Resilience – dirty word?

It sometimes feels like resilience is a dirty word. Whispered in hushed tones in corridors in case over heard. Or spoken out loud as a rallying call to try harder and be stronger. It shouldn’t be this way. Resilience is crucial to a productive life but in social work it is in danger of being shouted down as a take over bid by mangers to make staff do more with less.

The claim I hear most is just that. Managers want to individualise the problem to the social worker, make them be more resilient, and therefore be able to give them more work. I don’t find this to be the case. At worst managers clutch at the straw offered by resilience as a way of keeping their teams well and intact. At best they see it as a real opportunity to develop a confident, satisfied workforce, comfortable with being at work.

Resilience isn’t a silver bullet to fix all of the problems in social work, or indeed to ensure everyone stays well – we all have our point at which resilience gives out. But, by enhancing people’s ability to cope with the rigours of life we do enhance their resilience and they have a better, but maybe not perfect, time of it at home and at work. You can’t separate the two. Stress created at work is carried home and stress created at home is carried to work. We need to embrace the challenge of being resilient everywhere and not artificially separate the two.

It’s about more than emotions. While emotional resilience is important it is underpinned by,and functions alongside, practical and physical resilience.  These are what I describe as the three pillars of resilience:


And I place them in that order deliberately because that’s how I see them operating. 

You must be sleeping well, eating well and being physically active. If you are going to focus on one thing first you must get your sleep right. You can read more HERE and HERE. Then you can work on nutrition and exercise. Without getting sleep right you are unlikely to have the motivation to get these other things on track. The social work office can be a minefield when it comes to eating well and I share some tips HERE. We also can’t overlook the reality of the connection between our gut and our brain MORE HERE. Finally you need to move some, or more, depending on how much you are moving already. Research has shown that regular exercise (in the study it was three 40 minute power walks a week for a year) causes growth in your hippocampus. This is part of your brain that is key in memory, emotional regulation and more. It can be referred to as the brake to your amygdala which is the part of your brain that is largely responsible for your fight or flight response to stress. You can read more HERE 

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You are not going to be able to fit everything in to your time without being organised. Clinically organised I’d suggest! How you manage your diary, how you allocate your time and how you keep track of all of the things you do is crucial. Have a look through the PRODUCTIVITY section of this web site. Or the BEING ORGANISED section of our sister web site Self Care Shorts.

What you will find in the links above is that all of these things promote our ability to manage our emotional responses to what we are confronted with in all areas of our lives.

Small steps repeated over time lead to big changes.

None of these things in isolation will make a great deal of difference but add lots of small changes together and you will bring down what I refer to as ‘base line’ stress – the stress we carry with is all of the time. The good stress that motivates us. By bringing this level down through implementing strategies in relation to our physical well-being and our productivity we will have more headroom to ride the challenges without hitting our stress ceiling and becoming unwell. Long before we become unwell we become demotivated and prone to procrastination and that simply makes matters worse.

“Control it or it will control you”, as David Allen says.


Stephen is the co-author of ‘How to Thrive in Professional Practice”
Available for pre-order from for publication in early May

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