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Building Personal Resilience in Times of Stress and Burn-out

We live in a time of mental fatigue, stress and burn-out. Here's what you can do to build your resilience and care for your well-being.


In a Nutshell

  • After months of living through the pandemic, many struggle with mental and emotional well-being.

  • Resilience is the ability to bounce back and is a key factor to a person's well-being.

  • Having a sense of purpose and being connected to a community will help you build resilience and gain clarity to move forward


"Employees Need High Well-being for High Performance" - GALLUP

The World Health Organization defines health as a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Mental health, which is an important component of one’s overall wellness, was poorly understood, and unfortunately, poorly treated too.

While mental health awareness has finally made it to the forefront after deliberate dialogue and advocacy, many people are struggling to cope. They are often driven to isolation – convinced that the problem is either insurmountable or that it can be ‘ignored away’. In a recent survey conducted by EngageRocket among over 7,900 workers in Singapore, 56% are at risk of burnout.

If that’s you, or someone you know, here’s a reminder.

You aren’t alone.

Today, there are more people opening up about burn-out, anxiety, and chronic stress – these issues may not seem like serious mental health concerns, but they erode away at our well-being.

It’s a more common problem than you think

Stress: We’re all familiar with stress in some capacity. It can drive us to be more productive in the short term, but that’s not the stress we’re referring to. Chronic, ongoing stress arises when the demands placed on someone exceed their capacity to cope with it. It begins to impact their physical and mental health, often in small, intangible ways. Most leaders, managers, and executives have become all too familiar with this environment. In fact, it’s normalized in many workplaces.

Burn-out is what happens when chronic stress is left unchecked and unmanaged

Burn-out: Burnout can look like different things for different people: Lower productivity, disengagement, feelings of alienation, emotional or physical exhaustion, cynicism, and even recurring illness.

People express openness and humility, being honest with their team about pressure and burnout they are facing is not a sign of low resilience, but often high self-awareness and their courage to communicate. Under the pressure of having to always be the gold standard and inspiration to the team, it is the leaders who often succumb to the most pressure that can greatly affect their well-being and how they show up in their professional and personal lives. This then affects the well-being and performance of the people they lead.

Resilience is often the key factor that is attributed to when people are able to function at high capacity, remain emotionally healthy, and able of diffusing difficult situations without much concern. It is a quality that can be developed.

Resilience: A crucial pillar of mental health

What is resilience? It’s a big word for a simple concept: the ability to bounce back.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back.

This can mean adapting well in the face of hardship, trauma, tragedy, threats, or otherwise difficult or stressful situations. Resilient people are able to maintain their composure under stress, deal with disruptive events, and adapt to find creative solutions. Their recovery from setbacks is often quicker and they proactively work towards adapting and practising foresight for future changes. We often imagine resilient people as fearless individuals who are unaffected by stress, failure, or setbacks. While being able to keep cool under pressure and in difficult situations is an important part of being resilient, it's only one aspect. Personal struggles and crises are amplified in the midst of professional challenges, however, often the workplace stress isn't the only source. Therefore, one of the most critical talents at all levels is to develop the ability to maintain balance under pressure. It's not a matter of how to avoid difficulties and stress; that's virtually impossible. Rather, the issue is: How are you going to deal with it? We can all benefit from increasing our personal resilience, which will enable us to better tackle a crisis, recover, and adapt.

How to build resilience

1. Know what you can control

Easier said than done – we know! There is a tendency to focus on things that are out of our control. This can be overwhelming and can make you feel stuck. But here’s what you can try. During moments of high stress, pause and list out all the things you can control versus those can’t control. Give yourself permission to stop worrying about those outside your control, and begin focusing on the things within your control.

Pause and list out all the things you can control versus those can’t control.

Direct your focus towards steps that you can take. For example, you may not be able to control government restrictions due to the pandemic, or how the company decides to pivot. So rather than angrily watching the news while waiting for some semblance of normalcy to return, you can choose to do more positive things like learning new skills, evaluating how you spend your time or encouraging your team members and connecting with them one-on-one.

2. Take ownership

When you know what is within your control, you can be clearer about what is your responsibility, and you can take ownership of it. If you lead a team, accept that with leadership comes ownership. Ultimately the results will depend on what you are able to accomplish given your circumstances. That can seem daunting, but it is also a privilege.

Those who have high ownership are often able to weather stressful and uncertain situations with more resolve and endurance.

3. Maintain a sense of purpose

Research has found that having a sense of purpose in life may help protect older adults from memory deficits associated with depression and mental illness. It’s much harder to be defeated when you are passionate and purposeful about your journey.

Having purpose makes it easier to bounce back in challenging times by providing perspective, stability, and determination.

A common trait among those with a sense of purpose is that they are able to find meaning and learning in all of life’s experiences — the good and the bad. This ability to find meaning in your life experiences, especially when confronting life’s challenges is a psychological buffer against mental and emotional fatigue.

4. Develop meaningful connections with a community

Relationships matter. Staying connected with people, especially during times of stress, can help us feel less overwhelmed. It combats loneliness and isolation. Even casual conversations feed into our sense of self and have a beneficial impact on well-being. Feeling socially connected depends on the quality of meaningful relationships you have with family, friends, and associates. It means that your social interactions with those around you are generally supportive and that you feel accepted and respected.

Connecting with others also brings clarity. When in a state of stress, we tend to have a narrower view of what is happening around us. Connecting with people will help you see things from a more holistic perspective. This will help you find better solutions to move forward.

Don't neglect the quality of your social support system. Make deliberate efforts to invest in relationships that help you and build you up.

“​​This is a time for us to take courage, to care for ourselves and have the courage to ask for help, and to give ourselves permission to ask for help because help can come in many forms.” – CALVIN YEO, PRINCIPAL CONSULTANT, ROHEI

Make personal resilience a priority

The fascinating aspect of resilience is that it can be learned. As much as resilience is an attribute that is relied on in moments of difficulty, it is something that must be built in advance and incrementally over time. The goal becomes steady progression rather than constant or immediate perfection. Developing a positive attitude towards setbacks and failure is key to building resilience.

When we replace over-activity with intentional activity, it gives us the ability to reflect and take purposeful steps that lead to better outcomes even in the midst of adversity.


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