Build resilience in times of crisis

How to Build Resilience in Times of Crisis.

How to build resilience. It’s a question we get asked a lot, especially at the moment. Usually that question is around managing stress, workplace performance and personal life issues that we all encounter. Recently, you’ve been contacting us about resilience in times of geopolitical conflict. These global events require a different approach to resilience. Sometimes we don’t know when they’ll end. We may not have control over the events that happen around us, but what we can control is our response to those events.

When you’re in crisis, you need resources that work. Extended exposure to violence and danger is intensely stressful. Even when you’re not directly affected, perhaps you have family in a war zone, listening to the news can feel overwhelming, polarising and, sometimes, hopeless. We’ve put together a psychological toolkit of resources, information and strategies to help you build resilience in times of crisis.

How to Build Resilience in Times of Crisis: Strategies

These strategies are useful for adults and children in times of crisis. It’s important to remember that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. If something works for you, use it. There are no hard and fast rules in times of conflict, it’s a personal journey.

Maintain connections.

Connection is one of the greatest buffers that we have against stress. Maintain relationships with family, friends and your community. The social support that comes with those relationships helps us to build resilience.

Focus on what you can Control

This model is known as circles of control. It’s composed of circles of control, influence and concern. This is a really useful visual representation of what you can and cannot control. It’s a helpful to to examine what’s happening at any given time. Consider each of the three circles; what you are able to directly control, what you can influence, what you are concerned about but cannot change.

For example you can control how you take care of yourself, you may be able to influence what is happening by lobbying governments, you cannot control situations, events, conflict or war that is happening around you. It’s outside of your sphere of control or influence. That makes it an area of concern. The smallest circle is the circle of control but that’s where we place our focus. Worrying about what we can’t control isn’t the best use of your time, energy or mental bandwidth.

Focusing on what you can control builds resilience and reduces stress. Make a list of all the things that you can control and place them in that circle. Create another list for the influence circle and another for what you cannot control, placing those items in the concern circle. Your mental resources are better focused on what you are able to control, on things that can have a positive impact.

Circles of Control

Break Big Problems Down

When you’re faced by a big problem, break it down into manageable chunks. Tackling larger issues piece by piece will help you to build your locus of control (the belief you have about how much control you have over what happens to you). Each time you complete a task you’ll be building your self efficacy and your resilience.

Maintain a Routine

When your world feels as though it has been turned upside down, it’s probably the last thing that you feel like doing but maintaining a daily routine brings normalcy to an abnormal situation. Routine can bring an equanimity to unsettling situations.

Help Others

There’s a growing body of research demonstrating how when we help others, we also benefit ourselves. Volunteer or help a neighbour. Even the act of taking the time to listen to someone is an act of kindness and the power of that in times of conflict is not to be underestimated.

Take News Break

Constantly scrolling through newsfeeds can feel overwhelming. Take a break from the news or limit your news time to quality news sites for 30 minutes to an hour. It’s important not to begin your day by reading news, the same goes for watching the news before you go to sleep. Constant negativity is disempowering and will diminish your resilience.


Plan with friends and family and as a community. Create a plan of action for all eventualities. That might mean putting together an emergency kit of food, water, battery pack, flash light, fuel, medical supplies or warm clothes that you can take with you if you need to evacuate in a hurry. Also deciding which personal items that you’ll take with you can also save time in emergencies.

Connect with Nature

There’s something reassuring about connecting with nature. It’s a powerful ally for building your resilience. Being outdoors anchors us to the constancy of the natural world. It soothes and relaxes us, activating our parasympathetic nervous system. Being in nature (even in your neighbourhood greenspaces) brings perspective, induces calm and reduces stress. Research suggests that even a short period of time spent in nature reduces stress biomarkers in saliva.

Self Care

Making time to look after yourself, eating well, exercising and making time for fun will help you to maintain your equilibrium. It might feel counterintuitive, but self care is a building block for developing resilience when things around you feel unpredictable and chaotic. Download our free Mindful Self Care Toolkit for ideas and prompts to make time for yourself as part of your How to Build Resilience in Times of Crisis strategy.

How to Build Resilience in times of crisis videos

Emma Seppälä, Building Resilience in times of Chaos.

In this video Emma talks about research backed strategies to manage personal resilience. She explores empirically validated techniques to improve our emotional intelligence, our social connection, and our ability to endure and thrive no matter what comes our way.

Building & Fostering Resilience in a Time of War: An Open Discussion

Dr. Daryn Reicherter and Dr. Debra Kaysen from Stanford psychiatry offer actionable strategies for building and fostering resilience in a time of war, then answer questions from the audience. This webinar was hosted on May 19, 2022 by Academy DTEK and the Stanford Center for Health Education

The three secrets of resilient people | Lucy Hone

Dr Lucy Hone is a resilience expert who thought she found her calling supporting people to recover following the Christchurch earthquake. She describes a traumatic event in her personal life brought her profound insight into human suffering.

Building Conflict Resilience

Conflict resilience involves being able to hear – and sit within the discomfort of – opposing viewpoints without resorting to immediately taking sides. Bob Bordone, Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School and Founder and Principal at Cambridge Negotiation Institute, to discuss “conflict resilience”.

Feeling Extreme Emotions? Try a Survival TIPP

Esme Shaller, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, UCSF discusses a set of four strategies taken from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These are called TIPP (temperature, intense exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, paced breathing).

Resilience: How to Emerge from your Tragedies Stronger | Sydney Cummings | TEDxUCDavis

In 2018, Sydney and Dustin were victims of senseless gun violence and after surviving being shot, Sydney came back to the fitness world with a mission to help more and more people with her rapidly growing fitness brand.

“Crafting Resilience in Times of War” – a student project on Ukrainian refugee craftswomen

We’ve talked about how it’s important to maintain your hobbies and interests during times of conflict. Unlike other traumatic events, we don’t know when war will end. That makes it even more important to connect with interests and hobbies, maintaining as much of as everyday routine as you can. This projects shows how craft can be used as a form as art therapy, to maintain identity and culture as well as fostering empowerment and resilience.

Emotional Resilience in Times of War

Vivian Dittmar on how to self regulate in times of distress by creating a setting that makes it safe to turn to one another to offer soothing support. This is fundamental in times of distress.

Harvard Center on the Developing Child.Play in Early Childhood: The Role of Play in Any Setting

This video looks at 3 core principles for children to thrive and develop resilience. Play in early childhood is an effective way of supporting all three of these principles.

  1. Supporting responsive relationships
  2. Strengthening core life skills
  3. Reducing sources of stress

If you’d like to talk about how to use any of these resources or how to build your resilience in times of conflict, please get in touch.

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