Being resilient in an uncertain world

At this time of coronavirus, when there are so many changes and uncertainty, we may notice that we can quickly feel irritated or frustrated.

For example, when we make plans and things change, and as a result, we may miss out on something important to us. When this happens, it is helpful to acknowledge that we do not have control over some events and the changes that come with them. 

We need to look for alternative ways to problem-solve the situation. It is a bit like when driving when we use the GPS to identify the route to where we want to go. We expect it to take us to the right place; however, at times, it can take us to a different location.

We may be frustrated, but recognise it is something to do with the map it uses or other factors, so we know it is not on purpose. So, we can redirect it to find a different route. We can do the same with ourselves – we can recognise that we need to do something different and not spend time focusing on the obstacle, criticising ourselves. Instead, redirect our attention to exploring other options. 

Being resilient does not mean that we do not feel frustrated, disappointed, or upset.
It means that even when things are not working out in the way that we were hoping for, we can tolerate this, and take time to reflect to find ways to understand the situation.
It is a skill we can develop to be prepared to deal with life challenges (David, 2016).

Resilience enables us to manage the uncertainty that comes with ongoing change. Particularly at this moment as we all are learning to live with the uncertainty of Covid-19.

Whether you are at work or studying for a degree, there will be additional concerns about the potential of having to self-isolate, or whether work and classes may be all online to keep people safe. It can mean not being able to see others beyond our immediate family or having to self-isolate away from home. It can also bring additional worries about the impact on jobs in the future.

And while it is normal to feel apprehensive and worried, sometimes these thoughts and feelings can be challenging, particularly if the uncertainty goes on for a long time.

Having the belief that we can trust ourselves to manage these challenges – a sense of self-efficacy – can boost our confidence in our ability to deal with difficulties or setbacks constructively. It can protect us from feeling overwhelmed by stressful situations, which can have a detrimental impact on our health.

Strategies to develop resilience:

Focusing on what you can control:
Experiment starting the day with the intention to focus on the things you can control, focusing on the moment – being present
It helps to value what we have and to identify alternative perspectives that could provide us with a different understanding of what is happening. 
We can also manage our energy level by pausing and taking a moment.

As human beings, we like to feel in control, so when things are beyond our control, we can feel vulnerable, nervous, and worried about the future.

But, if we focus on our sense of our self-efficacy – our belief that we are capable – we can trust ourselves to deal with situations even if we do not know yet what we could do to resolve the problem. We can draw on our experience, what we have learned from our past experiences.

Maintain a healthy routine:
Developing a structure for our day helps to manage our energy level. It allows us to have some predictability within our day, enabling us to plan our work or study. It will enable us to manage distractions so that we can focus on what is meaningful. 

 Keeping active:
Doing some exercise every day is essential to maintain our physical and mental health. It helps to manage our emotions, energy and to maintain balance.

Taking time to breathe and be present in the moment:
When feeling stressed, it is difficult to manage our emotions. Pausing, and taking time to breathe will help to regulate our body. It gives us time to get out of autopilot and regulate our emotions (Gilbert, 2010).

It allows us to step back and observe our thoughts, without judgment so that we can understand what the triggers that caused our reactions are. It will enable us to recognise when we are feeling drained and that we need to restore our balance. 

A good strategy is to focus our attention on where we are – now: noticing how we feel whether uncomfortable and distressed—acknowledging our humanity. Being understanding that it is difficult and trusting us (even if we feel unsure) that at this moment we are okay. Then, we can start to explore what we can do to manage the situation.

We can remind ourselves of what we are grateful for in our life. We can regulate our emotions by telling ourselves that yes, it feels uneasy and that it is difficult not to know how things will work out. Then focus on our daily routine and do something right now. For example, go for a walk, pick up a favourite book or listen to calming music. 

Develop self-compassion:
Developing constructive or helpful self-talk can make a difference in how we feel.  Acknowledging that we are human and that we can make mistakes (Neff, 2011).
When dealing with challenges, focus on what is meaningful or has value.

It helps to manage our emotions and turn our attention to maintaining hope that things can change for the better.

Manage worry thoughts:
When we are worried and stressed, it can be challenging to get out of this cycle of negative thoughts. It can increase the sense of restlessness and apprehension, reducing our creativity and limit our capacity to explore alternative options.

It is helpful to write down our thoughts, as this action helps us to clarify how we are thinking and feeling. It helps to slow down the process to allow time to reflect on what is happening. 

Connect with others:
We can talk with a trusted family member or friend. They can act as sounding boards and can provide a different perspective. When facing difficult situations, sometimes we may feel that we cannot talk to others about it because we fear they might not understand, and we can feel alone with our distress.

When we feel alone, we tend to isolate ourselves because it is hard to explain to others how we are feeling. One way of dealing with this feeling is to view it as when we are hungry; we know that our body needs some food, so we get something to eat.

When we are feeling lonely, we can do the same – acknowledge the feeling like our body telling us that what we need is connection.  

Identify some activities that can be shared with others (going for a walk, having a coffee, preparing a meal, or discussing a film).

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
( Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet)

References:

David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.

Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Neff, K. (2011) Self-compassion. Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.