Resilience in Tough Times

Resilience: How do we manage ourselves when our world is upside down?

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has predicated terms like “unprecedented”, “never before experienced”, extraordinary”, “unimaginable”, “unmatched” and “very challenging”, and there is certainly unanimous agreement that it is a changing landscape on a daily basis and it appears to be completely unpredictable with uncertainty about how long this virus will take to play out not only in terms of disruption to individual’s lives, but also how long it might take for businesses to recover.

What is Resilience?

Life doesn’t come with a manual or a booklet termed “Trouble-shooting” to show us how to handles life’s circumstances especially significant events like a death, serious illness, financial hardship or relationship breakdown. These events (big or small) impact people differently. There are a myriad of thoughts and feelings that surround such situations and overall, people seem to adapt reasonably well. That’s called resilience.

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress”.

Interestingly, these adverse kinds of events not only allow us the opportunity to bounce back, but to grow and develop. Such events don’t have to define you. Copig with such events and becoming more resilient can only help you through difficult circumstances, but also allow you to grow and improve.

Although it is not possible to control the health situation in our world or the economy for that matter, we can in fact, seek to control our own environment and build resilience in those domains of our life which we can command. How do we go about doing that? How do we build resilience? How do we become more bullet-proof as the world throws various curved balls at us?

In short, it’s like building a muscle. You have to feel the pain and the stress, but the muscle gets stronger as a result. You have to work at it though and it does take time.

Essentially there are four major areas of our life that we need to take charge of as a way of building our resources and our resilience. Let’s look at those four main building blocks for resilience.

1. Energy

Where do we get our energy from? You and I both know that if we don’t have energy for our day, then life is much more difficult than ordinarily it might be. For example, if you have a headache or cold, then typically, you don’t have the energy and enthusiasm for your day as you would when you are feeling healthy and well.

The research shows that we get energy from a number of sources and none of these are of a surprise to any of us. In fact, you simply need to read the press or listen to the media to get advice on any number of these areas. At times, the advice might be confusing, but there is little doubt that these are critical areas to be considered and if you are serious about resilience, you cannot afford to overlook them. In particular, they include the following:

(1) Diet and Healthy Eating
This comes as no surprise and clearly the evidence is strong that what we put in our mouth largely determines our overall health and well-being. The general rule of thumb is low carbohydrates and plenty of protein and keeping away from junk food.

Although alcohol sales have skyrocketed through this pandemic with people forced to stay home, it is important to watch your alcohol intake (and consumption of drugs). Try for an alcohol free day every second day or maybe for a few days in a row.

(2) Fitness
As the old saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. This is especially going to be critical during a period of partial or total lockdown where individuals will be restricted to their home setting. The basic formula is 30 minutes each day to be active and walking for instance is highly recommended.

How do you exercise though if you are confined to a limited space? Clearly there are ways that this can be done and needless to say, exercise is critical to helping us remain fit and healthy.

(3) Sleep
Again, this is not news, but the evidence is quite clear that if we want energy for our day, then we need to have adequate sleep and rest. I had an English teacher in secondary school who could exist on four hours of sleep a night, but those people are a rarity and most of us need at least 7 to 8 hours sleep.

As a general rule, there’s some solid evidence that suggests that turning off devices and screens an hour before bedtime is good practice.

How do you ensure therefore, that you get to bed in good time? What disciplines do you put in place to ensure that you get a good night’s rest?

(4) Relaxation
In this fast-paced world, it is critically important to have time out and have time away from work. In this period with the Coronavirus however, it may well be that many of us are being forced to look at how we use our relaxation now that the world has slowed and we are being forced to stay indoors and are not being consumed with the busyness of life with its many distractions.

(5) Mindfulness
Being still and reflecting is important downtime for each of us. Whether that is in the form of meditation, yoga, journaling or prayer or whether it just means that you stop and recall the things in life that you’re grateful for, this is an important activity which allows us to change gears and to endeavour to be present in the moment.

(6) Parent Training
Interestingly, the research shows that if we know how to be an effective parent (more or less), then this is a huge advantage in having energy for living. There is no doubt at all that being a parent can be fatiguing and exhausting in so many ways. Having some firm guidelines on how to be a parent and having some tools at your disposal helps to ease the constant demand of what parenting is all about.

Now that schools are closed and parents are being asked to engage in home schooling as well as the fact that parents are trying to work from home too, this going to bring about all sorts of issues and difficulties. Knowing how to be a good parent in so-called “normal” times is hard enough let alone in pandemic times.

As an aside, I wrote a book on this topic of parenting called “Growing Up Children: How to Get 5-12 Year Olds to Behave and Do As They’re Told” and followed it up with “Teenage Trouble Shooting: How to Stop Your Adolescent Driving You Crazy” (see Books at ).

2. Positive Mindset

As Dr Wayne Dyer once said, “As you think, so shall you be” or as Proverbs 4:23 states, “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life”.

It is a truism that everything begins with a thought and once you really understand what you think about is what actually expands, you need to start to be careful what you actually think about (…think about that for a moment!…).

In this day and age, when there is a good deal of negativity that surrounds us (not to mention the current COVID crisis), it is important to try to be positive rather than pessimistic; are you a cup half empty or cup half full person?

It was the Greek philosopher Epictetus, in the first century A.D. who said, “Man is disturbed not by events, but by the view he takes of them”. More recently, it was Dr Stephen Covey who put it in similar terms like, “It isn’t what happens to us that effects our behaviour, it’s the interpretation of what happens to us that effects our behaviour”.

A model for helping us with our thinking and allowing us to keep positive is what I call the ABCD of human behaviour. It goes like this.

In other words, once you know that you have started to feel badly (whether for example that might be feeling anxious or fearful, down or depressed, irritated or angry), you then know that in all likelihood, you have engaged in some faulty or irrational thinking. Rather than letting that thinking get out of hand or you continue to worry unnecessarily, you need to show the discipline of being able to turn your thoughts around so that you feel differently.

This does require a discipline because letting your thoughts run away with you and letting negative thoughts dominate you so that you become pessimistic or a “worry wart” does little to assist you and is not only destructive, but mentally draining. To stop this negative cycle, you have to replace those negative thoughts with more positive ones.

Because thoughts are hard to catch, it’s often best to write down your negatives and look at ways you might be able to turn them around or reverse them somehow. For example, instead of saying “I am stuck in my career”, you could perhaps write, “it is true that I am in a current job that I don’t enjoy, but I can look at ways to move out of this role perhaps by using a mentor or coach or perhaps by gaining some additional skills or qualifications, but no one is holding me in this job against my will, so I can do something about it to start to improve my situation.” Then when you focus on this more positive statement, rather than your initial automatic negative thoughts, you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and you feel more optimistic and more hopeful.

Of course, this might be easier said than done and if you want more information on how to do this then I can refer you to my book titled, “Stopping Your Self-sabotage: Steps to Increase your Self-confidence” (See )

3. Communication and Relationships

It was one of the founding forefathers of psychology in William James who once wrote, “The greatest need of every human being is the need for appreciation”.

Interestingly enough, research by Prof Martin Seligman and his associates revealed that companies that flourished and did well economically were those where positive communication was obvious. In fact, they devised something called the “Losada Ratio” where it was calculated that the companies that were doing well financially had a ratio of 3 to 1 of positive comments to negative comments particularly in relation to their business meetings and communications.

At a personal level though, a ratio of 3 to 1 within a marriage or permanent relationship is not sufficient to maintain such a relationship and instead, the ratio for a strong and loving marriage or a relationship is 5 to 1.

As Tony Robbins once said, “The quality of our life is determined by the quality of our relationships”.

Now it is true that not everyone is in a marriage or permanent relationship, however, it is critical for you to understand that who you surround yourself with and the kinds of persons they are, has a profound impact on your demeanour and your overall temperament.

It is true that certain people in life are what we might loosely call “energy vampires” and these are not the kinds of people who enhance your life or improve it in any way. Instead, you need to surround yourself with people who are positive and with whom you can be yourself and those with whom you can count on when the going gets tough.

4. Purpose

The final area in terms of how to build resilience is all about knowing and understanding your purpose in life and is what Prof Martin Seligman calls the “meaningful life”. His research shows that the largest contributor to human happiness is belonging to and serving something bigger than ourselves.

Connecting with something external and using our highest strengths to serve something beyond our individual lives gives us meaning and purpose and a sense of well-being.

For some people, this might be volunteering to work with the Red Cross or helping out in a soup kitchen or assisting in a charity for homelessness. For others, it might mean attending church and serving their God and caring for others within their community.

Finding purpose in your life is not an easy journey and it is not one which is generally discovered quickly and instead, takes a good deal of thought and possibly conversation to allow things to crystallise in an individual’s life.

In summary, in a world that is now being turned upside down and where we are moving in unchartered waters, this is the time when we need to ensure that we are resilient as best we can be. The four building blocks above give us hints about how we might manage this.

Indeed, since many of us now need to work from home and some of us on the planet are in the lockdown, then this certainly might be the exact time when we can stop and reflect because our world has stopped around us and forced us to do the same, and we can take stock of our lives and where we are heading and how we can build resilience to get there.