mistake of your existence. There’s no such thing as ruining your life. Life’s a pretty resilient thing, it turns out.” — Sophie Kinsella
- “No matter how much falls on us, we keep ploughing ahead. That’s the only way to keep the roads clear.
- “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” — Jodi Picoult”– Greg Kincaid
- “There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who do not. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.” — José N. Harris
- “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” — Elizabeth Edwards
- “My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an accomplishment. And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present.” — Steve Goodierr.”
- “Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart. Don’t be concerned about whether people are watching you or criticising you. The chances are that they aren’t paying any attention to you. It’s your attention to yourself that is so stultifying. But you have to disregard yourself as completely as possible. If you fail the first time, then you’ll just have to try harder the second time. After all, there’s no real reason why you should fail. Just stop thinking about yourself.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
- “You are so confident,” he says to me. “You’re stubborn and resilient. So brave. So strong. So inhumanly beautiful. You could conquer the world.” — Tahereh Mafi
- “The struggles we endure today will be the ‘good old days’ we laugh about tomorrow.” — Aaron Lauritsen
- “Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and the responsibility to pick yourself up.”– Mary Holloway
- “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” – Steve Maraboli
- “There is strange comfort in knowing that no matter what happens today, the Sun will rise again tomorrow.” — Aaron Lauritsen
- “You are so confident,” he says to me. “You’re stubborn and resilient. So brave. So strong. So inhumanly beautiful. You could conquer the world.” — Tahereh Mafi
- “The heart is resilient and forgiving, it is the mind that causes us stress.” — Alexandra Elle
Before You Go,
Remember that you have the ability to become resilient
You are a flexible person who is usually able to see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Remember, however, that some rules are universal and there are key professional values that should guide your behaviour.
Use these as a framework to determine how flexible you should be when trying to adapt to new situations.
Don’t pay too much attention to your initial defensive reactions to change.
Try to shift your position to being someone who sees change as an opportunity rather than an inevitable source of fear and anxiety.
When assessing the potential impact of change, focus on long-term gains rather than short-term discomfort.
Reminder of the 23 ways you can start building resilience and becoming stronger as a person.
- Be Optimistic
- Never Fear What Hasn’t Happened
- Be Adaptive
- Surround Yourself With Loved Ones
- Grown Your Social Support Network
- Strive for Positive Relationships
- Strive To Achieve & Develop
- Reduce Your Stress Levels
- Develop Stress Management Techniques
- Seek Positivity
- Be Disciplined & Become Resilient
- Seek New Relationships
- Reflect in and on Action
- Make Time for Reflection
- Seek Tools that will aid with Reflection
- Effective use of Supervision
- Be Optimistic
- Celebrate Life
- Develop a Hopeful Attitude
- Self – awareness
- Be Prepared to take on a Challenge
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