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Fostering resilience in uncertain times

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

Without a clear idea of what looms ahead with respect to the ongoing pandemic, it is necessary that we add to our coping toolkit a much-required life tool – resilience. You may have heard of the term being used in other contexts such as wars and natural disasters like floods and landslides. Many experts advocate tapping into resilience in order to manage the effects of these circumstances. Considering that we are in the thick of the personal, social, and economic effects of a global pandemic, resilience is a tool that we can surely rely on now. In order for us to dive into the ways in which we can foster resilience during these uncertain times, let’s first explore what resilience is.

Resilience refers to a pool of psychological and emotional strengths that a person may utilise to cope with a stressor, manage adversity, and effectively rebuild their life following a crisis. Simply stated, resilience is our ability to cope with and recover from problems and challenges. The stressors and problems may stretch from anything like financial debt and job loss to divorce or the loss of a loved one or a serious medical illness. The pandemic has brought on multiple stressors not limited to fear for the health of ourselves and loved ones, but also salary cuts, job terminations, bankruptcy, separation from loved ones, adjustment problems, marital problems, anxiety, and depression.

It cannot be stressed enough that resilience can be built up. Among your friends, you may see that some seem to better adjust to hardships in life, whereas others seem to go on a downward spiral. Hence, you may conclude that resilience is an innate capacity, present in some and absent in others. You may also begin to think that these individuals do not experience distress, period. However, the prevailing evidence signifies that resilience is marked by how well people manage distress in a way that they come out on the other side stronger than ever before. It is how effectively a person taps into that pool of psychological and emotional strengths that set them apart as resilient individuals. Hence, it is important that we bear in mind that resilience is something that can be built upon. Anyone under the sun has the capacity to build resilience to face whatever challenge life throws our way.

Building resilience allows you to stand tall in the face of adversity. It allows you to better manage your emotions in the face of hardships, thereby permitting you to cope with distress more effectively. This prevents you from resorting to unhealthy means of coping such as abusing drugs, alcohol, engaging in reckless behaviour, etc. It not only shows you how to survive a challenge, but also shows how to thrive in the face of one. If you take a look at the life story of one of your personal heroes, whoever they may be, you would notice all the ways in which they tapped into their resilience to overcome the setbacks they faced in life. Not only that, they also served to inspire many, including you. Resilience inspires – which is all the more reason to build it. 

Let’s take a look at the ways in which you could build resilience.

Be mindful of your self-talk

How many conversations do you have with yourself in a day on average? Shouldn’t those conversations aim at building you up instead of tearing at your self-esteem? Often enough, when we face setbacks, we have a tendency to look inwards and berate ourselves for various forms of incompetence we identify. You may label yourself “incompetent” at your job even though your pay cut was a result of the company’s financial struggle due to the pandemic. You may tell yourself that you are “weak” because you are experiencing emotional distress, although most people are experiencing signs of anxiety and depression due to the uncertainty that we are facing now. Negative self-talk is not a means to resolve the problem at hand, and in fact, it only makes us dig a deeper hole of self-criticism. So the first step to building resilience is to be mindful and adjust our self-talk. Make sure you acknowledge your strengths when you talk to yourself.

Focus on what you can control

It is important to assess the areas of life which are actually under your control right now. When we are faced with a situation that nothing prepared us for, we might experience being completely overwhelmed. It is necessary then that we take a look at what we can manage right now and what we cannot. While we cannot for certain escape exposure to the virus, we can take all possible steps to minimise it by practising hand-washing, maintaining a safe distance, and using face masks, for instance. You can also eat healthier and exercise. Engaging in these habits gives you your power back, which is necessary in building resilience. It gives you a sense of competence in being able to manage some parts of the crisis and informs you of what practices you need to continue in the aftermath of it.

Seek social support

Being herd animals, our family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and community members factor in, in on our wellbeing and survival. Hence, even at times when we must practise keeping a physical distance from our loved ones, it is vital that we take steps to remain connected with them. Having a sense of belongingness and community feeling can help us foster resilience. It’s also important that we at least have one person in our lives that we can trust and confide in, especially when it comes to discussions on mental health. It not only gives us the strength in the knowledge that there is someone we can count on – someone who can hold us accountable to our actions. But it also helps us see the world through a different perspective, which is necessary in problem-solving, which is a sign of resilience.

Promote acceptance

In life, things do not always unravel as planned. We must, however, move forward with the ebbs and flows it presents, irrespective of speed. Resilience is not only about how quickly we recover from a crisis, but more about how well we recover from it. In order to do that, a necessary step is acceptance of the things we cannot control, instead of fighting them. This is not to say that we ought to endure all sorts of adversities in silence. Rather, it is about freeing ourselves. For example, when we are continually fighting against the curfew in place, it leaves little space for us to consider the ways we can manage our work despite it.

Rejecting the fact that we might have to connect with friends via online platforms instead of in-person hangouts does not favour the maintenance of friendships. If we can accept the circumstances as they are, we are able to embrace change as we tap into our ability to think out of the box and find creative solutions to manage them. This sense of competence enhances our resilience and guides us to adopt similar problem-solving methods to face challenges that may arise in the future as well.

Photos HelloDriven, Slideshare, Parentingni