Top tips for resilience: Resilience and the recovery system

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Introduction

In these top tips, Cornelia Lucey, psychologist and leadership consultant presents some possible approaches to building resilience for teachers and educationalists and shares ways they can be applied to build resilience.

It is important to note that these are only some tips to help you cope with everyday challenges at work and beyond. It is advisable to seek out professional help if you need support with your mental health. Education Support, a charity dedicated to supporting the mental health and well-being of education staff, also provide many helpful resources.

What’s the idea?

Generally, we are quite good at understanding our threat triggers as we feel these the most. What people often find the most difficult to understand is what promotes their own recovery (there are all sorts of social, cultural and historical reasons for this, including our own negativity bias), so taking some time to think clearly about this can be helpful for sustaining your resilience.

What does it mean? 

Recovery is important at the physiological level – it’s the only one of the three systems that can ‘top up’ our energy levels. But it’s also important psychologically. When we’re in the recovery state, we’re better able to think creatively and strategically, and we’re better able to build stronger social connections with others. Obviously, these are particularly useful skills for teachers.

Good quality sleep can provide the body with recovery, as can calming activities such as reading a book or going for a walk in a park. Equally, our recovery system can be nurtured through authentic and connected interactions with family, friends or colleagues.

If you’re someone who frequently experiences these things in your normal day, then you might find that you switch easily into your restorative recovery system. But if you’re someone whose recovery system is not getting as much practice, you might find it harder to shift into recovery mode – it might even feel uncomfortable to try to slow down and relax.

What are the implications for teachers 

There are lots of ways we can build recovery at work – it’s not just something that needs to happen at home. Try the following approaches:

  1. Try to concentrate on your present work rather than worrying about the next lesson or project. Could you try a breathing exercise, such as the 4:7:8 breathing exercise
  2. Take the time to have a conversation with a colleague about the weekend.
  3. Be gentle to yourself when faced with challenging situations and recognise your bravery for engaging with them.

Want to know more? 

David S (2016) Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. London: Penguin Life.

Fredrickson B (2011) Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown Publisher.

Gilbert P (2010) A Compassionate Mind. London: Constable. 

Zwart RC, Korthagen FAJ & Attema-Noordewier S (2014) A strength-based approach to teacher professional development. Professional Development in Education 41(3): 579–596.

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