How to build resilience when you feel stressed

Build Resilience - flowers grow in many places

I build resilience and that is why I achieve something in unfamiliar situations like when I stood a little puzzled in the Sweet Cake shop in Dili biggest shopping plaza. I see a sausage poking out of a twisted bun but I expected everything to be sweet. Fresh in the country with only a few words in Tetum, it took a little persistence but I did end up with a delicious glutenous rice ball filled with sweet bean past, rolled in sesame seeds.

How to build resilience when you feel stressed and stuck

I am at the start of a cultural immersion in Dili, East Timor to become part of the community so I can achieve what I came here to do.  Knowledge of Tetum is almost zero but I start classes tomorrow.

We all get into unfamiliar situations and even when we know they are coming we sometimes feel not ready leaving us stressed and unable to progress.  Like starting a new job, moving to a new place or meeting new people. When you build resilience, dealing with such situations will become more manageable.

I strive to be able to deal with unexpected situations the best way I can and do this by building resilience. These four strategies work for me in my business and in my personal life.


2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems

Some people experience standing in front of a counter and not being understood as quite stressful. The queue behind you is growing and people are watching. You feel your stress level rising.  

Stress changes how you interpret and respond to things. Maybe you frown and mutter some words better not said but which you think are not understood anyway so you can get away with doing it.

My strategy is to be patient, try a few different ways and stay friendly. With my rice ball situation I switched from asking what is sweet a few times to what was in it and that did the trick as the person knew the English word for beans and sausage. A small achievement, but it made everyone feel very good.

If everything fails and you feel you are not getting anywhere, just make the decision to either choose something or walk away.  Any decision is good as it is about making one that matters. If what you choose was horrible you know not to choose that next time. If you end up hungry then you know that next time you should choose something.  

Accept that change is part of living

Sometimes that what you wanted may no longer be attainable. When circumstances cannot be changed, accept it and focus on what you can change.

I came to Dili determined to live on my own. The one-bedroom unit they took me to see was nice, but the in-country security briefing started me thinking. I read about safety in East Timor months ago but until I arrived here, it did not really sink in.  The fact is that as a woman in Dili it is safer to share. I made the decision that safety comes first so for a while I am fine to constrict my life to a bedroom only.  

I usually find that acceptance and control over what I can change brings a benefit.  In my case, sharing costs less so I will save money.  This I will spend on special things for myself to compensate for the loss of some independence, like a nice massage or a day at the pool in a luxurious hotel.  Paying attention to my needs and feelings, by doing enjoyable and relaxing things, help in dealing with situations that require resilience.

Take decisive action 

Waiting for the right time is not the same as avoidance or detachment. I remember walking along the lake in the evening, again discussing opening a shop. I said: it is not that I do not want one, it is that for me the time is not there yet.  One year later I opened my Gallery and it was beautiful. For me it took some preparation to build up the resilience so I could deal with the problems and stresses that come with being fully self-employed.

Procrastination sometimes works, hoping for problems and stresses to go away does not.  Only when you do something, something happens and what better than having control over what that something will be.

I decided on the rice ball, on the share house, on everything that I packed to bring with me, on going to East Timor, on switching focus in my career, on having children, on cutting my hair, on doing yoga, on moving to Spain in 1985 and on opening a Gallery when I did.   

Decision-making breeds confidence in your ability to solve problems. Even small decisions do this and trusting your instincts builds resilience.  

Keep things in perspective

Everything happens in a broader context so I avoid blowing something out of proportion. Sometimes I am just the unfortunate person in the midst of it. The cake shop only serves locals so why should I expect them to speak English?

When I took a step back from my determination to live alone, I saw what living that way would mean for my daily life in Dili.  Being here in Dili made it clear that the benefits of living alone did not weigh up against safety risks and potential social isolation.

“So what if my share experience is not what I expect either?  Then I will solve the problem with yet another decision, building ever more resilience. “

Carina – Feb 2020

Here are more ways to take your own road to build resilience. For tips on how to deal with change view my blog post Uncertain about a change?

How to build resilience when you feel stressed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top