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Jo Maddocks


Chief Psychologist

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Four ways to build resilience during a crisis

What are the emotional stages we experience during a crisis and how can we help aid the transition to the next phase as we work towards recovery?
Building resilience

We learned many things from recent crises – but one of the most meaningful is what we discovered about ourselves. We learned how we respond to change, fear, uncertainty, and adversity. We were shown our vulnerabilities, but also our strengths.

While the last few years were difficult for everyone, as we start to return to some degree of normality – at least in terms of the pandemic – we should take the opportunity to grow from what we were faced with and what we learned about ourselves as we responded to the crisis.

To do this, we ought to look introspectively at ourselves. Agility and resilience can be built through reflection and learning about how we cope when faced with adversity.

We should redirect our attention away from fear and anxiety toward more positive and constructive emotion

What is the Thrive Cycle of Resilience?

There are four stages we transition through in coping with adversity, and the Thrive Cycle of Resilience, drawn from humanistic psychology, outlines four psychological stages of coping with change and adversity: Survive, Adapt, Recover, and Thrive. Our ability to move through the cycle is dependent on our level of resilience.

By looking back at a challenge or crisis we faced and evaluating how we ‘performed’ at each stage, we gain a better understanding of where our strengths are, our level of resilience, and where and how we can build resilience.

This article will identify the feelings typically experienced at each stage, how to recognise these feelings, and a few tips to aid the transition to the next phase.

Stage 1: Survive

The Survive stage is about how successfully a person initially responds to adversity. Feelings of fear and anxiety are often present in this stage. These are feelings that we all experience, as our brains are hardwired to alert us to potential threats.

What’s important is that we don’t get stuck in this stage. In order to move onto the Adapt stage, we should redirect our attention away from fear and anxiety, and towards more positive and constructive emotions, such as acceptance, hope, and appreciation.

Try focusing attention on positive information rather than the negative – for example, rather than focusing on what is bad around you, think about what you are looking forward to and how you could make things better. Use positive language, and instead of thinking about the worst-case scenario – what is the best-case scenario?

Stage 2: Adapt

Next is the Adapt stage, where a person adjusts to change and adversity. The Adapt stage is often associated with more positive feelings than the Survive stage, such as acceptance, tolerance, and compassion. But it’s important to recognise that adapting to adversity is not the same as recovering from adversity.

The Adapt stage provides a temporary window for coping, allowing adjustment to change, but a person should be careful to avoid becoming stuck in a state of resigned helplessness and apathy during the Adapt stage. The key to adjusting and coping in order to move onto the next stage is to manage levels of stress and adapt to the challenges of our new circumstances.

In addition to relaxation activities such as breathing and meditation, try creating new routines. The emotional part of the brain likes predictability as it helps anticipate potential risks allowing a feeling of safety.  If we feel unable to predict what will happen next, it can trigger a regression back to the initial Survival stage, creating a vicious cycle of stress, fear, and eventual burnout. Creating new routines gives the brain structure, and therefore the time to rest and recover.

Stage 3: Recover

The Recover stage is how effectively we bounce back from setbacks and adversity. Here, feelings of frustration, boredom, and anger are often experienced. However, we can use these feelings to motivate us to change our circumstances and reveal some of our hidden strengths such as determination, courage, and resourcefulness.

To ease the transition into the Recovery stage, the focus should be on embracing change. Reframe the things that have changed that you may not be happy about. Take action, even if it’s one step at a time, to create new habits that help motivate. Visualisation can be a useful technique to successfully embrace the outcome you desire.

Stage 4: Thrive

The final stage, Thrive, is about how a person grows and becomes more resilient following adversity. Serenity, optimism, and self-belief are feelings we start to feel once we reach the Thrive stage. These feelings lead to behaviours that help reflect on experiences, think about the future, and become stronger as a result.

The key to truly learning and growing from adversity in the Thrive stage is to allow time to slow down and reflect before another challenge or crisis occurs. Ask questions about how crises in life were responded to:

  • What was the response to the crisis initially? Calm, upset, angry, or relieved?
  • What was learned to help adapt and cope? For example, was support sought from others or were expectations and/or behaviour changed?
  • What personal strengths helped through the crisis? Were inner levels of resilience discovered? Did it create stronger determination or greater flexibility?
  • What was learned overall from the experience? How did the crisis make you stronger?

These questions will help us focus on our strengths. All living things have the innate resources and inner strengths to cope with adversity. The trick is learning how to harness these inner resources. This comes from developing wisdom, which stems from reflection and learning from past experiences – as we do in the Thrive stage.

Understanding how we progress through the cycle helps us to better manage our own levels of resilience

How learning can truly build resilience

At a personal level, stepping back and taking a wider perspective on ourselves, our relationships, and how we want to live our lives can feel uncomfortable, but it is vital for long term health and well-being. The following questions can help consolidate learning, build resilience and think about the future:

  • What is the future you want to create? Think about work, family, and relationships.
  • What is required to create this future?
  • If you continue to do what you’re doing now, what future will you create for yourself?
  • What legacy would you like to leave behind, and how would you like to be remembered?

In order to thrive through adversity, we need to move through each of these stages – adapting, growing, and reflecting. Understanding how we progress through the cycle helps us to better manage our own levels of resilience, and by evaluating how we performed at each stage, we can identify developmental areas to focus on, providing us with the skills to become even more resilient. In so doing we will be better equipped next time adversity strikes to transition through and successfully negotiate the four stages of the Thrive cycle.

We may not be able to entirely control our environment, but we can learn about ourselves and how we respond to external factors and become more resilient in coping with future adversity in life.

Interested in this topic? Read How to build workforce resilience during a crisis.

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Jo Maddocks

Chief Psychologist

Read more from Jo Maddocks
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