I was recently looking at some survey data collected from Generation Z participants. As you might expect these twenty-somethings were quite open and realistic about their wellbeing – rating their stress, anxiety and low mood objectively. What was a surprise was their response when asked to rate their own resilience in contrast with an actual measurement of their resilience… they were way too optimistic. Over half of them thought their resilience was high – while the tests showed only around one sixth of them had high resilience. Worse, only about one sixth thought that their resilient was low – yet the actual measurements showed that one third had low resilience. This suggests that at all levels of resilience they tended to overestimate their capacity to be resilient.
It’s like they’re getting close to the edge without realising just how close they are.
We can think of our reserves of resilience as being like a kind of “tank of resilience” inside ourselves – and as we encounter challenges this resilience is used up; and then when we are “on empty” we can no longer cope with challenges or setbacks. So if someone is low on resilience and they should face a further set back or challenge – even a very small one – then they can find that they don’t have enough resilience left in the tank and so they may become overwhelmed with anxiety, depression or stress related symptoms.
Now, just to digress a little… the problem with conditions like stress, anxiety and depression is that when people experience such an episode they establish “thought pathways” that spiral downwards… …and then, in the future, when they encounter another “trigger” situation, they slide down the same pathway reinforcing it… and so on, making further episodes more and more likely. And again, when resilience is low, the trigger doesn’t have to be something big or catastrophic – it could be some relatively minor setback or stressful situation that triggers thoughts leading to stress symptoms or even anxiety or depression
I expect we all know people who have suddenly developed such symptoms – perhaps experiencing crippling anxiety or feeling they are exhausted or feel too low to get up one morning. Looking back, in most cases, we can identify a succession of events and situations that have developed over time to consume the available resilience and we may also be able to see how lifestyle has not afforded the opportunity to replenish resilience – yet the sudden onset of disabling symptoms is often a real shock.
So it seems these young adults have a “resilience gauge” telling them they have “plenty in the tank” – yet in reality they are about to “hit empty”. The truth is none of us really know how much resilience we have in the tank – yet a gauge that tells us we have plenty may mislead us… until it is too late.
The real danger here is that if we are not aware that we are low on resilience or if we are blind to the possibility that it may run out… then this can cause us make decisions that will actually make things worse:
- Despite being low on resilience we could opt to take on more responsibility or tasks – i.e. we are “over reaching” what we are capable of at that moment… Jumping from roof to roof is a dangerous game if we overestimate our jumping ability!
- We fail to find a way to change our workload and/or reframe our pressures and anxieties to that we consume less resilience – a bit like driving more efficiently when we are low on petrol.
- We do not adopt the lifestyle habits to recharge or rebuild our resilience
- We do not ask for help and support – as we are unaware of how critical the situation is becoming
So cruising through life with an overinflated estimate of our own resilience can mean that when we hit problems we are shocked at the sudden impact… and by the realisation that we are unable to proceed as we expected – and this in turn can add to the anxieties around such an episode as we start to question if we are “as good as we thought we were” or if we might lose our career (with all the fiscal implications that this might carry).
To avoid such situations we should all be aware of the drains on our own resilience and of the possibility of our resilience becoming low. We should take care not to use it too freely and adopt habits to top-up our reserves of resilience on a regular basis. At Carina we are using Rezl to build-up the resilience of our users… and to adopt a mindful approach to life that will be less reliant on the needless consumption of our precious resilience.