7 Steps to Greater Resilience

Take time to reflect

Source: Alex Blajan/Stocksnap

Since writing this article in January, I had planned to focus on goals and resolutions. But I’m also writing as the pandemic drags on into the Omicron phase and what felt like a return to some semblance of normality and control over our lives has been turned upside down, at least for now. Everything I hear from family, friends and clients is the same: people are tired, fed up and not doing as well as they used to. Me too. For many, it feels a lot like the early days of this health crisis, or maybe worse, because we thought we would have made progress already. All the conversations I have are not so much about goals and plans, although those are important, but about feeling deflated and defeated.

Why are we having so much trouble right now? There are many obvious reasons, but it’s helpful to examine them and remember that we’re not weak when we feel down about the unfolding of a situation beyond our control. We just react naturally to our situation.

  1. We should admit that many of us live in a culture of mastery. It’s important to us. And we had, at the very least, the illusion of being in control, so the lack of control is particularly difficult for us.
  2. Having a plan is often our way of dealing with our anxieties. Having our plans constantly questioned or shattered is distressing and allows our previously managed anxiety to come out of its box.
  3. The goal posts seem to move all the time. Whether we listen to scientists, politicians, the media or any other chatter, what we are dealing with always changes form. The rules change, the variants change, the tips and “best practices” change. So, even though we try to make a plan, we don’t know what we are busy with or what we are working towards.
  4. There is no end in sight. There will be a time when things will be much better or we will have learned to manage them better, but we don’t know when that will be. This extra layer of uncertainty is really difficult.
  5. We have a natural cognitive bias that doubles as how we feel. If you feel positive, you will naturally see the good in things more easily than you will see the bad. Conversely, if we lean towards the negative, this is what we will remember in all the news that surrounds us. So these days we reinforce our negative outlook with lots of negative information.
  6. There are different levels of stress and we can tip individually and collectively to a more troubling level. There’s positive stress, which allows us to think harder and perform better when there’s a lot at stake. And then there’s tolerable stress, an increased level, probably more than we’d usually like, but, with support and focus we can manage it and still perform well.
  7. Finally, there is toxic stress. This is when the stress has been going on for a long time or is at an extremely intense level. When such a situation lasts too long, our physical and mental health suffers and we have to find new sources of support or find a way to reduce the stress we are exposed to in order to avoid long-term damage.
Ariane Platero, LMSW

Why the present is difficult

Source: Ariadne Platero, LMSW

I want to emphasize how important it is not to feel inadequate because we are struggling right now. As you can see from the long list of reasons above – and I could add many more – it is legitimate for us to be moody, paralyzed and flooded with feelings of anxiety. Additionally, our individual histories, capacities, and experiences of stress and challenge inform our individual responses to this crisis.

So with all of that in mind, I think you will objectively feel that maybe we should give ourselves a little slack. Thus, we can agree that it is not a moral defect that we find ourselves in difficulty; but how do we rise to the challenge and dig deep for the resilience each of us is capable of? We react naturally to everything that happens around us, but neither are we the playthings of circumstances. We can take certain steps to feel stronger and activate our natural capacity for resilience. Remember, we are programmed to survive and adapt:

  • Remind yourself daily of the things you can be grateful for.
  • Focus on regular self-care habits – exercise, meditation, laughter, friends.
  • Connect with family and friends: make calls or emails, create and engage “your team”.
  • Develop a limited number of small goals that you can achieve. Don’t overwhelm yourself; pick a few and keep it manageable.
  • Consider what is in your locus of control and what is outside of it.
  • Develop perspective by practicing seeing things from a bird’s eye view and from the point of view of others. Imagine yourself on a balcony looking at your situation and literally wondering what anyone else might be thinking.
  • Think especially of those who might be worse off than you and see if you can offer them support. Helping others has a lasting beneficial impact on our brains and reminds us that we can still make a positive difference.

And on days when all of this is difficult, remember that everyone has the same reaction as you. Remember: Tomorrow is another day and every day is an opportunity to do things differently and better.

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