Overcoming resilience fatigue

August 20, 2021  
Principal - Mrs Judi Nealy

Over the past week I have been observing the headlines around how we are all coping with the extended lock down. Two media interactions have really sat with me and I want to share them with our community. The first is the phrase “resilience fatigue” and the second a briefing given by the NSW Chief Psychologist Dr Murray Wright.

I have been hearing the term “resilience fatigue” a lot in the last two weeks, so what is it?

A quick search brings up this explanation. “It is the exhaustion people experience from attempting to act motivated, inspired, and positive. To keep smiling. To demonstrate how tough they are. Basically, it’s what happens when you keep the engine revving too high for too long.” (Peter Butko 07/2020)

If we focus on the concept of resilience first, it is the capacity to bounce back or recover after a trauma or disappointment. So resilience fatigue occurs when we feel the pressure to keep being positive and seeing solutions during an extended period of challenge and loss. I think this is a real experience for many of our students, staff and their families and one that we would be well-served to understand, which leads me to Dr Wright. 

In his opening statement of the briefing Dr Wright urged all of us to understand that our current situation is “the most sustained and serious period of stress that many of us will face in our entire life”. We are, all of us, being incredibly resilient just getting up in the morning and tackling the day ahead. And this is very tiring. More tiring perhaps than at other times in history when communities have experienced sustained stress. 

I wonder if a significant contributor is our online connected world. We are working extra hard to put a positive face and attitude out into the world for our families, friends and colleagues. Almost attempting to portray resilience online and face to face (like we are bouncing back) all the time. Now we are generally quite good at bouncing back or recovering from a single set back and demonstrating resilience, but in an ongoing and sustained period of stress we all need a break from looking and being resilient and positive about our situation – hence fatigue is a common experience.

So what’s the solution? Again back to Dr Wright who recommended the following simple steps for self care:

  • Have a plan for each day and follow it as much as we can.
  • Monitor yourself and others
  • Access help.

Having a plan means creating some structure and order in our lives and is a “back to basics approach” to focusing on what we have control over. It includes regular daily exercise, keeping in contact with important friends and family, talking about meaningful things (not just “likes” online) and setting goals each day that allow a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. The goals don’t need to be huge, it could be a tidy sock drawer, weeded garden, cuppa with a friend etc. Something that you will look at with satisfaction when it is done and something that can be achieved during the time you have available each day. (For me this means breaking things down into smaller steps, otherwise my goal for the day would be to renovate the bathroom!)

Monitoring yourself and others means taking the time to really check in with ourselves and others. Looking for signs that we are struggling, these can include feeling overly fatigued, overwhelmed or irritable.

Accessing help means, if we observe any of these signs, it is important to get help. There are many ways we can do this and in the coming weeks our School psychologists will be hosting webinars on personal and family wellbeing during COVID. Keep an eye out for details to come soon. You can also access help from the following resources:

It makes sense that we are tired of being resilient and that we need to give ourselves permission to rest so that we can keep going in this protracted season of remote leaning. It also makes sense that we must consider where each other is placed in their daily resilience “tank”. Dr Wright suggested that “ we need to assume that everyone we come into contact with is also impacted by the stress and may not be dealing with it in a way they usually would” and he encouraged us to be kind to each other.

I couldn’t agree more. Grace and kindness are more important than resilience, forced positivity or persistent demonstrations of being inspired. Kindness to each other will enhance resilience because it encourages us whether we are bouncing back, free falling or flat on the ground. Instead of forcing continual resilience I’m going to focus on kindness and I encourage you to try this also.


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