Becoming more psychologically robust

19 April 2021

Becoming more psychologically robust

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Phil Hopley discusses how to cope with the psychological challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Video transcript

Hello, I'm Dr. Phil. Hopley, Consultant Psychiatrist at Cognacity.

Thank you for joining me for this video, where we'll be looking at how to cope with the psychological challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Effectively, we're in the space of resilience building, or becoming more psychologically robust.

Professionals in the world of mental health regard resilience of having three core components. The first is when under pressure we must keep that stress or pressure in perspective.

The second is that when we're under pressure we must try as best we can to maintain control of our focus and direct our focus where it will suit us best.

And finally, we need to recover after any challenging period. Those activities that help us to restore our physical and psychological sense of wellbeing are vital.

Let's take these one by one.

The thinking area

In the world of cognitive Neuroscience, this is the way in which our brains operate process information.

So, under pressure most of us, if not, all of us, are prone to some unhelpful thoughts at times.

Common examples of these so-called mind traps are catastrophising, black or white thinking and personalisation.

Catastrophising is rapidly jumping to the worst-case scenario outcome based on a small amount of information.

Black or white thinking, common in perfectionists, is where we think if something is an absolutely perfect, isn't it a hundred percent, then we've really let ourselves down and it wasn't worth it.

And personalisation is that sense that when something doesn't go well, it's all your fault. It's all on your shoulders.

An example of catastrophising would be if I developed a mild symptom of illness such as a runny nose, a headache, intermittent cough and I immediately concluded that I've got the coronavirus.

I then worried that I'm going to get acutely unwell, and I need to go to hospital. I then fear that in hospital if I get acutely sick, there won't be enough intensive care beds and therefore I'll die.

So, you can see how quickly I go from some mild evidence some small evidence to a very negative outcome. Of course, the reality is that could happen, but the likelihood of that happening is extremely low.

So, what do we do in a situation where we've catastrophise? Well, I'd encourage you all to look back on a scenario where those unhelpful mind traps jumped in and say to yourself what was the actual outcome? My brain told me this would happen. But what actually happened. What is the evidence showing? What are the facts here?

And by challenging our automatic thoughts over time, we weaken the tendency for that to happen automatically and we can have more balance thoughts which are more of a response than a reaction.

Cognitive behavioural Neuroscience, the behaviour means our actions, what we do.

So, let's look at recovery behaviours because for me these are the area that most people tend under pressure to let go of and let slip.

You'll all be familiar with the common well-being pillars of sleep, regular exercise, healthy diet, good hydration and quality time with others.

Many of us when we recognise these are areas for attention take extreme and unsustainable action.

In January, I, in the past have done a detox, where for a month I might be very restrictive in my diet only to find that things revert to how they were before.

I've also in the past like many of you joined a gym and found that that intention to go three times a week for whatever reason after a period of time just gets bumped down to do list. So, it's so important when we're thinking about recovery behaviours to choose a small thing to do, but to do it regularly on a daily basis and we know again from cognitive behavioural Neuroscience that if we implement these healthy habits after about 21 to 28 days, they become sustained behaviours.

I'll give you a couple of ideas of what you can do in these but there are lots of good sources of information that you can access outside this video.


How many of us use a digital device to be our alarm clock for the morning? I used to be guilty of this. The problem we have with this is that the blue light that comes off most modern devices actually delays the release of melatonin by about an hour.

Melatonin is the naturally occurring sleep hormone in the brain. And so late use of these devices without using a filter lens is going to negatively impact on sleep. That's something to think about.


With exercise, many people perceive exercise as being something that has to be done in a gym or a structured way. Actually, just being more active makes a huge difference to how we can manage our energy levels. I encourage people every hour to take two to five minutes off from their working get up from their desk and just move.

Just by being active that can make a difference. In the era when we travel to work, getting off the tube or the bus stop early so we do more walking. In an office building taking the stairs rather than the escalators or the lifts. Small things done consistently will help to build our resilience.


Interestingly, when I used to go in and train people in their office blocks before lockdown. Most people would come to a session with the bottle of water and looking around an open plan working environment you see bottles on the desk. How many of us have water on our desks working at home?

Because water fountains are available widely at work. It's a reminder to us. So, we may need to re-establish that healthy habit.


Diet, access to snacks, the kitchen being only a short walk or a flight of stairs away. Discipline around healthy eating and balancing what we eat is really important.

A key idea here is to maybe pair up with someone at home or someone who you don't live with and just try and set in some healthy habits some expectations for what you will and won't eat on different days of the week.

Quality time

Finally, quality time with others. I see so often, and I've been guilty of this myself, the way in which people live a distracted life.

You've still got connection to your work through your phone or your device when you could be having quality connected time with family and friends.

Put the devices away make a demarcation between work and home life. Set your diary that way and set expectations for those you're working with. I think people have become much more understanding of the need to be connected to friends in order to protect our wellbeing. These active choices you can make but again take a small thing to do and do it consistently.

Final thoughts

If you can build on these marginal gains, what you will find is that your recovery improves and your psychological resilience and ability to bounce back for all the challenges we're facing will also improve.

Maybe just pick one of those things I've talked about and try and implement that from now, don't put it off and see how you get on.