Does the COVID-19 pandemic place you in a perpetual state of worry, despair, loneliness, and fear? It’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming feeling of an uncertain future, with a great deal of isolation, anxiety, fatigue, and fear mixed in there. So the big question is, how do we build resilience during challenging times?
The past months have been so mind-boggling and filled with unexpected levels of stress and adversities brought not just from COVID-19 but also storms, fires, political polarity, and social injustice.
Many of us have lost our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. We’ve heard the sad and horrific stories. Many of us are stuck with juggling work, endless Zoom/Skype meetings, and our young kids. At the same time, we are trying to support and protect our vulnerable relatives, manage mental ill health, and figure out the future. Some people are experiencing fear of their finances, impacting people’s self-worth as millions of people are out of work and school. Businesses have closed down, and some remaining businessees are facing dwindling cash flows.
Before the pandemic, we were already stressed and burned out, so the pandemic has simply amplified these challenges. Now we have to think through the potential implications of many of our totally normal, everyday actions and decisions in a way we never had to before because of how they could affect our family and the families of others. This is called “moral fatigue,” and it’s exhausting. Everything is out of order, disrupting our habits.
In Rolling Stone magazine, Dr. Michael Baur, associate professor of philosophy at Fordham University, who specializes in natural law and moral philosophy, ‘even our most simple actions and decisions can now have moral consequences that impact someone else’s life and health very significantly.”
This means there’s so much on now that we no longer know the right thing to do and what is not. That translates to any time we are stuck. It is hard to reflect on what works and what doesn’t. That is creating a profound amount of stress. This is where we need to access our resilience practices.
According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Report, the pandemic is a major source of stress for eight in 10 adults, and 60% of adults are overwhelmed by the issues it brings for all the reasons we describe above.
Before now, we were sure about the money we might make, the sales we can reach, the next step in our careers. But for many, their world has been turned upside down, and with the fear of uncertainty, the world around them is at a standstill.
Many people can find resilience and push through short-term challenges, but we are in this for the long term, and people find it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. People are burning out; it feels like we’ve reached a tipping point – an explosion of tiredness, anxiousness, uncertainty, and other kinds of craziness.
Best-selling author Brene Brown explains what’s happening to our bodies…
“Our bodies cannot deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, in the same way, we have dealt with other crises in the past.”
“Normally, in order to get through a crisis, our bodies are built to respond with a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy … a super-coping surge,” said Brown.
So let’s discuss how we get to that super-coping surge and build resilience in difficult times. It is more important than ever because the pandemic will be followed by other challenges; recession, climate change, and others.
How do you build resilience? What’s in it for you? What are those benefits? How can resilience become a life force against adversity like the pandemic? Do you have questions like this? We will talk about these questions in this article.
So in this article, you will learn:
What is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to get back on track after misfortune or adjust to change.
Just as Martin Seligman, author ad motivational speaker, says, we can think of resilience like a balance scale, where we fight against negative experiences using positive experiences so that we can achieve a great balance.
No wonder being highly resilient is not about never facing any adversity but being able to accept, adjust, adapt, let go and bounce back when things don’t go according to plan.
Such things can be trauma, fear, or adversity.
I believe we were born resilient. We come into this world, and our first challenge is to breathe in a new environment. We learn to walk and talk in our first year of life. This is something we have to continue to practice and build over time. It gets stronger with life’s ups and downs if we practice it.
Resilience is something we build through beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, and social support.
This is why we all have unique responses to adversities and stress.
4 Principles of Building Resilience
In times like this, it’s important to discover or rediscover your purpose. This is what gets you out of bed, even when all that gloom and doom of the COVID-19 and other challenges threaten to weigh you down. It is typically something bigger than ourselves; it is a cause you stand for.
Finding and connecting to a sense of purpose is the first step to build up and strengthen resilience. It will provide focus, define goals, making sure you can take decisive actions even when the situation looks bleak and confusing. It is like a superpower that keeps you getting up when you have been knocked down. It is something to fight for. It gives your life greater meaning and sparks creativity and helps you to learn and grow with every step and every challenge.
Think about the words of Huffington’s daughter, Isabella Huffington, in her book Map to the Unknown, where she talks about her challenges after she was hit by a bike on the streets of New York.
Facing three years of crippling pain, she learned to trust and build resilience. In her own words:
“when something senseless happens that our minds can’t explain or control, it’s like we’ve come to a fork in the world – a moment of choice’.
“So we can choose to despair, rage or become cynical about the universe, or we can choose the other fork – to start a journey to find deeper meanings in the midst of the most trying events.”
These words remind us that in all events, we can choose how we respond. It is what renowned psychologist Linda Graham describes as ” the ability to pause, step back, reflect, shift perspectives, create options and choose wisely.”
We can challenge ourselves and our attitudes to choose a different path. In the face of tragedy or crisis, our sense of purpose will help us get on the road to recovery. This might also mean connecting with a higher purpose or spirituality, fighting for a cause in your local community, or participating in other activities that are meaningful to you.
According to MindTools, we need to practice thought awareness. This means adopting a positive and optimistic outlook. Therefore, we must challenge those first thoughts and words that pop up when we sense that threat.
We also need to practice cognitive restructuring, which is about changing how you look at negative situations. You need to move from “I’m never going to be good at my job” or “I’m never going to be the perfect mom/dad/partner” to “I’m going to give my best at this.”
This does not mean that we overlook the problem, but we stop seeing it as worse than it is. It is important to see things as they are n not better or worse but as they are. Our words have a huge impact on this.
We can use words productive words focused on the potential to get better and avoid destructive thoughts that things would worsen. In my TEDx motivational speech, I talk about the fact that we have 70,000 thoughts a day. We have to stop seeing the effects of bad events as permanent when they are actually temporary. This will challenge and shift automatic negative thoughts that might surface.
By shifting our thoughts from mere possibilities to probabilities, we become less anxious and more realistic about the future.
When we are resilient, we learn to control those intrusive thoughts and images. This equally means never personalizing bad events.
That being said, it also means developing confidence and a profound sense of self, so we have the strength to put our efforts into taking the right steps forward. Research shows that your self-confidence is vital to coping with stress and recovery. So it would be best if you keep reminding yourself of the good times, your strengths, and accomplishments.
Resilient people believe in themselves, enabling them to stay confident and empowered why taking risks.
Resilient minds are always improvising. They don’t focus on the problem at hand but focus on solving the problem. While they might feel the sadness that comes with the loss, they don’t allow themselves to focus on the sadness (for an extended period of time). Just let it pass through when it surfaces. They accept that the circumstance cannot change, and then they look for ways to move forward from the problem, learn from it or find new meaning.
This is what motivational speaker Brene Brown also calls ‘a reality-check on our expectations: we need to know we are not going to do this well; because we don’t even know what we are doing.’
We must learn that ‘failures’ are totally normal; what’s not is allowing those failures to rule your next steps. Resilient people look at the mistakes and failures as lessons to be learned.
Our entire being – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – are all connected. So building mental resilience is only one aspect – we need to radiate that buoyancy all around. So you may wonder how can I demonstrate I am resilient or show resilience?’ It’s simple but tricky to follow, judging by how many responsibilities we have towards others.
It would help if you focused on building your self-nurturance skills. This means learning to stop neglecting your own needs, ignoring exercise, losing your appetite, forgoing work-life balance, or not getting enough sleep. If you are doing any of these things, you need to take a step back.
We must take deliberate steps to boost our overall health – that’s how we fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
To build resilience, our focus won’t be purely personal but would transcend to our workplace. The American workforce faces trying times – the constant fear of losing our jobs, the fear of never finding another, or even the fears of never advancing up the career ladder. We can either choose to let all those fears overwhelm us, or we can take action and change our perspectives.
Recommended Reading: Do More With What You Have
Beyond these four principles, let’s talk about other steps you must take to build resilience.
More Ways To Build Resilience in Times of Pandemic
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to reduce complexity and simplify things around you. Yes, it seems that the COVID-19 looks like a test of survival in business, career, jobs, relationships, and overall life. We must learn to accept and be compassionate about whatever comes our way. It is vital; we reduce expectations of ourselves and others. Take a step back and re-evaluate your goals, review your schedule look for support systems. Learn to give yourself space and ample time to reconnect within you. Things may not go according to plan every day. That to-do list may not be completely handled. You might not cover all the certifications you wanted to have during these trying times. You might not even reach your desired revenue quota or build your personal brand to the heights you dreamed of. No matter what, tell yourself it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to have a few shortcomings. Forget about all those tweets urging people to start and finish a great list of passion projects. Getting frenzied that you aren’t accomplishing great feats only sets you up for more stress. You don’t have to be productive at every minute. Don’t forget that we are all trying to figure out the best way to cope with our new realities. Simplify and give yourself more room.
2. Build stronger relationships
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience equally means building stronger relationships and friendships.
That being said, we mustn’t forget how much good relationships are to build resilience. When you have friends, family members, and other important people who help, support, and care about you, it helps you develop grit in the face of adversities.
No wonder people who have experienced tragedies often report stronger relationships, a greater sense of strength even when they feel vulnerable, a high level of self-worth, a greater appreciation for life, and higher spirituality.
3. Accept that things won’t be perfect.
Resilient people know that no matter how careful they are with their plans, there might be a need to change, adjust or even scrap it out. This is why resilience is one of the most important leadership qualities because business, especially during uncertain times, requires being adaptive and flexible.
A saying by Simon Sinek comes to mind here:
“An infinite-minded leader does not simply want to build a company that can weather change but one that can be transformed by it. They want to build a company that embraces surprises and adapts with them.”
4. Build trust
If there’s one thing we must learn from the past, it can show vulnerability. Imagine never knowing that we would face an economic recession that contends with what we felt was the worst version over 10 years ago. Therefore, we need to learn to support, share, and be open with one another. This goes beyond our personal relationships to our workplace. All organizations are facing real challenges – working at a limited capacity or closed completely. We need to check in with others. As leaders, we should practice supporting and checking in on our staff’s health and wellbeing too.
5. Show vulnerability
Yet, we need to give room for vulnerability. A lot of people are losing jobs, and yes, it often triggers a lot of shame. But how we respond to it is important. We can reach out and share our story with someone who can respond with empathy.
Give yourself room to feel all those emotions, rage, fury, grief, heartbreak, and powerlessness. Face those feeling and experiences and avoid judging or getting under the self-induced oath of secrecy. Reach out and connect with others.
Sure the COVID-19 makes the future look uncertain, but we must also remember that uncertainty can be a good thing. It means our future isn’t fixed or determined so that the negative situation can only change for the better.
That being said, you also have to remember that you are stronger than you think. So, let’s go from a place of fear to possibilities and probabilities. But you must never see struggling with the reality we face today as ‘weakness.’
Psychologist Susan Kobasa wraps it up in three main elements that resilient people have; challenge, control and commitment.
Let go of worrying about what you cannot change or trying to control a world event. If we continue on that part, we will be running out of steam pretty soon. Although we’ve never had a pandemic like this, we need to know that, like every other adversity – it is an inevitable part of our lives. Like Brene Brown also says, we might return after the pandemic with a profound sense of gratitude and being able to appreciate what it means to be physically present with one another. So, we have to concentrate on what we can do with the situation instead of letting the situation control us.
But don’t forget that resilience is a practice and takes time to build. Be a focusologist and practice directing and controlling your focus around the things you can control versus what you cannot control. Take these steps today. Make resilience your personal advantage over the pandemic or any other challenge that surfaces in your life.
Penny Zenker is a Focusologist, international speaker and best-selling author. She is passionate about helping people live more fulfilling lives by reducing stress, improving communication, and creating greater passion and focus. Her experience includes building and selling a multi-million dollar business, managing business turnarounds, living abroad for 16 years, and worked 5 years a Tony Robbins business coach. She will challenge you to think differently and inspire you to be your best. Her easy-to-understand frameworks and methods make implementation fast and easy.