Career advice

How to develop your emotional resilience

Do you ruminate for days after a difficult incident at work? The good news is you can improve your coping skills and learn how to deal with work stresses.

Do you ruminate for days after a difficult incident at work? The good news is you can learn to improve your coping skills and bear work stresses more lightly 


Emotional resilience can be developed and nurtured. Picture: iStock

Although physical or emotional abuse at work is never acceptable, many patients have a lower sense of social nicety when unwell or stressed, so, sometimes you may be on the receiving end of harsh comments as patients vent their frustrations. On top of this you may face volatile ward dynamics and the demands of an under-resourced environment.

The skills required to cope with these pressures cannot be learnt from a clinical textbook, instead you need to build up what is known as ‘emotional resilience’: the ability to maintain well-being and performance under pressure and bounce back from setbacks or bad days. 

Monitoring your resilience

Think of a recent stressful situation at work, such as a chaotic shift or a specific incident with a patient or colleague. Were you able to recover from it easily, or did you find yourself ruminating for days?

With the benefit of hindsight, what do you think could have helped you to cope with this in a different way? Try not to compare yourself to other nurses, simply ask yourself what would help you feel stronger. Start using a reflective diary to help you monitor how you cope with incidents in the future.

Self-protection muscle

As with many skills, resilience can be developed and nurtured – think of it as your self-protection muscle, requiring regular exercise. Try to incorporate into your day-to-day life things that help.

  • Practise mindfulness: The ability to focus on what is happening right now can help to stop ruminating and escalation of worries.
  • Balance the good with the bad, the hard with the easy: Spending time off-duty, doing things you enjoy, can help you to gain a sense of perspective at work.
  • Build your confidence: What helps you feel confident? Try to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Speak to your line manager about learning opportunities that will help you feel more confident in your role.
  • Look after the basics: A balanced diet, adequate hydration, good quality sleep and regular exercise are the foundations to feeling emotionally and physically strong. Though shift work presents challenges, with a bit of planning it is still possible to look after yourself. 
  • Seek support: Sharing how you feel can help to lighten your load and make things feel more manageable. Perhaps you could suggest resilience is discussed at your next ward meeting so that you can develop a supportive environment collectively.
  • Recognise when you aren’t coping: It is okay to admit if you are struggling. Talk to your line manager or a senior member of staff if you feel your health or performance is being affected. Be patient with yourself.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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