Resilience

Building Resilience in the Era of COVID-19

Five practices for growth amidst pressing challenges.

Posted Mar 30, 2020

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The current crisis is unique in its uncertainty. Experts are unsure about exact timelines for when the crisis may abate. This creates uncertainty which brings additional challenges to coping.

This crisis is also widespread throughout communities across the globe. Thus, other communities, organizations, and even individuals that would be able to offer support in a localized disaster may be sapped of resources, which can impact the mental health of communities and individuals affected by COVID-19.

Third, there are diverse challenges happening within the crisis. While it feels like many other parts of life are at a standstill, other responsibilities and obligations continue: Bills are still due, groceries still need to be bought, work may or may not continue, and children still need to be cared for. Worry and fear may abound while we are physically separated from those on whom we rely. How can we face such challenges in this crisis while building resilience?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (Hayes et al., 2011), self-compassion (Neff, 2015), and gratitude (e.g., Wood et al., 2010) are approaches that can be helpful in facing challenging times.

  1. Be open. Being open refers to being able to accept challenging private experiences including thoughts and feelings instead of trying to suppress them or change. Acceptance does not mean resignation to these thoughts and feelings but recognizing that we have those experiences and seeing them for what they are (a thought is just that, while a feeling is just that). These thoughts and feelings, including the difficult ones, are a part of being human. When having a challenging thought or feeling, acknowledge it for what it is instead of struggling with it.
  2. Be aware. Being aware refers to being fully present in the moment with all five senses. In times of stress and challenge, it can become very easy to be caught up in our thoughts, feelings, as well as the past or the present. Instead of being caught up in these experiences, bring awareness to the present moment, using the senses if possible. One simple exercise encourages us to take time and focus on our breathing while noticing one thing with each sense (one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can touch, one thing you can smell, and one thing you can taste). Engage the senses by really taking time in this experience. In the midst of everything going on, engaging in the senses can be a helpful way to ground oneself in the present experiences.
  3. Be engaged and active. When challenging times, difficult emotions, or tough thoughts come, we can often lose sight of what things are important to us. Take this time to consider those areas of life that are important to you, or your values. Values may include domains of life (e.g., being a parent, leisure, vocation, relationships, or community) as well as ways in which you may wish to live your life (e.g., connection, integrity, humor, kindness). It is also critical not simply to determine these valued domains, but to engage in actions that bring you closer to that valued domain. For instance, if you wish to have more connection in your life, take the time to call, text, email, or FaceTime a family member or friend.
  4. Be self-compassionate. These are trying and difficult times. Self-compassion entails being kind to ourselves as opposed to judging ourselves, seeing our common humanity, and being mindful or present (including with difficult emotions or thoughts). Often, we say hurtful and critical things to ourselves that we would not dare say to another person. The next time you catch yourself in a time of suffering whether through a mistake or a moment of pain, ask yourself what a caring friend or family member might say to you in that situation. Recognize that we are all human and experience challenges. Give yourself grace.
  5. Practice gratitude. Gratitude can be beneficial for well-being (see Wood et al., 2010). While times may be challenging, gratitude serves as a beacon of hope. Try out different approaches to gratitude, including journaling about things that you are grateful for or expressing gratitude to a loved one, friend, or coworker for the qualities that you appreciate or admire about them.

These are trying times, but they offer an opportunity to build resilience. By being open, aware, engaged, and active, practicing self-compassion and gratitude, we can build resilience in these difficult moments.

Written by Jordan D. Snyder, Psy.D.

References

Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change. Guilford Press.

Neff, K. (2015). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. William Morrow.

Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890-905.

See more about Dr. Jordan Snyder at his website.