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Burnout, overload and resilience: cultivating personal resilience

Exploring what contributes to healthy resilience in the face of challenges...

Following on from the recent article that explored psychological perspectives on stress, the focus now shifts to resilience. This is the second article in the two-part series looking at burnout, overload, stress and resilience, developed as part of the Reading Bodies research project at the University of Exeter.

Explore this article:

Therapeutic yoga classes in Exeter with BAM Therapy

What do we mean by resilience?

Resilience relates strongly to stress in that it concerns the helpful response(s) to challenging and difficult events in our lives. The American Psychological Association note that resilience is both a “process and outcome” that involves “mental, emotional, and behavioural flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands” (APA, no date). What struck me with this definition is the importance of understanding resilience as both a skill (the ways in which we respond to stress) and the consequences of the skills we try (did the skill we applied reduce our emotional distress and help us cope more effectively?).

Linked with this, compassion-focused psychotherapies reflect on the notion of doing what is helpful and not harmful and considering our underlying motivations and intentions (Gilbert, 2009). In this way, we might view personal resilience as both the method and result of living with more compassion, care and empathy for ourselves and others, ensuring that we get our basic needs met whilst maintaining kindness, support, and respect to self and other. Resilience can be supported by inviting a compassionate mind-set, thereby turning towards our distress from an empathic, nurturing, and strength-based set of intentions. Similarly to stress experiences in that we all differ in what we perceive as stressful, we all differ in what contributes to our resilience. What works well for me might not be the best solution for you, and that’s okay. Becoming more resilient involves active engagement in a process of trying different techniques and exploring what is useful: applying a trial and error approach and willingness to step outside of our most familiar patterns. 

What individual strategies support healthy resilience?

We can group the coping responses that contribute to resilience into different domains such as: cognitive, emotional, behavioural, and bodily approaches. Cognitive strategies are those which involve our minds and thinking processes. This can include mindfulness-based practices whereby we learn to re-direct our attention away from less helpful thoughts and focus our awareness on things that are neutral or supportive. Mindfulness can include formal practices such as breath-work techniques and guided meditations, but it can also extend to how we approach everyday activities. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994) defined mindfulness awareness as paying attention “on purpose… in the present moment… and non-judgementally” (Crane, 2009, p. 4). Cognition-based skills to boost our psychological resilience can include positive self-talk. When employing positive self-talk or affirmations, we learn to deliberately bring more balanced, helpful, or encouraging statements about ourselves and our capabilities into our awareness. For example, if the mind starts to produce negatively skewed ideas such as “I can’t cope” or “I’m failing at this”, then we can re-frame these cognitions to consider supportive and self-compassionate ideas such as “I can get through this… this feeling will pass” or “I have shown myself courage for trying” or “I have learned something from this experience”.

Emotion-focused skills that help us become more resilient might include practices to reduce our levels of anxiety and agitation such as relaxation techniques, soothing with our senses, or helpful ways to express emotion through physical exercise, dance, singing, or therapeutic writing and journaling. Behavioural strategies blend across those discussed already in that we are choosing to respond differently to the difficult situation and the worry-based thoughts and tension that have been created.

How might somatic and body-based strategies help?

To conclude, I wanted to reflect on the ways that we can bring the body into our stress management responses and how this supports resilience. We know that there is a close connection between the body and the mind and that they are inseparable (Maté, 2019). Body-based and somatic approaches support both physiological de-arousal and nervous system regulation, and reduction of the psychological and mind experience of stress. Yoga practices, including trauma-informed yoga techniques, involve a process of turning inwards and using the body, mind, and breath to calm and soothe, balance, or energise and invigorate the body and mind (Spence, 2021). When we recognise that the nervous system and our cognitive and emotional responses have moved into an anxiety-based threat protection stress response, then we might explore the helpfulness of calming and soothing yoga practices. Alternatively, if the body and mind stress response involves disconnection and shutting down, then it might be activating and energising yoga approaches that are most useful.

The breath is central to many yoga practices and it supports the shifting out of a stress response by moving us into our soothing system (the parasympathetic nervous system function). Spence (2021) discusses the power of breath regulation practices to enhance relaxation, support better sleep, regulate blood pressure and improve our focus by stimulating the vagus nerve. Learning which breathing practices are most effective for us can support personal resilience by providing a method of calming or energising when stress levels are heightened. Yoga involves working with the body and exploring rhythmic movement or passive stretches. Moving the body, changing our physical position, and stretching can help us let go of nervous system energy that has built up internally. For example, yoga postures that involve active engagement of our muscles or passive yoga stretches involving forward folds might help to release physiological agitation and reduce hyper-arousal.


If you would like to work with Kayleigh through therapeutic yoga or individual psychological therapy, then get in touch.


This blog was created for the "Reading Bodies" project at the University of Exeter. Research was funded by Professor Katharine Murphy's AHRC Fellowship: Reading Bodies:

Reference list is included in the full article. The article can be viewed in full at its original source here:

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