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Personal Resilience

Personal resilience is

grass in ice picture...  our capacity to absorb stress and stay healthy - our “bounce-back-ability.” When we’re resilient we can deal with life’s irritations, challenges and disappointments and still be ok. When we’re not, we can be knocked sideways by small things – and then take it out on others or ourselves.

“Burnout is the dirty secret of the environmental movement.”
Transition Training participant

The shift required as we let go of dreams of ever increasing affluence and come to terms with a future where energy, material comforts and growth are limited is enormous. By understanding our responses to change, we are able to design a healthy balance in our lives which empowers us to take action while looking after ourselves and our colleagues.

Unfortunately, at times, our passion to create change can override our bodies.  When our life is out of balance and our bodies can no longer sustain high levels of activity, we are burned out. Endemic in social and environmental movements, it deserves particular attention in Transition.

The scale of the challenge, the urgency, the impact of the problems we are trying to resolve, are so huge, it is easy for us to give more of ourselves than we would if we felt less passionate.  For many, responding to these challenges is in itself energising – the opportunity to do something meaningful, to make a difference. But the dangers of working in this territory are real – just ask around. Not taking burnout seriously, as part of a Transition project is – put simply – unnecessarily risky.

Are you suffering from burnout? Take this online questionnaire and find out.

Understanding the causes of burnout

“I’ve got a lot to do today…I’ll have to meditate for two hours instead of one!”
Thich Nhat Hanh

The primary cause of burnout is a lack of balance. Too much doing and not enough stillness. Too much giving and not enough receiving. Too much pressure and not enough relaxation or fun. In the short term, this is manageable.  Over long periods, it takes a real toll. 

As humans, we have evolved to know when we’re under stress but we’ve become very good at ignoring or overriding these signals. Some have physical symptoms – a cold,  a headache, a bad back. For others it’s emotional – feeling snappy, irritable, tearful, or depressed. For others, it’s a mental process – the mind never stops or it can be hard to sleep. 

We’ve been well trained by many work environments where ignoring warning signs is the norm.  In Transition, another factor is the emotional impact of understanding the scale of the destruction, injustice and suffering caused by our current system. Without the space to share feelings of anger, despair, grief and fear, these can sap our vital energy, exhausting rather than energising and motivating us.  Each job has its health and safety issues – and in our experience burnout is a workplace hazard in Transition.

Last, and perhaps most important, burning out is one way we can repeat what’s happening to our planet -- in our personal lives and in our groups. Instead of responding to the early signs of distress by scaling back, by acting well within the available resource, we overuse and deplete ourselves – mirroring the very problem we seek to address.

How to create greater personal resilience

Adapting to change happens in stages and by accepting and understanding this, we are able to rest in a place where we feel empowered and able to take action while looking after ourselves and our colleagues.

Check in using the information below:

  1. Check on the balance in your life, and in your groups. Ask the question – how sustainable am I (or are we) over the next 1, 6, 12 months?
  2. Know what replenishes your energy and build it into your daily or weekly routines!
  3. Know your early warning signs Put support structures in place which help to resource you and to notice danger signals.
  4. Scale back your own activity or that of your group if you’ve felt stretched for a while.
  5. Include fun and social time in your group activities.
  6. Create shared spaces for expressing negative feelings as well as the positive.
  7. Celebrate the good work you’re doing and that you’re all staying healthy and energised!
  8. Celebrate the good work you’re doing and that you’re all staying healthy and energised!

Coming soon - the Inner Transition toolkit, with a section on Personal resilience and burnout.