The Key to Building Resilience During COVID-19

Building resilience is a pertinent topic right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has knocked the nation for six, but it seems some people are more sensitive to the danger and threat to our normal way of life while others are more resilient.

To explore this topic more, I’ve spoken with two of my wonderful team here at Altum Health: Drs Nicole Nasr and Vanessa Bogle. Together, we have put together this blog post to talk about resilience, to understand why we each have different levels of resilience and explain how you can improve your resilience. Curious? Let’s delve in.

What is resilience and why is it important?

Resilience is one’s ability to bounce back from difficult situations and to adapt in the face of adversity. As we are all acutely aware, life certainly has its ups and downs. And while nobody is immune to bad feelings, being resilient better enables us to deal with these feelings, and crucially, bounce back again, rather than get sucked into a spiral of negative thoughts. 

Common features of resilient people include:

  • The ability to identify the cause of a problem
  • Being aware of how you react to difficult situations, and an awareness of the emotions and behaviour of others in these situations
  • The ability to understand another person’s feelings and perspectives
  • The ability to remain positive about the future, while being realistic when planning for it
  • Believing in yourself
  • Having effective problem-solving skills
  • Having a strong support network and the ability to ask for help from others.

However, those with lower levels of resilience tend to:

  • Have a smaller support network
  • Have no specific routine outside of work, i.e. very few, or no, hobbies or interests
  • Catastrophise events
  • Be self-critical
  • Struggle with change
  • Struggle with decision-making.

How resilient am I?

To gauge how resilient you are as an individual, consider this scenario: You receive negative feedback from your boss on a report you have produced for work. How do you react? If you can’t stop thinking about that feedback for a whole week, and you take that one piece of criticism and snowball it with lots of other criticisms you believe to be true, then your resilience is likely to be low. However, if you take that criticism and accept those feelings before investing your time in work projects that will help you to prove yourself, your resilience is likely to be higher. The key factors here are how long it takes you to bounce back and the degree to which your confidence plummets.

Why resilience varies from one individual to the next

It’s important to remember that, compared with other species, humans are pretty resilient – we are very good at adapting to change. Yes, we form habits and routines, but if needed, we can adapt quite adeptly.

COVID-19 was a very sudden and forced change for all of us, with restrictions on most aspects of daily life. There was an initial period of adjustment, but after a few weeks, we forged new routines and settled into our ‘new normal’.

That said, I’m sure many of us have questioned our individual resilience during lockdown, especially when making comparisons with those around us (both in real life and on social media). Have you had moments when you’ve wondered why a friend, sibling or colleague appears to be coping better than you?

Well, there are several factors that can influence your personal level of resilience:

  • Your environment. Resilience is affected by the environment around you, both within your home and the outside environment. A recent study by Exeter University demonstrates the impact that living by the sea has on mental health, highlighting the link between health and the natural environment.
  • Your social support. Having a good network of people to reach out to and connect with is crucial to building resilience.
  • Your personality. The way you view and handle situations is largely determined by your personality. Are you an optimistic person, or a glass-half-empty type? Are you realistic with your goals and expectations? Those people who created a long list of personal tasks and achievements during lockdown might just be setting themselves up for failure, which will certainly have an impact on resilience.
  • Your childhood. The way you were bought up has a big impact on your ability to be resilient. Were you allowed to ‘feel’ your feelings, and did you have the space to ‘be with’ your emotions? Were you criticised for things you did wrong, or did you receive unconditional love?
  • There may be times when you find accessing resources to cope with difficulties particularly challenging. These include exposure to various stressors, such as racism, discrimination, and a range of other social inequalities which are outside of your direct control. It is important to evaluate your level of control over a given situation and ask yourself, “What can I take responsibility for in this situation and what can I change?” This will help you remove personal pressure to try to ‘move the unmoveable’.

When you consider the many factors we rely on for building resilience, you can see how the restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic might have affected our ability to cope during lockdown. So be kind to yourself!

Ten tips for building resilience after the COVID-19 lockdown

We’d like to leave you with a few tips for building resilience as we navigate post-lockdown. Resilience is not something you are born with, it’s a skill that’s learnt over time, so let’s finish with a few of the ways you can improve your resilience.

  1. Following government guidelines, start taking baby-steps towards a more normal existence. For example, choose a quieter hour on the tube, put your mask on and make that first journey to build your confidence.
  2. If you’re able to, go back to doing what you loved doing pre-COVID.
  3. Take up a new interest or hobby – discover things that you may not have previously had the time for. Gardening, painting, and baking can be extremely therapeutic.
  4. Look after your physical and mental health. Engaging in a physical activity that you enjoy, eating a balanced diet, meditation and journaling are all excellent ways to achieve this. Read more on this topic, here.
  5. Sleep! Get enough sleep and ensure a regular bedtime routine.
  6. Relaxation and self-care. It could be as simple as lighting a candle, applying a face mask, listening to music, or taking a bath, but carving out time to indulge in comforting activities can be really soothing.
  7. Take a break. Create a routine for yourself that is feasible. If you are able to work a bit less in order to feel better, then do that. Perhaps take some annual leave or reassess your work schedule as a whole.
  8. I’ve said this before but be kind to yourself. Don’t give yourself a hard time. Develop an inner voice that talks to you in the same way you would talk to a friend.
  9. Be moderately grateful. What I mean by this is – gratitude is an amazing thing to have but use it in moderation. We have a range of emotions and I would implore you to allow yourself to feel and acknowledge all of them when they arise – both the good and the bad.
  10. And finally, try not to place unnecessary restrictions on yourself during this stressful period. We have already been so heavily constrained with lockdown, now is not the time to add an additional layer of self-imposed restrictions! Have a look at this recent blog post about Why Lockdown Weight Gain is No Bad Thing.

Now that lockdown has eased, it may take some time to rebuild our resilience. We took a few weeks to create our ‘new normal’ during lockdown, and – now that we have been given choice again – we have another element to deal with – decision making.

Previously, we had no choice, we just had to pause. Now, we have choices to make. Will you start taking public transport again? Will you go on holiday? Will you take your children to theme parks and attractions?

Choice makes things harder, and I expect many of us will suffer a dip in resilience as we forge new routines again. This is normal. Life has its ups and downs and it’s okay not to be resilient all of the time, in fact it’s almost impossible. ‘Letting go’ for a while may be just what is needed. So we’ll say it again, be kind to yourself as you take the time you need to bounce back.

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression or trauma, and would like to find out how we at Altum Health can help you, please get in touch. Our therapy sessions are continuing via Zoom, so please do reach out to book in your regular sessions, or get in touch if you need support.

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