Developing a Mindset of Resilience

The hardships of COVID-19 present challenges, opportunities to grow
May 4, 2020 Updated: May 4, 2020

Resilience-based research tells us that how we deal with adversity is more important than the actual traumatic event.

It’s best to be proactive and engaged when facing challenges. We’re in trouble if we fall into a state of “learned helplessness,” in which we believe we have no control over changing or controlling our situation.  Psychologists define resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of significant sources of stress.”  In general, people are highly resilient and can adapt well to stressful events. Most of us are competent, adaptive, resourceful, and resilient. We cope as best as we can with difficulties such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proactive Thoughts and Actions

If we are proactive, there’s also evidence to support several protective factors that can mitigate our stress and make us more resilient. We can try to maintain a positive outlook, and problem-solve solutions. That requires we recognize our strengths and conditions so we can take action, no matter how small.  It helps tremendously to have a social support network, which can be friends and family, or other community support services. And it’s important to acknowledge our feelings to manage them well, which might mean looking for a constructive emotional outlet to relax and feel more upbeat.

Deep breathing, relaxation exercises, gentle hobbies such as knitting, gardening, and other soothing and calming activities can help reduce stress and lower cortisol levels. This will also help our immune system better respond to pathogens.  Our overall character is crucial; we should seek out life-affirming activities that give meaning and purpose.  We should be kind and show we value the kind and caring people we know. This is one of many ways we can practice gratitude.  Fear and hope can contend for our attention. Fear can freeze us, or compel us to act with the assistance of courage. Find your courage and face your fear.  Grow positively from this experience and you will be rewarded with a more resilient version of yourself who is better prepared to face future challenges.

Tips for Fostering Resilience

So how do we foster this resilience? Below are some tips from my work with Holocaust survivors over the past 30 years, from research, and life lessons. Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that we can learn and develop.  Here is an incomplete list of strategies:

Adapt to Circumstances

There are many things you can’t change, no matter how difficult. In that case, all you can do is adapt.  I learned this life lesson from my late mother, a Holocaust survivor. At age 15, she was interned in the Lodz ghetto in Poland and then shipped to Auschwitz death camp. Her words inspire me whenever I am faced with a challenge.  She made everyday choices to control her environment.  One of them was choosing her attitude and taking action when responding to situations. She had a positive attitude and never dwelled on her suffering. She persevered and never gave up, not even when her entire family was deported to their deaths and she was left alone in the ghetto.  She cried herself to sleep each night and in the morning, she put her energies into staying alive.  And most importantly, she never lost hope that things would improve—that she would survive and rebuild her life.

Choose Your Attitude and Action

Although we have no control over the attitudes and behaviors of others, we can choose how we react in any given situation, even in the most horrendous circumstances.  As noted by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Dr. Victor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except for one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”  Many survivors say that it was “luck” that helped them to survive. However, I’ve observed that many people survived because of the everyday choices they made and the actions they took or chose not to take.

Start Your Day with a Destress Practice

Inoculate yourself against stress with some habit at the beginning of your day.  Listen to calming music with no emotional baggage, practice deep breathing/relaxation exercises, meditation, mindfulness, prayer, emotional freedom techniques (EFT), yoga, tai chi, etc. And empower yourself with limited information from legitimate news sources.  Don’t become stressed from endless hours of news-watching.

Practice Good Hygiene

This can help you to limit the spread of the virus. Taking care of yourself by eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, and reading inspirational literature can be a form of self-care.  Do something special for yourself every day. Avoid alcohol, drugs, and other substances that deplete your immune system.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Tune into how you feel and give yourself permission to feel fear, anxiety, sadness, worry, etc. Most of us are grieving some form of loss, be it a loved one, a job, or the stability of our upended life. Process your grief by talking about it or writing down the things you’ve lost and what’s different for you now.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable and have patience for your process. Share your thoughts and feelings with a family member, friend, or therapist—someone you trust and who has a calming effect on you.  If you have no one to talk to, write in a journal.

Recognize Strengths and Coping Strategies

We all have them. Identify and list ways in which you’ve coped with adversity in the past. Be proud of your achievements and explore ways in which you can apply them in your current situation.  See yourself through a resilience lens and say things such as, “I can handle this,” “I am coping with this situation to the best of my ability,” “I am courageous,” “I am strong,” “I am brave,” “I’ve got this.”

Have a Positive Attitude

Visualize a positive outcome. Incorporate a positive word (e.g., wonderful, delight, awesome) into your everyday vocabulary. As your day ends, focus on at least one positive experience that happened.

Stay Connected

Maintain close communication with family and friends, by telephone, video conference, or social media. Have lighthearted discussions. Use humor. Tell jokes. Sing songs. Write a letter.

Create a Support Network

We all cope better with life’s challenges when we aren’t alone to face them. Accept your vulnerability and ask for help if you need it. Turn to social service agencies if your personal network isn’t strong.

Live Life Grounded in the Present

Give your attention to everything you do in the here and now, e.g. listening to a friend, walking, reading, eating. It sharpens our senses and gets us in touch with our thoughts and feelings. It also helps us problem-solve solutions to issues as they arise. Say the mantra, “It is what it is.”

Take a Walk in Nature

If conditions permit, and you’re not locked down in isolation, get outside. It lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, boosts the immune system, and improves feelings of well-being. If you can’t go outdoors, open the windows to air out your home. Breathe in the fresh air. On a sunny day, sit in front of a window and allow the sun to wash over your body.

Look at the Benefits of Being Indoors

Ask yourself what you can do in isolation to make your life better. How can you use this time effectively?  Have you always wanted to learn how to use that sewing machine? Do you now have the opportunity for quality time with family members, can you organize cupboards and drawers, or catch up on paperwork? Is there an online course you have been wanting to take or a new recipe that you’ve wanted to try?

Seek Meaning and Purpose

Find activities that give meaning and purpose to your life. Help others. Put time into a passion project you’ve neglected. Connect to a higher meaning through your belief in the divine, a deity, nature, the universe, community, etc.

Set Boundaries

Limit watching the news: Check the news once a day and not before you go to sleep. It may keep you awake.

Look to Heroes

Redirect your attention to those who are helping us to stay safe. When we do, we feel a “moral elevation” that inspires us, fuels optimism, and makes us want to do the same thing.  Focus on our common humanity and kindness. We aren’t in this alone. Many people around the world are working hard to help us recover. Some are doing medical research, others are making sure elderly neighbors have enough groceries and social connection.

Practice Gratitude

Show gratitude to those who are doing their best to fight the outbreak. Tell them how much you appreciate what they’re doing to keep us safe.  Consider keeping a gratitude journal. Keep it simple. At the end of the day, think about or write down at least three things you are grateful for. Remember to appreciate your body. Turn to this list when you’re feeling down.  Develop a vocabulary of gratefulness because what you say influences how you think and what you do.

Appreciate Simple Pleasures

Both of my parents appreciated the simple pleasures in life such as family, friends, their health, and a refrigerator filled with food. They took nothing for granted.  Find ways to self-soothe and lift your spirits. Read inspirational stories, eat simple nutritious food, and take time to talk with far-away friends in phone calls with time limits.

Conclusion

While we find ourselves in lockdown, our minds remain unrestricted. We can take this time to develop an inner life that nourishes us during times of despair.  Let’s grow positively from this experience. Look at the bigger picture and positives of this situation. Pollution is clearing quickly, we are returning to a simpler way of life, and we are finding creative ways to stay connected with each other.

Myra Giberovitch holds a master’s degree in social work from McGill University and has studied holistic health and energy psychology. She integrates traditional psychology with alternative approaches to healing and growth. This article was originally published on NaturallySavvy.com