Exploring strategies to build resilience in the midst of COVID-19 By: Elizabeth Dixon, LISW-CP
Are you feeling the weight of COVID-19 yet? The added pressures, transitions, and drastic changes from this pandemic keep pressing on, churning though our "old" ways of life. Many of us continue to grieve while trying to accept this new reality of our world. Some of us are learning to see it as the new "normal," yet still struggling to make sense of what has been, and what could lie ahead.
Thankfully, in the midst of these uncertain, messy times, we all have the capacity to cultivate something called resilience. Simply defined, resilienceis "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress” (APA, 2020).
But how does this happen? How do we individually cultivate resilience, especially as we respond to our current world wide pandemic?
Building Resilience with COVID-19
Dr. Ungar, a family therapy and researcher has done extensive work in the area of resilience. His work demonstrates that we cultivate resilience through both our individual and collective resources and our mindsets (Ungar, 2018). Which means, resilience requires more than just "thinking" positive thoughts, or repeating positive affirmations. The journey of resilience involves an ongoing process of cultivating different psychological, social, and physical resources that we need for our health and well-being.
Based on these principles, here are some tips to help build resilience in the midst of these uncertain times:
Care For Your Mental and Emotional Health
Be intentional about doing things that bring you joy, like that new hobby or project you've been thinking about starting. Set boundaries with the news, and avoid catastrophic, or "black and white" thinking. Maintain routines, structure, and stability when possible. Exercise self-compassion, and try not to judge yourself too harshly. Remember, you're not the only one making mistakes or questioning things. At the end of the day, we are all trying to figure things out and navigate this new "normal." Give yourself a pat on the back, you've made it this far!
Maintain Your Social Connections
The more socially connected we are, the better we are able to fight against symptoms of depression or anxiety associated with this pandemic. Based on Dan Seigal's work, we learn that our our minds are relational, in that we make sense of ourselves and the world around us in the context of our relationships. All the social isolation associated with COVID-19 can radically disrupt this process, which can have a profound impact on our health and mental health.
To combat this, set up a zoom call a friend, pour into family relationships, write a letter to someone you love, or being bold and initiate a conversation with your neighbor across the fence. Whatever you do, stay in contact with people and keep an eye out for those who might be struggling. A cheerful "hello" or smile can go a long way in times like these. Don't let social distancing stop you from connecting with the people you need, nor the people who need you.
Strengthen and Sustain Your Physical Health
In addition to our social networks and mental health, our physical health is also an important resource for resilience. And, with all the concerns associated with COVID 19 and underlying health conditions, there's no better time to get these areas and needs diagnosed and treated effectively!
Now, this doesn't mean we should all run around questioning every symptom that emerges out of fear and paranoia. We want to be mindful about the needs of our bodies, not out of a place of fear, but from a curious, loving, and compassionate perspective.
Take a moment, and just tune in. Do you feel a craving for something? If so, what is it? Maybe it's for more wholesome, less processed foods or better sleep. Or, do you need more sunlight, water, or exercise? What is it your body is wanting?
If you find yourself feeling tense, try going for a nature walk, or stream a yoga class through your TV. Or, perhaps you just need to sit down, right where you are, and do a 5 minute meditation simply focusing on your breath. Our bodies are good at telling us what they need, but sometimes, we don’t always listen. During this season, try listening closely to your body and truly making space for what it needs.
But, don’t forget to be kind and gracious with yourself if/when you don’t do this perfectly.
Nurture your Faith or Sense of Spiritual Identify
Another important resource is our “life purpose” or sense of identity. When life becomes uncertain, we may find ourselves thinking through deeper, more reflective life questions. "What's the meaning of all this suffering?" or, "How can I make sense of this within my world view?"
Interestingly enough, worldwide pandemics tends to shift people outside of their comfort zones and break them away from the day-to-day grind. When the risk of sickness and death shifts into the forefront of the world's mind, many people start thinking deeply and asking real questions about what's "next," or just about what's most important in their lives.