Hannah Irwin

Real world resilience

Impact's Hannah Irwin shares her top tips on how to survive life changing events.


I have always thought I was a pretty lucky person. I grew up in an idyllic place surrounded by family and friends. I enjoyed school. I didn’t suffer with family illnesses or bereavements. I passed exams, I went on to University, I worked hard and I got a good job. Don’t get me wrong my life wasn’t privileged. My parents owned their own business and worked very hard, we didn’t have loads of money but to me life was good.

It wasn’t until I was about to turn 30, that in what could be considered a very short space of time a number of significant life changing events happened to me. These were the kind of events that can stop a person in their tracks. That can change a person forever and that can break a person.

During this time I didn’t start to think how unlucky I had become despite having to overcome a number of obstacles that were making life very difficult for me, because I could still see the good that was happening around me - my beautiful healthy children, my family and my friends. This was my resilience kicking in.  

Resilience refers to the ability to effectively manage one’s life and to successfully adapt to change and stressful events in healthy and constructive ways.

For me, I needed it to survive life, it sounds a bit dramatic but it was true. It is our ability to bounce back from the stresses of life, however big or small.

I am sure that due to my upbringing and early life experiences of family, friendship and hard work I have developed into a person who can cope with whatever is thrown my way. This is my resilience.

If you are going through a tough time, whatever your situation, whatever your background these are the four things that keep me bouncing back.

Perspective – I believe in having perspective, it has helped me look at each situation with other’s situations in mind.

Friendships - I have always had good friends and at a time when something horrendous happens you need your friends more than ever. A positive relationship can enormously help you to cope. This could be the person you vent to (something I did and still do often with my best friend). They don’t need to solve problems, provide answers or even speak, just listen, allowing you the space to be heard rather than taking any pent up frustrations back into your house and to loved-ones.

Watch out for the warning signs – Your body is usually a good indicator as to whether you are coping well or not. For me I stop sleeping so well, I lose things and I get very grumpy with my husband and kids. For others it could be a lack of motivation, low energy levels or eating junk food. I, like many others, am not very good at this and often it goes too far, to the point of being physically ill. It is never too late to take action, however, which is my fourth and final tip…

Take action – Do the things you need to do to get you back into that healthy and happy place. Everyone is different, for some it might be a weekend catching up on sleep for others a massage. I like to go for a walk, spend time with my family, have an early night and read my book. Simple things, but the things that ground me and make me happy.

I regularly re-visit my resilience techniques, sometimes subconsciously but always with the desired outcome of bouncing back and tackling life with positivity.

My son who was born prematurely and suffered meningitis is now a healthy 7 year-old, we talk openly as a family about his twin brother who didn’t survive and everyday wish it had turned out differently. It is 6 years since I had my stroke and although I am permanently partially sighted and unable to drive as well as not feeling anything like I felt before the stroke, I am doing more than just surviving. I am living and enjoying living. I love where I live, I have family and friends around me, a good job and so life is good. I am lucky.  

If you connected with this story why not read Hannah's first hand experience of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.