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Many assume the pandemic is behind us, but there's a 'silent pandemic' happening of collective mental health challenges and burnout.

According to The Lancet, global depression and anxiety rates have surged since the pandemic. Financial pressures, inflation, global tensions, and the struggle to return to work have added stress. We've endured one of the most turbulent periods in history, prompting me to ask: “in this moment, how resilient do you feel?”

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as:

The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It’s means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences. (APA, 2014).

The challenge with this definition is that no universal meaning exists regarding what ‘adapting well’ and ‘bouncing back’ look like. It’s different for everyone. Many people struggle to see themselves in this definition due to their own ‘inner critic’ and tendency to view themselves from a deficit-lens. What if there was a more peaceful perspective?

What if the way we’ve been defining resilience has been limiting or faulty?

What if we redefined resilience to focus on our capacity to recharge and restore ourselves, rather than how well we endure hardships?

To understand resilience, it's important to recognise and understand burnout. Burnout, characterised by emotional exhaustion, loss of motivation, and increased cynicism, takes a toll on the brain and body, leading to a state of being perpetually tired and ineffective (Maslach & Leiter, 2016). Common reactions to chronic stress or burnout include working longer hours, becoming irritable, doom scrolling, criticizing others, and saying 'yes' when you mean 'no.' Notably, self-compassion and giving yourself permission to rest and recharge are often the least prioritised responses.

What if we’ve been defining resilience wrong all along? What if it was about our capacity to prioritise your relationship with rest, recharging, and restoration?

For academics, it can be especially difficult to carve out time to properly recharge, especially with the ‘publish or perish’ mentality, pressure to secure funding for job security, and demanding workloads. Here are a few strategies to increase your capacity to recharge:

  1. Reflect on your relationship to rest?: This doesn’t just mean sleep quality or zoning out, but considering activities that restore your mind and body like spending time in nature, proper nutrition, limiting social media, and hydration. Examine your beliefs and patterns about rest and challenge the notion that rest must be earned. Recognise that rest is available to you right now, in this moment. Here is an article on 5 ways to change your relationship to rest.
  2. Recognise Your Agency: We are human beings after all, not human ‘doings’ which means you have the autonomy to give yourself radical permission to choose ease in any given moment.
  3. Start with One Breath – Small, incremental changes can have a significant impact. Resilience isn’t about giant leaps and bounds, but rather those small, incremental changes for one breath more than before. See our newly created behaviour change leaflet on 6 small changes you can make when facing burnout, stress, or mental health challenges.
  4. Energetic Boundaries – Get radically honest about the energy you allow into your day and the energy you give off. Set boundaries around draining tasks, people, and conversation topics. Implement strategies like taking a brisk walk or dancing to a favourite song after a difficult meeting or conversation. Learn to say ‘no’ when your mind and body are telling you to say ‘no.’ Struggling to set energetic boundaries? This PsychCentral article may help.

Come Alive Every Day – It’s so easy to numb and distract when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out. Carve out time every single day to do the things that make you feel the most alive and like yourself. What are the things you love doing ‘just because.’ Hike your favourite trail, visit a favourite museum, draw or paint, call that friend that makes you laugh, sign-up for a cooking class, sing like no one is watching.

If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won't have to hear it scream

As we enter the summer season, I hope you take time to reflect on these strategies to redefine resilience as the capacity to recharge and restore yourself, and recognise the importance of rest and restoration in maintaining mental health and well-being.

For a deeper dive on understanding burnout, see my Insight Timer pre-recorded talk here:

Happy Summer,

Megan Kirk Chang

Senior Researcher, Behavioural Medicine

Opinions expressed are those of the author/s and not of the University of Oxford. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.

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