Stress Awareness Month: Building Resilience in Challenging Times

2nd April 2020

About the author: Alice Rawsthorne, hero Client Success Manager, is also a Mental Health First Aider who helps support mental health initiatives and wider wellbeing strategies across the companies hero work with.


There are many misconceptions surrounding mental health and what it means to be strong. Being mentally strong can mean many things that aren’t visible from the outside.

Anyone can suffer from a mental illness, even if their social media accounts show otherwise. Mental ill health doesn’t just affect certain people, as we have seen from public figures and influencers – the most outwardly happy people can be fighting an invisible battle on the inside. Mental illness does not discriminate.

That being said, it’s been refreshing to see so many ‘real life’ examples on social media over the past few weeks – glimpses behind the picture perfect lifestyle into the reality of the situations we face at the moment. Whether that’s messy rooms and tired children, or people speaking openly about the anxiety and uncertainty of our current situation. 

Whilst the coming weeks could be a great opportunity to pick up a new skill, learn a language, try that recipe you’ve had saved or join a virtual exercise class every day, it’s also important not to put too much pressure on yourself and understand that some days your biggest achievement might be making a cup of tea or getting to a thousand steps – and that’s ok too. For many people who struggle with mental health challenges this is going to be a particularly difficult time, so let’s be kind to ourselves and take each day as it comes.

As part of Stress Awareness Month, we’re discussing what it means to be mentally strong and how you can improve mental resilience to help be the best version of yourself, reducing stress brought on by the challenges of life.

Common misconceptions

Although there is a positive link between regular exercise and good mental health, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone who works out seven days a week is immune from mental ill health.

Mental health is a continuum and you can be at any point in this at any time. A large part of understanding mental health is recognising that for one person, something feels exceedingly difficult but for someone else that same thing might feel easy. Acknowledging the difference in everyone is a vital part of understanding mental health within yourself and others.

Having mental strength

In Mental Health First Aid training, we talk about your stress container – different people can handle varying amounts of stress, represented by different sized containers. The size of the container can depend on many different factors, but helpful coping strategies can support your stress load. Think of this as a tap at the bottom of your container – every time you open the tap, it helps to let the stress out so that your container doesn’t overflow.

I believe mental strength comes from knowing the size of your container and regularly opening that tap to prevent the stress from building up to an unmanageable volume. This tap might need some more opening over the next few weeks as we all navigate our way through the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Mental strength doesn’t have to be about the current state of your mental health – people with mental ill health can find strength to move towards a more positive place on the continuum.

6 tips for building your own mental strength

Change what you can and accept the rest. Worrying about something that can’t be changed will cause unnecessary stress, focus your energy on what you have the ability to change. Not happy in your job? Try to understand which part makes you unhappy and whether you can change it, if not then consider the role you really want and go for it. Nothing has to be permanent – it could be the jump start to a stronger and happier you.

Self love club. Everyone has those days where they’re not feeling quite up to it; have a bath, read a book, take a walk, go for a run (within the guidelines) – whatever helps clear your mind. It’s important to look after the people around us, but we can’t do that if we don’t look after ourselves first.

Stay active. While being physically strong and mentally strong are different things, exercising can help improve the way we feel. Cardio activities such as running or HIIT workouts can really help to get the blood pumping, reduce cortisol (the stress hormone), and stimulate the production of endorphins which reduce stress. Yoga is my go-to activity to support both physical and mental strength – there are plenty of free live classes available online via hero Training Clubs.

Re-frame the situation. Often we spend so long dwelling on the scene in front of us that everything looks negative. See the obstacles as learning opportunities that enable you to step forwards.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Recognise your own abilities and understand how much you can take on without causing undue pressure. This could be in work or in life. If you’ve been asked to head up a new project but your typical workload is remaining the same, consider the impact this will have on you. While knowing what you’re capable of is important, recognising your limits is vital.  

Sharing is caring. You’ve probably heard the saying that a problem shared is a problem halved and mental health experts still advocate this. You’ll often find that people share similar experiences with mental health and that you aren’t alone or in the minority by any means. As well as hearing other people’s personal accounts, it can also help to hear your own thoughts spoken aloud as this can help us to understand them.

Mental strength comes in many forms and is different for everyone – what gives you strength? Try making a list of what you know supports your mental health, and choose one of those things to focus on this week.

Looking for more support? You can download our Self Isolation Toolkit below.

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