Ever dealt with a really difficult situation? How about a Pandemic? We’ve all had our emotional and mental resilience tested in the past. But it’s likely never been anything like this. The world is testing its resilience – at a micro level within every household and on a macro level across countries and continents. How do we get through this? How do we maintain mental toughness when times get difficult? Here are 5 well-studied methods that help someone be resilient in difficult situations.
1. Have Positive Thoughts. This is different from being happy. Pain is painful, stress is stressful, and being scared is scary. Having positive thoughts is a great remedy for any of those emotions. Remaining positive has been shown to help prisoners of war, victims of abuse, cancer survivors, and anyone who has overcome major trauma in their lives. What was the one thing that kept all of these survivors going? Optimism. But it’s not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. It is balancing positivity with acceptance.
In Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges:
Investigators Southwick and Charney observed that like pessimists, realistic optimists pay close attention to negative information that is relevant to the problems they face. However, unlike pessimists, they do not remain focused on the negative. They tend to disengage rapidly from problems that appear to be unsolvable and accept them for what they are.
Acceptance isn’t giving up. It’s realizing that there are just things out there that none of us can control. Rather than trying to control these factors and feeling more out of control, focus on what is positive in the world and around you. Despite what’s happening, the flowers are still blooming! There are so many positive things happening in your life and in the world out there. You just have to reset and see them.
2. Nurture Yourself. Remember all those things that used to bring you joy before you had to adult? Bring those activities back into your life. Do things for yourself. Start cooking again or learn new recipes. Take an online class. Listen to some of your favorite music, or better yet, stream music from artists you’ve been wanting to hear. Start sketching or painting. Or start exercising. Do something that makes you feel more like yourself. This can give us a transient break from current concerns. Another way to reduce the threatening nature of a stressful situation is laughing. Humor doesn’t minimize the importance or the relevance of a situation, it just reduces the stress associated with it. Laughter is the second-best medicine, after medicine itself. So, go ahead and look at pictures of Grumpy Cat on Instagram or watch funny videos on YouTube. It’s OK – if someone tells you that you aren’t taking the situation seriously, just laugh it off.
3. Connect with Others. Currently, we have to abide by ‘social distancing’ to flatten the COVID-19 curve. But being by ourself does not mean being alone. Don’t be socially distant, but rather physically distant. Remember that 1980’s AT&T commercial that said, “Reach out and touch someone?” Well, right now, you really shouldn’t be touching anyone outside of your house. But you can do the next best thing – call someone, text someone, FaceTime or Zoom Video chat with someone. Having connection gives us positive feelings and keep us together while we need to stay physically apart. I’ve been doing virtual happy hours with my friends several times a week. This not only helps me but it helps the wine industry quite a bit. Which leads me to #4.
4. Help Others. From Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why: “Helping someone else is the best way to ensure your own survival. It takes you out of yourself. It helps you to rise above your fears. Now you’re a rescuer, not a victim. Buoying others up gives you more focus and energy to persevere.” Right now, physically helping someone is not safe. But you can do it in other ways. Ordering food from local restaurants is a simple way of helping small businesses which are otherwise closing. Using Instacart is another way of having people earn money when there are limited other ways to do so. Helping others, helps yourself. It helps take away the fears and uncertainties that you have.
5. Find Meaning. When researchers look at who copes well in crises, and even grow through it, it’s not those who pursue happiness to feel better, it’s those who look for meaning in the situation. After a crisis, most people find a new sense of purpose, have deeper relationships and have a greater appreciation of life – this was seen after 9/11 in the United States. It wasn’t the event itself but how people responded to it. This is distinctly human. According to Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychologist, it is a ‘human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive.’ It’s only been a few weeks since the Pandemic began impacting our lives but in that short time, I’ve seen people embracing meaning. It’s not about being religious. It’s about realizing what matters – family time, connecting with others, helping one’s community. Refer back to #3 and #4 for a recap.
It is important to remember that nothing about the COVID-19 Pandemic is normal. It can be helpful to recognize the universality of our human emotions, remembering that others are also feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed. We are all in this together. While each day brings new information about how the world is being impacted, each new day also brings a chance to grow in ways we could never imagine. The goal is not just to survive but to thrive. Embrace the challenge.