Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.
Resilience is defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I think we can all agree that the coronavirus crisis definitely falls in the category of “misfortune or change”—and with that in mind, resilience may be a very useful tool for dealing with it. By following these five strategies for learning how to cultivate and draw on our resilience, we can better equip ourselves to handle the impact of COVID-19 on our own personal and professional lives.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
She was unstoppable, not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.
We’re all dealing with a myriad of feelings during this crisis: fear, concern, anxiety—the list goes on. It’s not helpful (or healthy) to suppress those negative feelings. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge them and remind yourself that it’s natural to feel this way. You’re not wrong to have those feelings. You can’t control their existence, but you can control what you do about them. And your resilience will give you the strength you need for this.
Journaling is one strategy people use to help them process their feelings. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to take a few minutes every day to write down all the thoughts and fears that are weighing me down. This process was scary at first, but then I realized that putting those ideas down on paper enabled me to confront them and give myself permission not to carry them around all day. (By expressing my feelings in this way, I told them, “I see you! Now go away!’)
Journaling also helped me realize that many of my negative thoughts arise when my mind gets carried away and starts imagining worst-case scenarios. Even though I am pretty hardcore about planning, a lot remains out of my control—and fantasizing disaster is just exhausting. Writing down my fears helps me check those runaway thoughts and be more present, where I can focus on what I can control: my attitude, and the work and personal activities that I need to do today.
I won’t lie: journaling does take some work. For me, it was a solid week before I hit my journaling groove and felt some of the pressure lifted. But now that I journal daily, I’ve found it to be a simple—and invaluable—tool for letting go (at least for a little bit) of what’s beyond my control.
When people don’t acknowledge their feelings, the unease and negativity can build up and lead to serious health issues under any circumstances, not just during the COVID-19 crisis. Although journaling is a tool that I recommend for everyone, it may be especially beneficial for people in leadership positions, who often feel the need (because they occupy very public roles) to suppress these feelings the most.
Create a Plan
She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.
After you’ve acknowledged and dealt with your feelings, the next step is to map out what you need to accomplish over a specific time period—and how to do it. By creating a plan, you can increase your sense of control and improve your focus, both of which can strengthen your resilience, especially in times of uncertainty.
During “normal” times, most people (including me) and companies typically set monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals. Right now, though, many of those planning structures are on hold. With the crisis changing things dramatically day by day, it’s difficult to build any sort of long-term plans, especially with so many offices being temporarily closed in areas with “stay at home” orders.
Now that I can’t go to an office and must instead work from home, I’m finding it helpful to focus on what I want to get accomplished between now and the end of April, which is the earliest time that things might possibly start to return to normal. (There’s a good chance the “stay at home” orders will flow into May, but I’m trying to be optimistic and hope that by the end of this month we will have turned the corner and started to see a slowdown in the coronavirus spread.)
My April goals are not as aggressive as they would be if I were in an office setting, primarily because COVID-19 reporting is a very powerful distraction. I suspect most people who are newly working from home now are having a similar struggle—and those of you who are also trying to help your kids with their new distance learning or have pets at home have even more distractions competing for your attention. In any of these situations, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to maintain peak concentration levels. Under these circumstances, it can be helpful to set stretch goals that aren’t as aggressive as your usual goals but at this moment provide the right amount of focus needed while working out the kinks of working from home (and figuring out how to drown out distractions).
With that month’s goals in hand, for example, at the start of each week I lay out what must get done during the next seven days in order to achieve success. I then break down those weekly goals into daily goals, which I integrate with my daily work-related and personal tasks. Having a plan for the day helps me to focus—and when I do get distracted, my list reminds me that I do have deadlines to meet! During this chaotic time, this process helps me gain a much-needed sense of “control” (even if just a little) over my time.
One important caveat about planning and working from home: make sure you’re not working all the time. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on work (especially when your commute involves walking from the bedroom to wherever you have your “office” set up). We all need mental breaks so we can stay sharp. So force yourself to step away from the computer periodically and distract yourself with something personal. Maybe you pursue one of those “if I only have the time to do X” projects that you’ve been unable to do in the past, or maybe you spend some time on self-care and reaching out to your loved ones (see more on that below). Whatever you do, take breaks from work and spend your “down time” on things that are meaningful to you.
Change Your Attitude
The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.
Whether you’re someone who routinely says “no” and thinks negative thoughts or someone who’s usually positive but is struggling to maintain that outlook in the face of COVID-19, it’s important to do everything you can to cultivate a positive outlook. Your health may depend on it. Consider this list (compiled by staff at the Mayo Clinic) of some of the physical and mental health benefits associated with positive thinking:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress [a.k.a. resilience!]
Now, I’m not saying that you should bury your head in the sand and ignore the serious situation going on all around us. (You should definitely pay attention to the evolving COVID-19 situation and follow CDC guidance on it. Stay home and wash your hands!) But I am proposing that instead of focusing on the negatives of the present situation, you focus on what positives you can find—and be thankful for—in your life right now.
Fortunately, it is possible to train your mind to go to a more positive place. When you wake up in the morning, say to yourself, “Damn it! I’m going to do everything I can to be in a good mood today! Yes, I mean today!” Making a change in attitude—even if you have to brute force an attitude adjustment on yourself—can increase your resilience in this difficult time.
Take Care of Yourself
Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.
Take a break from the news, social media, etc.
Although it’s important to stay informed about what’s going on in the world, “staying informed” can easily slide into “obsessively refreshing new sites and social media feeds” if you aren’t careful—and that will only add to your stress level. Consider installing applications or browser extensions that block notifications during certain times each day. (I’ve recently started blocking media popups and notifications, and in addition to improving my mood they have had a very positive effect on my ability to concentrate!)
Spending less time on social media (which is often a very negative space) can also help with your sanity. Instead, try keeping your mind occupied on things other than the coronavirus by reading, walking, putting together a puzzle, (finally!) sorting that sock drawer, or engaging in some other creative endeavor.
Don’t isolate yourself socially.
Many of my friends are struggling with the physical isolation that comes from no longer working in an office with other people. Because we have to maintain physical isolation for a while in order to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 spread, t it’s now more important than ever to maintain our social connections.
Fortunately, many technology options (several of which are free) make it possible to reach out to friends, family, and coworkers from a distance: FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet and Hangouts, and Skype are just a few—and of course don’t forget about good old-fashioned phone calls! Just don’t schedule back-to-back meetings or calls, because prolonged sitting isn’t good for your health and nonstop socializing can be mentally exhausting).
The shift to virtual meetings has definitely improved my own resilience by forcing me to push myself to learn new technology. This shift has not only enabled me to maintain contact with my clients and colleagues, but it’s also allowed me to pivot my business to a new environment, which is critical to keeping it successful in this era of social distancing. (As an added bonus, I’ve received many compliments on my Zoom prowess, and my clients are now asking me to hold my previously in-person training programs virtually. These ego boosts have also been great for my resilience!)
Take care of your body.
Your local gym may be closed, but you can still find plenty of other ways to get your exercise in. There are tons of free online courses for yoga and other at-home exercise routines that don’t require special equipment, for example, and many gyms or studios are offering fee-based online group training sessions. (If you opt to try the latter, I strongly recommend keeping your device’s camera off: I had mine on during a recent online yoga class, and when I fell over that sight brought the instructor to her knees laughing!) If formal routines or paid content aren’t your thing, you can always go for a walk, which is not only free but also helps you get some fresh air.
Don’t forget about the mind-body connection: taking care of your body takes care of your mind (and vice versa). In addition to letting you stretch your legs, a good walk can also help you clear your head (a benefit I’ve found especially useful when I feel myself starting to feel anxious about my business). If you’re having trouble sleeping well, listen to peaceful music or try a meditation app. Lastly, don’t forget to eat as healthy as you can during this time.
Be Kind to Each Other
Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.
During times of high stress, it’s easy to get caught up in our own emotions and forget that everyone else is also suffering. Take a moment to remember that kindness begets kindess: when one person is kind, that expression of compassion not only improves someone else’s life, but can also have a far-reaching impact. This is a difficult time in the world, but we are all in this together. Stay strong, stay healthy, and stay home—and we will all help each other get through this. —Val