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Practical Resilience in Difficult Times – with Dr. Chris Johnstone. What we learned.

Resilience is described as the capacity to ‘bounce back’ from adverse experiences to succeed despite the adversity faced. I think it is fair to say that most of us right now have encountered some adverse experiences... don’t you?

By developing resilience, we can hope to better prepare ourselves for unforeseen circumstances and lay the foundations for overcoming these challenges. But with the current Covid-19 pandemic, no matter how resilient we thought we might be, it is essential that we ‘top up’ that resilience with some new techniques.

Fortunately, Action for Happiness hosted a motivating talk with Dr. Chris Johnstone regarding how we can put resilience into practice to help us cope better during difficult times. Dr. Chris Johnstone is one of the UK's leading resilience trainers, with over 30 years of experience.

What is resilience?

Resilience can be described as the ability to overcome a difficult path and find a better way to go. It is not an easy, fixed path, and it has many layers. Sometimes we have great days followed by bad days and vice versa. Dr. Johnstone explained a few different strategies on how to build resilience and stay positive during tough moments. If you find your students are losing motivation as the first term is coming to an end, encourage them to participate in these activities as well, whether it’s alone, or with the whole class, these strategies will ease their worries.

A storyboard template

A strategy that helps with coping during a difficult time is creating a storyboard template. When faced with a difficult situation, picture it as if it were a story. Part one of the story is looking at your situation and asking yourself where is it going to go from this point forward? Dr. Johnstone explained that life is like a rollercoaster (or as some currently call it, a “corona-coaster”) with many ups and downs in our mood and feelings. When we have our downs, how do we find the upward direction?

This leads to the second part of the story – self talk. This part is understanding your situation and facing the situation. Focus on what you can do, and not on what you cannot do.

Penn resilience program perspective check

Try saying that 10 times over! This strategy is a simple exercise you can do by simply sticking out your hand and counting on your fingers. The thumb stands for “what’s the best that can happen here”? The fingers stand for “what’s most likely to happen”? And lastly the pinkie “what’s the worst that can happen”? This helps reduce over thinking of all the possible outcomes and limits your focus to five realistic possibilities. The pinkie being the smallest represents the least likely outcome of the options, with the other four being more manageable to you.

You can then seek to make the best more likely, and the worst less likely.

Taking a moment to reflect

Lastly, Dr. Johnstone talked about reflection. When facing a really difficult moment during your day, take a moment to put your hands on your head and think of good moments, moments that help you cope.

Another exercise is to take a minute to complete the sentence “I love…” and list all the things that make you happy. Whether it’s walking your dog, baking, being around family etc. think of moments that help you cope.

This is a great activity to do with your students. Ask them to brainstorm three things they do that make them happy and take the time to explain the importance of doing things we love to help us cope with this pandemic.

Dr. Johnstone concluded that resilience programmes for both kids and adults have been proven to reduce risk of anxiety. Additional free resources can be found on our website or explore our programmes to build resilience.

Remember you are not alone in this; seek support and reach out to those you love during difficult times.


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