Developing Resilience by Cheryl Harrison of Giraffe Resilience

Published: 12 Jun 2020
Last reviewed: 23 Sep 2020

Cheryl Harrison, co-founder of resilience and mental health training company, Giraffe Resilience, and a recent guest speaker at memcom talks to us about building resilience during these times.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your organisation

My background is in sales, marketing and training where I worked for over 20 years. Following a cancer diagnosis, I decided to have a career change and re trained as a counsellor and psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher. I now run a private practice called White Feather Counselling as well as Giraffe Resilience. On top of this I also have 3 children, a husband and a dog! So, life can be pretty hectic sometimes!

At Giraffe Resilience, we believe everyone can benefit from building their mental wellbeing and resilience. Our training equips people with the practical tools to use in their daily lives to help gain a better balance so that they may realise their own potential, cope with the normal stresses of life and work more productively


What is your advice to anyone looking to incorporate mindfulness into their lives?

Mindfulness quite simply saved my life! Following a year long treatment program for cancer I had a mental breakdown. When you go through cancer treatment you are on this conveyer belt of hospital appointments, operations, chemotherapy, radio therapy. All the time people are asking you how you are, prodding and poking you, sticking needles in you….. Then it all stops. It feels as if you have fallen off the edge of a cliff and there is no one there to catch you.

I discovered mindfulness during my treatment and after the treatment ended and the mental health crisis started, I embarked on the 8-week MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) at Oxford University.  

My advice would be to give it a go. It’s something everyone can benefit from and it doesn’t mean sitting cross legged for hours on end. It can simply be a matter of minutes to ground yourself in the here and now in the present moment. So often in life we are travelling through at a million miles an hour and missing out on all the good stuff around us. Finding ourselves on the thought busses worrying about the past and projecting ‘what if’ scenarios into the future. All we have is this moment and it can be truly beautiful if we just give ourselves the chance to breathe.

Mindfulness can help to lower levels of stress, improve general wellbeing and health. Employees and leaders who practice mindfulness have less emotional exhaustion, better work life balance and better job performance ratings.


How do we develop resilience?

It is helpful to think of resilience as something that you DO, not as something that you HAVE.

Resilient people use a variety of tools, techniques and exercises to help them cope with, adapt and grow from adversity, all of these can be learned. The effect is cumulative - the more you use the tools/skills, the more your reserves of resilience grow, the quicker you bounce back next time adversity strikes. There are many ways to increase your reserves of resilience so when crisis strikes you are better equipped to deal with it. The important thing to remember it’s like going to the gym, you have to keep going to improve your fitness.

Our Giraffe Resilience Model has been developed following extensive research across the fields of resilience, mindfulness, positive psychology and psychotherapy. The Model contains seven elements - each of which have been proven to help people build their personal resilience & wellbeing. Each person will find they have different strengths and weaknesses across the elements of the model.

Grow Your Thinking - Helps individuals develop a growth mindset to see challenges as opportunities in order to learn and grow.

Invest In Positive Relationships - Encourages investment in strong relationships as a source of support and advice

Regulate Negative Emotions - Equips individuals to not let negative emotions damage self-esteem, but to take time to process and grow from them without allowing them to weaken their ability to cope.

Achieve Balance - Encourages us to respond to difficult situations rationally rather than reactively to help gain more balance in everyday life.

Feed Positive Emotions - Experience more positive emotions to offset a bias towards negativity and improve one's ability to deal with adversity.

Foster Self Compassion - Look after yourself! Learn how to become stringer in body and mind to deal with challenges as they occur.

Elevate Hope - Develop hope as a positive motivational state to set clear goals together with the perseverance to achieve them.


What do you think are the challenges and opportunities we can expect to see over the next year?

It is clear from the initial research that this pandemic has had significant impact on our mental health and wellbeing. According to Institute of Fiscal Studies around 7.2m people in the UK aged 16+ are experiencing at least one mental health issue ‘much more than normal’. Young adults and women are the worst groups affected, according to the research.

I believe it is critical for employers to be looking after their employee’s mental health and wellbeing during lock down and as we come out of it too. It is critical to be aware that this pandemic will have had a lasting impact on many people in the UK and life will not just return to ‘normal’ once lockdown is over. We are in this for the long haul.

However, this also represents an opportunity for organisations to embrace mental health and acknowledge it. For so long people suffering from mental health issues have been stigmatised and quite often unfairly treated in the work place. Employers have been afraid to acknowledge mental health issues, but now at long last as a nation we are TALKING about mental health. This presents a huge opportunity for organisations to differentiate themselves by being vocal about the mental health support they offer to employees.


What future trends do you think we’ll see over the coming months in leadership?

I really hope that one of the major trends coming out of this crisis within leadership is the embracement of mental health. If leaders can start that conversation with their organisations we will be better placed for the future.

Resilience is something we all need to be aware of and I hope business leaders will acknowledge this and reach out to organisations such as Giraffe Resilience to help train their teams in building their own resilience reserves.

I also believe that we will get to a place of better work life balance. For so long we have been driven by the desire to work more to have more. This pandemic has focused the mind on what is important. Physical and mental health have to come before everything if we are to learn anything from this pandemic.

Leaders in industry hopefully will recognise that business can survive and thrive without the need for everyone to be commuting hours to get into work or travelling around the world for meetings. Video technology has been a life line for so many during this pandemic and I believe it is here to stay.