3 Cornerstones of Resilience

What do you need to get through difficult times?

Posted Dec 31, 2020

The year 2020 will go down as one of the most challenging in modern history. The grievous pain over losing loved ones to Covid-19 is immeasurable. But this disease has also wrought fear in its wake, as many have wrestled with worries about their health, safety, financial stability, and an uncertain future. The ongoing isolation has been particularly difficult.

If past is prologue, we will survive this crisis as we have other collective traumas. But looking backwards also tells us that after a mass crisis, such as 9/11 or a natural disaster, that as we emerge from the pandemic we can expect that many will experience an increase in various psychological conditions, including anxiety, stress, substance abuse, depression, and PTSD.

How can we shore up our resilience in the face of the pandemic and its aftermath? This was a question posed by Craig Polizzi of Binghamton University and his colleagues. In a recent paper, they suggest that we can invoke the “3 C’s” model of resilience, which refers to control, coherence, and connectedness. Previous research on dealing with a disaster like an earthquake, hurricane and floods can guide us in our coping and recovery. But we can also refer to these 3Cs for general resilience building, too.

The following breaks down each “C” in the model, with a selective overview of actionable advice for coping with the pandemic provided by Polizzi and his collaborators in their paper.

1. Control refers to the belief that you have the personal resources you need to meet your goals. Polizzi and his collaborators suggest that in the short-term people can exert control in various ways, such as planning daily activities, checking on loved ones, focusing on getting good sleep, and staying informed about the virus. Moreover, keeping a diary of daily events, goals, and lessons learned from hardships can help to process our feelings.

Having long-term goals can also subdue anxiety, by looking to the future and preparing for life after the stressor. In the case of the pandemic, we can begin to plan and anticipate what will be involved as we re-enter the workplace and school, take vacations, and interact with friends and colleagues who may be struggling. Planning and anticipation can help us connect our present with the future, and form clearer ideas about what the future will look like.

2. Coherence speaks to the human drive to make sense and find meaning in the world. One challenge we have in the pandemic is to create a coherent narrative of what has happened, and what we can do to establish personal safety. Polizzi and his team recommend acceptance-based coping (ABC), which means shifting how we relate to our reactions to stressors (e.g., fear or anxiety) by becoming non-judgmentally aware of the flux of emotions we may feel, like doubt or self-blame. The idea is not to chase away our feelings, but to observe them in a nonreactive manner and then develop an effective response.

Polizzi and his colleagues also contend that the practice of mindfulness, in which we stay focused on the present moment, can also help decrease fear and pessimism. One way to strengthen the “mindfulness muscle” is to set a timer and practice mindful observations of your feelings and sensations as they rise and fall. Being aware of these rhythms also serves as a reminder that our feelings and circumstances do change.

3. Connectedness encompasses the fundamental need for social contact and support. Being connected to others after a collective trauma can be one of the most powerful healing factors in recovery. During the pandemic, we can forge new bonds or renew old ones even through technological means like Zoom or social media. Doing so helps decrease sadness, stress, and anxiety.

The authors also suggest practicing loving-kindness meditation, which involves focusing on your “heart region” and contemplating a person for whom you have strong positive feelings. From there, direct that positive feeling towards yourself and to others in your life, and to humanity at large. This practice is useful in building resilience, because it derives both connectedness with others as well as positive emotions. It is also a practice that encourages compassion and empathy for those who are suffering, and diminishes feelings of isolation.

This past year has been unimaginably difficult, but there are support and resources available. We really are in it — and will come out of it — together.

References

Polizzi, C., Lynn, S.J., Perry, A. (2020). Stress and Coping in the Time of COVID-19: Pathways to Resilience and Recovery. Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 17 (2), 59-62.