Looking forward over the next few months, the future seems to be as clear as mud. Will educational institutes be able to reopen? Will the economy be able to recover quickly from this shut-down, or will we be feeling the repercussions for years to come? What will our cultural and political landscapes look like this fall? If we had even a little more information we could plan ahead and feel somewhat more secure, but the reality of the ever-evolving situation we find ourselves in means that clarity is unlikely. Instead, we will have to find a way to stay resilient in the face of uncertainty – not a small task.
Resilience is the ability to persevere through hardship or stress, and in some cases use it as a chance to grow and improve. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the stress or emotional pain of these events – indeed, being honest about what you are experiencing is one of the keys to resilience over the long term.
A study of 128 Australian General Practitioners (doctors) found that individuals who exhibited intolerance of uncertainty and anxiety increased rates of burnout, while those who had resilient traits were somewhat protected not only from burnout, but also from aspects of anxiety, ruminating, and had better communication with patients. Fostering a sense of resilience, then, not only protects us from some negative consequences but also makes us better able to connect with the people around us – which also has its own benefits.
The American Psychological Association recommends focusing on these 4 key areas of your life to improve resilience: purpose, emotional connections, health and mental wellness.
”Resilience is the ability to persevere through hardship or stress, and in some cases use it as a chance to grow and improve.
A review published by the Harvard Business School found that giving increases happiness and kicks off a positive feedback loop – leading to more giving, which leads to more experiences of happiness. By providing something of value to this world we increase our own self-notion of validity and respect; key ingredients to feeling as if we have a purpose. To build on your own sense of purpose, reconnect with what value your job provides to the world, or if you are a student, focus on how your courses will allow you to help society. Create a mission statement for yourself and remind yourself of it when times seem hard.
Work isn’t the only place you can give back. Times are no doubt tough for many people at the moment, so financial donations to charities may be out of the question. Instead, offer to help people in your community – offer to mentor someone at work or join a mentorship program at your local college, offer to pick up groceries or run errands for an elderly neighbour, or sign up for an organization that does things like organize volunteers to walk the dogs of healthcare workers. These are valid and important ways to give back.
Goal setting is another opportunity to develop a sense of purpose, when done in moderation. Pick a hobby or aspect of your career that you’ve always wanted to improve on and set small, incremental steps to that goal. For example, if you were laid off at work look into developing an aspect of your skill set that you think will be valuable when you apply to new positions. While doing this, it is important to keep in mind that progress will likely be slow and is not an all-or-nothing experience. Be kind to yourself – we’re all already dealing with a lot at the moment.
This is no doubt a tough one to work on as social distancing is the primary way to keep our loved ones safe during this pandemic. What’s more, the constant presence of social media may make us feel like we are staying connected to our social circles, but these interactions are largely one-sided and lack in depth. Make a solid commitment to pick up the phone and call or start a video chat with the people you care about.
This is also a great time to reach out to people you may not have had the time to connect with in the past. Send an email to a co-worker you’ve always admired or to a relative you’ve fallen out of touch with; even if the conversation is short this is a fantastic way to begin to build those small bridges that can lead to lifelong relationships.
”This is a good time to reach out to people you may not have had the time to connect with in the past.
Finally, check out an online group in something you’re interested in – like interior decorating or running. Pick smaller, more specific groups to increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to have meaningful conversations. (As always, use your head when talking to strangers on the internet and double-check your profile’s privacy settings before starting). If you’re in an area that’s opening up, try checking out a group that meets outside, like a photography or walking club.
According to the APA: “stress is just as much physical as it is emotional”. Focus on sticking to small, healthy habits that will help your body (and therefore your mind) cope with stressors. Things like eating green vegetables every day, aiming for 8-10 hours of sleep a night and getting some form of physical activity every day all count.
Secondly, be careful of what you are doing to avoid the feelings of stress or anxiety – drugs, alcohol, and/or spending excessive time on social media. In the Algebra of Happiness, Scott Galloway notes that presence of alcohol in a person’s life is a primary indicator of unhappiness and dissatisfaction – correlated with negative events such as failed marriages, poor health, and stunted careers.
The APA recommends developing a positive, hopeful attitude to change for best results. Acknowledging that things will be different but having faith that the experience of this change will make us better, more aware, more capable. What if we chose to focus on the things we can learn and gain from this experience, rather than the things we are afraid of?
Change is not easy, and continuing to accomplish our daily tasks through this uncertainty is no doubt an incredibly difficult task. By taking time to focus on our mental, physical, and emotional health, we can help make the process a little easier and find ourselves on the other side stronger, more capable individuals.
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