These days I often catch myself contemplating resilience. I think about it as I observe the variety of responses to the pandemic and the restrictions that were put into place. Times like these bring out the best and the worst in us.
I watch my own reaction as the days begin to blend into each other. I find myself reflecting on my years as a child and a teenager in Greece. Memories of my parents, family members, teachers, and neighbors sharing their experiences during World War II are vivid. The aftermath of the war defined my generation after all.
I grew up at a time of cultural and political upheaval. I watched people persevere through adversity and hardship. My own journey as an immigrant has given me a unique perspective on issues.
I tend to draw strength from my past. There’s this deep-seated belief that, as long as I have my health, I can find my way through. This doesn’t mean that I don’t come up against my limitations or I don’t feel anxious or even fearful. I do.
I was talking to one of my daughters a couple of mornings ago. We usually sit down to have a cup of coffee and chat right after her morning conference call. She started to share her increasing anxiety about work. She’s coming up against the realities of trying to perform miles away from her corporate office, under conditions that are new and unsettling.
We talked about gratitude. “I am truly grateful to have a job and continue working during a time when so many people are losing their jobs,” she said. “But, I really don’t like this. I’m not used to this.”
I looked at her and took it all in. She’s young. She’s at the very beginning of her career. She also hasn’t had to face a challenge of this magnitude.
“You’re now asked to build resilience,” I replied. “You have a great work ethic and you’re smart. So far it’s paid off. Now it’s time to go deeper. That’s how people build resilience, by going through times like this and coming to the other side. You can do this!”
My conversation with Ana got me thinking even more. What is resilience, what traits do resilient people share, and how do we develop the skills and strategies we need to be resilient?
What is resilience?
Resilience means being able to adapt to life’s misfortunes and setbacks.
When you have resilience, you harness inner strength that helps you rebound from a setback or challenge, such as a job loss, an illness, a disaster, or the death of a loved one. If you lack resilience, you might dwell on problems, feel victimized, become overwhelmed, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse.
Resilience won’t make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life, and better handle stress. If you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, you can develop skills to become more resilient.– Mayo Clinic staff
What are some of the traits resilient people exhibit?
- Resilient people are mentally strong.
- They draw on their inner strength and find ways to overcome adversity and extraordinary circumstances.
- They are disciplined.
- They tend to see themselves as fighters and survivors rather than victims.
- They too experience stress, anxiety, fear, grief, and pain but they’re able to function despite how they feel.
- They have strong support systems and do not hesitate to ask for help.
- They’re open-minded and know how to adapt.
- They accept the reality of a situation, without illusions, and find ways to survive and even thrive.
- They embrace change.
- They focus on what they can do rather than setting impossible goals and getting discouraged.
Some people are born to be resilient but according to experts we’re all capable to learn the skills and coping strategies that can help us become more resilient.
How can we build resilience?
1) Reflect on past experience
There’s not a single person reading this who hasn’t faced some kind of hardship. If you take a moment to sit back, take a deep breath, and reflect, you’ll discover periods in your life when you had to dig really deep and call on your inner strength and resources to get through.
There are times when you didn’t get the outcome you had wished for. You may not have gotten the promotion you worked for. You may have had to work hard to pay off a debt. You may have faced illness or the loss of a loved one. You may have lost your job or had to move when you didn’t expect to. You may have experienced the sadness and anguish that followed the breakup of a relationship.
No matter how old you are, there have been times when you experienced disappointment, loss, fear, anxiety, pain, and grief. How did you get through?
Reflect on your experience. What coping skills and strategies did you use to help yourself get through the tough times? Write it down.
2) Be mindful of your thoughts and self-talk
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”– Henry Ford
Our thoughts become our emotions and our emotions turn into actions. When you feel anxious or fearful, take a moment to trace back where it all started. What were you thinking before you felt your anxiety escalate? Did you read or hear anything? Was there a thought that crossed your mind? Do your best to trace the feeling back to its source.
Once you pinpoint what caused the bout of fear, anxiety, or anger, ask yourself … “Is it true? Do I really believe this?” and then continue … “Is there anything I can do to change this and if yes, where do I begin?”
Engaging with ourselves in this manner, allows us to not get stuck in negative emotions. It gives our brain the chance to become solution-oriented rather than problem-focused.
“Care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves.”– Socrates
3) Practice self-care
When the going gets tough, our first instinct may be to put ourselves on the back burner and focus on taking care of the people who depend on us and all that needs to be done.
Managing crises is a marathon. We need to tend to our personal needs and emotional well-being if we want to cross the finishing line.
During this pandemic, your first priority is to stay healthy and strong – both mentally and physically. A healthy body and a strong mind will help you manage your stress and anxiety and do what is asked of you.
- Eat nutritious meals and rest as best as you can.
- Do not neglect exercise and spending time outdoors.
- If you enjoy meditating, sit daily.
- Do activities that take your mind off the crisis and give you a sense of joy and satisfaction.
- Look for inspiration anywhere you can.
- Take a break from the onslaught of news and social media. Maintain a balance between being informed and being sane.
- Find creative ways to stay in touch with your people. Be open about how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. Ask for their support when you need it. Be there for them when they need you. There’s joy and empowerment in giving and receiving.
- Focus on what you have and what works.
- Practice gratitude for all there is, here and now.
There are many ways to deal with a crisis. We can pretend it’s not happening, we can resist what’s happening, or we can keep calm to the best of our ability, dive in, and deal with it.
Most probably, we’ll all go through these stages at one time or another. The important thing is to stay present, keep moving, and do the best we can on any given day. Some days will be better than others and that’s normal.
Please remember, you’re not alone. Be kind with yourself. And, above all, believe in yourself. You got this!