Little could have prepared us for the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in global and individual loss of such epic proportions. And yet, in amongst the loss and uncertainty counter stories of courage, creativity and resilience keep emerging.
What can we learn in the face of this chaos that will help us better adapt to the massive changes we face? What are the characteristics of resilience?
Definition of Resilience
The American Psychological Association (APA) describes resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress…. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth”. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
Resilience is a quality that differs somewhat from person to person. Being resilient doesn’t mean that one is not affected by stressful situations as well as difficult or overwhelming emotions. It does mean that in the face of these challenges, resilient individuals are able to seek help, tap into their strengths and adapt to a situation. And importantly, resilience can be learned.
Important Criteria in Harnessing Resilience
- Find a Sense of Purpose
There are countless wonderful stories of individuals turning tragedy into inspiration. For example, Shaun Tomson, South African World Champion surfer during the 70s, lost his 15-year old son Matthew in a tragic accident. Drawing on his passion for surfing and business acumen he became a sought-after speaker delivering inspiring talks to businesspeople and students in many areas of the world. He transformed his grief into an opportunity to inspire others, at the same time heal from his grief.
You don’t have to experience an awful tragedy to find purpose. Connect with a passion of yours such as animals, the elderly, children, or simply cultivate an interest or project that is meaningful. Feeling connected to someone or something is essential for our sense of meaning in life (Viktor Frankl).
- Believe in Your Abilities
Self-belief or self-esteem is a valuable quality to possess, not just in times of crisis. There are times when others may speak negatively towards or about you. This is an opportunity to immediately reframe negative statements (even if you have used them about yourself!) into affirming statements. For example: I am a kind person, I am a loyal friend, I can do this despite the circumstances, etc.
- Develop a Strong Social Network
A strong network of family and/or friends is essential for supporting one another, particularly during times of crisis. Being able to share and confide in someone you trust is not just therapeutic, it is a foundation for psychological well-being. Make time to nurture your family and/or friendship circle.
- Embrace Change
One of the key characteristics of being resilient, is flexibility. Being open for change, considering new options for work, living, playing and so on is a trait that resilient individuals not only welcome but thrive on. Attitude is a key component to helping one adapt and change to certain situations.
- Be Optimistic
Being told to be ‘optimistic’ when your world is falling about you may just make you angry. However, there may come a moment when you can be persuaded to be hopeful. You may be able to see that the present circumstances will not last, and you may also be reminded that you have many skills that you can employ once you realize there is hope. Talking with a compassionate friend or counsellor will certainly help you feel more hopeful, even optimistic.
- Nurture Yourself
This can sometimes feel counter-intuitive when you’re so stressed that you feel you just have to put one foot in front of the other to survive. However, if you wish to work through and out of the stressful situation, it would be wise to think of one or two things that you feel would take your mind off the stressful event. For example, exercise, a walk in nature, a cup of coffee (even virtually!) with a friend. For your mind-body to sustain itself you need sleep, healthy food and drink and some gentle exercise. These are fundamental self-nurturing considerations.
- Develop Problem-Solving Skills
This is a skill that can be learned. Being able to problem-solve is an ability that will help you deal with crises and difficulties in the future, thus providing you with enhanced resiliency when you need this. There are great apps available to help develop problem-solving skills, creativity and other similar resiliency characteristics (https://www.nsc-tech.com/2020/05/08/improve-your-problem-solving-skills-with-these-apps/). In addition, here is a link to help put a problem-solving strategy in place: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-problem-solving-2795485
- Establish Goals
The ability to establish a set of goals when you’re faced with a crisis is a sure sign of resiliency. The very action of taking a step back and considering your options begins a process of taking back control. The next step is to put one or two goals in place.
- Take Action
This factor is linked with goal-setting. Rather than sitting frozen in fear, taking one or two steps towards a particular goal is part of taking control of the situation. Even if you’re not pursuing a goal, becoming active by simply walking, taking deep breaths, or doing some simple exercises, is helping your mind-body get back into the flow of life, of ideas, of problem-solving and focusing forwards.
- Keep Working on Your Skills
Remember that building resilience is a life-long pursuit. Just by investing in life and its trials and tribulations helps develop skills. You will know where you need to focus to improve, and remember to acknowledge and maintain those strengths you already have.
The beautiful Japanese art of Kintsugi is symbolic of how resilience might look. A piece of broken pottery is repaired with gold bringing character and delight to the original object. Another way of framing a disaster or crisis is: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” (Carl Jung).
I would love to hear your stories of hope and resilience – please share, if you feel called to do so!