In our last article, we wrote about understanding resilience as a continuum, and using this concept to inform how we build our own resilience. What we need to hear – both from ourselves as “self-talk” and from others – will depend on where we are at on that resilience continuum. Remember that we will all move up and down at different times in our lives. Rather than giving ourselves a hard time about not being further up or coping better, we need to find the best ways to look after ourselves where we are right now.

In this article, you will find ideas of questions you can ask yourself to cement and enhance your resilience at all levels. You can also use these types of questions to encourage a team member you manage or someone you support to think about their own resilience. These questions are intended to help you think about what’s already working well, and what might help to take just one or two steps toward coping even better. It’s no secret that how we think about a situation has a big impact on our emotional and physical response to it, so simply asking these types of questions can boost resilience.

If you’re bouncing back – Ask, how do I know when stress is starting to affect me? What are the costs of that stress (does it impact on my health, exercise, eating patterns, sleep, relationships with others, engagement at work)? What helps me to reset once that stress has kicked in? What might others see when I’m struggling, and how can they help?

If you’re resisting stress –How do I normally manage stressful times? What works for me, and what do I need to do to keep feeling positive and on top of this challenge? Are there any things I need from my manager, team, colleagues, or support people to help achieve this? How will I know if things are starting to take their toll, and what would help me most at that time? How will I make sure that I keep checking in on how I’m coping (e.g. arrange regular chats to check in with someone else or set yourself reminders to rate your stress levels)?

If you’re adapting in the face of challenge – If you were feeling calm or excited about this challenge, how would you be responding to it? When do you feel most able to think creatively or feel motivated to overcome this challenge? Is there any way to do more of what drives those feelings? What do you most want to get out of this challenging time? What can you ask of others by way of support to make this outcome more likely?

If you’re growing from adversity – How might you be able to benefit from this challenge? What opportunities are there for you to develop (personally or professionally)? If you could look back on how you managed this challenge, what would you like to be able to say about how you got through it? Knowing what you know now, what helpful things would you like to say to yourself if you were just starting to face this challenge? Has anything surprised you positively about how you’ve coped or the support you’ve received?

What if I’m struggling to even bounce back?Sometimes, things have taken a toll to the point where even bouncing back is a hard ask. If this is the case, try questions like these: When have you felt like you were coping? What were you doing then – what behaviours or actions were helping you to feel on top of things? Any behaviours or strategies that you could go back to now? If you were to feel like you were coping OK with what you’re facing now, what would that look and feel like? Is that expectation realistic, based on the current circumstances? Who might you be able to talk this through with and get support from?

Supporting others –These types of questions can be just as helpful in supporting others by prompting them to think about their wellbeing, and empowering them to identify solutions. As well-meaning as you may be, telling someone what they need to do will almost always be less effective than helping them to identify their own ideas by asking open questions. In asking these questions of others, whether they are people you manage or your family and friends, try to think about where on the resilience continuum they seem to be at the moment. This understanding will help you pitch the questions you ask at about the right level for their current coping.

Most important, be empathic with both yourself and others. Coping positively with challenges and adversity does not mean you always have to feel good about the challenge itself. When asking these questions of yourself or someone else, be careful not to minimise the difficulty, stress, and often mixed emotions being felt. Trying to feel happy all the time is not the path to resilience. Using our self-talk and our support networks to help cement and build on our resilience is helpful, so long as it comes along with a good amount of empathy and understanding.