Mental Health

Psychological resilience: how to boost your mental strength in 2021

Put your best foot forward as we enter 2021 by learning how to boost your psychological resilience.

Thank goodness that’s over, right?

As far as years go, 2020 was predominantly a complete and utter mess – and while 2021 may not look much better at the moment, we’re hanging on to the hope that things might finally be looking up by the end of this year.

With that being said, we’re aware that 2021 won’t be all plain sailing. The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives in more ways than one – and even once everyone has received the vaccine, we’ll still have plenty of changes to go through until life settles down again. And that’s not forgetting all the other issues that have been rumbling on in the background throughout the pandemic, from Brexit to the climate crisis.

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While talking about all the challenges we’ve yet to face may not feel like the best way to celebrate the new year, knowing what we’re up against – and preparing ourselves to cope with whatever life throws at us in 2021 – is one of the most important things we can do right now, especially when it comes to our mental health.

And the best bit? Even if you struggled to cope with the challenges of 2020, there are things you can do to improve your coping skills in the year ahead – by working on what experts call your psychological resilience.  

Dr Mark Winwood, clinical lead for mental health services at AXA Health, explains: “Resilience is the psychological quality that allows us to recover or ‘bounce back’ from the challenges we might face in our lives. Without doubt, many of us felt our resilience levels under severe strain over the course of 2020.”

A woman looking out a window
Building our psychological resilience could help us 'bounce back' quicker from periods of stress or anxiety.

As Winwood points out, 2020 did put our ability to cope under a new kind of pressure – but in doing so, it may have given us the chance to better prepare ourselves going forward.

It’s important to note that psychological resilience isn’t about preventing poor mental health – to suggest otherwise is to imply that mental health issues are a sign of mental weakness, which is simply not true. Becoming more psychologically resilient isn’t going to eradicate all the problems we face, and we need to continue to advocate for the support so many desperately need. 

In the meantime, however, developing our psychological resilience can help us to feel more prepared to face the challenges that come our way – something which, in turn, gives us a greater ability to ‘bounce back’ from difficult periods in our lives.

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“Developing these skills can have positive effects on our overall mental wellbeing, helping us to build a healthier perspective and better manage our emotions,” Dr Winwood adds.

“While these remain challenging times, there are opportunities to think more about our own health and wellbeing, so we’re better prepared to handle both the ‘here and now’ and the future.”

How to build resilience in 2021

It’s clear that our psychological resilience plays a crucial role in helping us to cope with both everyday stresses and the bigger challenges that life throws at us – so what can we do to develop this skill as we move into the new year?

“Like any skill, resilience can be developed – it just takes practice,” Dr Winwood says. “If you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, there are some simple things you can do that can make a big difference.”

1. Look after yourself

A woman sleeping in bed
How to boost psychological resilience: look after your body and mind.

To put yourself in a better position to face the ups and downs of life in 2021, you may need to go back to basics and make sure you’re looking after your mind and body.

Moderate exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, getting plenty of good quality sleep and some ‘me time’ are great ways to make a start,” Dr Winwood suggests.

Looking after both your mental and physical health is also a great way to keep your energy levels up, another thing you’ll need to do to boost your psychological resilience.

“A physically or mentally demanding lifestyle can leave you feeling drained, so bring balance by ensuring you get enough quality sleep and have a healthy diet,” Dr Winwood adds. 

2. Create meaningful relationships

If you’ve let some of your friendships slip in 2020, you’re not alone. But instead of giving up entirely, why not spend the first month of 2021 reconnecting with the people you love?

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Not only is it a great way to fill the time on a rainy evening, but those relationships are crucial for developing your psychological resilience, too.

Dr Winwood explains: “Loneliness can take a real toll on our mental health. A strong support network – whether through friends, family, social groups and colleagues – helps us feel connected and valued.”

3. Work on your emotional intelligence

A woman looking in the mirror
How to boost psychological resilience: building emotional intelligence can help us to better understand our thoughts and feelings.

Getting to know your emotional triggers and patterns is incredibly important when it comes to mental health, because it allows you to understand the relationship between your thoughts and feelings and identify any negative patterns. 

Developing your emotional intelligence can also help to develop your interpersonal skills – something that makes navigating challenging situations a lot less stressful. 

“Emotional intelligence – identifying and managing your own emotions, as well as identifying other people’s – can help you see things objectively and better empathise with others,” Dr Winwood explains.

To find out more about developing your emotional intelligence, and how getting to know your emotions can improve mental health, you can check out our guide.

4. Identify your priorities

Before you dive headfirst into the business of 2021, take some time to sit back and reflect on the values that matter to you going forward.

Not only does identifying your values and priorities for the year ahead help you to feel more confident about what you want, but it can also help you to stay motivated and optimistic about the year ahead. 

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“Having a clear sense of purpose based around your values and strengths can help you to support and maintain a more positive outlook,” Dr Winwood adds.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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