Mental Toughness is Like a Fruit Bowl

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Which fruit best describes you when the going gets tough?


We all face traumatic events that change our lives – like a major illness, the death of a friend or parent, school or work difficulties. Sometimes it is not just an isolated incident, but also a series of challenging events, or a period of uninterrupted stress.

People respond to these challenging situations in different ways. While there may not be any outward physical signs, there could be inward experiences of strong emotions, uncertainty or depression.

What is it that enables people to adapt to these life-changing situations? It involves mental resilience or toughness in order to cope with the stress and bounce back when faced with difficult situations.

The good news is that we can learn to be more resilient. Resilience is not something that we are born with, but is more like a muscle that grows as it is strengthened. In fact, there are some fruity qualities that can help us build mental resilience.

Resilience = Perspective


When we face a challenge or problem, try to reframe and think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Choosing to have a positive perspective can help us to work through the situation and make better decisions.

Think of the durian, which has spikes to protect itself and a tough exterior. Similarly, we too need to toughen ourselves to display the following traits to fend off the challenges faced in life:

  • Avoid “thorny” thinking traps. Challenge any negative thinking and recognise thinking traps, where we make broad assumptions about ourselves, predict what is going to happen, or assume we know what others are thinking — all based on little or no evidence.

  • Be thankful. We should practise gratitude and remind ourselves of what we have achieved, and look forward to the future. Don’t waste time being envious of someone else’s achievements, job, family or home. Focus on what we have and what we have achieved. Choose to have a thankful and grateful outlook.

  • Do not fear failure. Learn from mistakes and continually improve. A failure can prove to be a valuable learning opportunity.


Resilience = Recharging


Remember that we are like the delicate chiku or papaya with soft exteriors that are vulnerable to bruises. We need to take the time to look after ourselves, and recharge after challenging situations. The key to resilience is not about overworking the body and mind. Instead, resilience is about persevering, then taking a break to recover, before pressing on again.

Resilience means giving our bodies and minds a chance to recover and recharge by doing the following:

  • Get a mental break. Get enough sleep and go tech-free occasionally. Unplugging from smartphones and computers would allow us to spend more time to connect with people and build supportive networks.

  • Get enough exercise and eat healthily.Exercise has been found to reduce stress, and improve both mental health and the quality of sleep[1].

Resilience = Reaching Out


Like a bunch of longans or dukus that are found hanging in clusters on trees, we need to be able to turn to our support network. Social support has been found to be essential for maintaining physical and psychological health[2]. Try the following tips to get a different perspective:

  • Seek help. Talk to peers, family, colleagues, seek help by contacting a hotline or get professional help. When we get help from others, it is a more convenient and faster way of getting the help we need.

  • Help someone. We can help to promote a caring culture by recognising the common signs of distress and pointing the person in need to the right avenue of help. There are also channels that provide information and help specifically for youths who might be struggling with mental health issues.

Being more mentally resilient can change our mental and emotional responses to challenging events. Our emotions are real and powerful, and can affect how we behave, but we can learn to regulate our emotions and behaviour. Ultimately, resilience is a journey. Keep in mind the durian, papaya and longans, and knowing when to ask for help are important steps in that journey.



  1. Gerber, M., Brand, S., Herrmann, C., Colledge, F., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., & Pühsea, U. (2014, Aug). Increased objectively assessed vigorous-intensity exercise is associated with reduced stress, increased mental health and good objective and subjective sleep in young adults. Physiology & Behaviour, 135, 17-24. Retrieved May 2017 from

  2. Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charnet, D., & Southwick, S. (2007, May). Social Support and Resilience to Stress. From Neurobiology to Clinical Practice, Psychiatry (Edgmont), 4(5), 35-40. Retrieved May 2017 from

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