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Resilience

The Journey of Building Resilience in an Endemic

Finding ways to build up our mental and physical capacity for resilience.

Key points

  • We must set the stage to increase our capacity for resilience in the context of adversity.
  • The first step is understanding that stress is a part of the human condition, not a negative reflection on our strength or character.
  • Resilience is not an inherent characteristic you either have or don’t, but a daily journey we take with others.

For the past two years, our minds have been flooded with negative news and experiences—from new COVID variants to social injustice and global conflict. This consistent stream of direct and indirect stressors can lead to a range of responses based on one’s own history and resources, and may vary over time. To transition from a pandemic to an endemic—and accept the lingering, long-term presence of COVID-19 and other chronic stressors in our lives—we’ll need to find ways to collectively build up our mental and physical capacity for resilience. Resilience is not a stable trait, but an ongoing process influenced by the personal and collective resources available to us. Therefore, we must focus on continuing to set the stage for ourselves and others to increase the capacity for resilience in the context of adversity. So where do we start?

Taking the First Step

Step one is understanding that stress is a part of the human condition, not a negative reflection on our strength or character. It’s important to note that stress is not evenly distributed since some individuals, especially those with marginalized identities, face increased stressors, traumatic events, and the negative impacts of systems of privilege, power, and oppression in daily life. Building resilience starts with acknowledging the existence of these stressors in our lives and being on the lookout for the physical warning signs of stress. Some common signs of stress include headaches, trouble sleeping, jaw pain, changes in appetite, frequent mood swings, and difficulty concentrating. Everyone should learn their own warning signs to help inform when to take action.

Identifying Resources

One way to prepare for current and future challenges is by making a list of resources that have been helpful to cope with adversity in the past. Even though every situation is different, having a “go-to” list of resources can be useful to have on hand. Resources may include being physically active, setting well-being goals, and shifting priorities to focus on activities that provide a sense of achievement and enjoyment. This approach is referred to as behavioral activation—instead of waiting until you feel “up for it” you can schedule activities into your day that lead to a positive spiral of improving mood. Being kind to yourself, taking breaks, and connecting with others are also important coping resources, as are engaging in advocacy, setting boundaries, and finding ways to connect with meaning and purpose in the face of challenge.

Filling Up the Tank with a Support Partner

Once you have your list of resources, it’s helpful to have a support partner with whom you can check in on how things are going. This can either be someone already in your life or can mean seeking out a professional therapist, certified coach, or a spiritual leader. Make a concrete plan of the resources that you’re planning to implement and check in with your support partner regularly to help keep track of progress and problem-solve anything getting in the way. If face-to-face check-ins aren’t possible for you either because of COVID or personal preference, there are many virtual options as well.

It’s important to remember that we are all human and that while there are steps we can take to increase the capacity for resilience for ourselves and others, there are times when the events of our lives will impact us more than at other times. Having self-compassion is essential in these moments. Remember that resilience is not an inherent characteristic that you either have or don’t, but a daily journey that we take together.

References

Thank you to Sharon Lo, Ph.D. for having conversations with me about resilience as a process, which inspired key parts of this post.

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