Life always goes through ups and downs; that is normal, as long as you are not feeling too low, too often. But the current period of isolation has forced us to face new challenges, extra anxiety and stress. How can we cope with such unwelcome circumstances, the break from our normal routines, being locked at home for days in a row (whether completely alone or surrounded by maybe too many people)?
Our ability to cope with situations like this, or any other event or circumstance which we perceive negatively, is what we call resilience. It is a skill and, as such, it can be learned, developed, improved. Anyone can do it, but you do need to put some time and energy on it.
Below are my top 5 resilience tips:
1. Develop your self-awareness. Do you really know what are your core values and beliefs, your greatest talents, what you fear and what drives you: what makes you You? For most of us, the honest answer to this is ‘well, actually, No’! It’s important to know what are the resources (and obstacles) that you bring with yourself to any situation. You can improve your self-awareness by taking better notice of your habitual thoughts, emotions and behaviours (for example, you can start a Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviour Journal, just taking note of how they follow each other, especially in stressful situations), doing mindfulness meditation, or even just spending some time learning more about yourself by doing some online tests such as the Values In Action survey, personality tests or career tests, and then reflecting on their results.
2. Begin with the end in mind. It is much easier to feel a sense of purpose and direction when. you know what you are aiming for. How do you define ‘success’, what are your long-term goals and dreams? Sit down for some minutes, reflect on these questions and identify your own SPORTing goals (Specific, Positive, Observable, Realistic and Time-bound). Write them down on a piece of paper that you can see regularly, but be flexible about your goals: revise them and throw away any of them when necessary. You can do this for each area of your life (personal, work, relationships, …). What would you dream of if you knew you could not fail?
3. Choose a constructive mindset. Practice being more Optimistic. Our mindset determines to a great extent how we live our lives and how fulfilled we feel with it. One of the many aspects you can work on is being more optimistic, and this is even more important in uncertain times like these. Being more optimistic is not about pretending there are no ‘bad’ things in the world; it’s about reframing and reinterpreting what happens, so you can find the positive side of it, seeing challenges (not threats) and believing that the future will be better. Multiple research has shown that people who are more optimistic are also more successful in life, both personally and professionally. So, whenever you catch yourself having unconstructive, unhealthy, repetitive negative thoughts, question them as they appear. Try to reframe them by starting a new sentence with “That’s not true because…” or “A better/more helpful way of seeing this is…” or “If xxx happens, then I will zzzz”. These are called real-time resilience strategies.
4. Know and deliberately use your top (character) strengths as often as possible, in all realms of your life. You can do a free online test here to find out what your top character strengths are. Once you know, ask yourself: how can I use these strengths more often in my life? What can I do today - at home, at work, at a hobby - to use at least 4 of my top 5 strengths?
5. Self-care comes first. In an airplane you are always explained that, if an emergency happens, you should put your oxygen mask on first and only then help children and others. This is not being selfish; this is good advice for your whole life. You cannot help others effectively if you are not feeling well and at your best. Are you taking enough rest, sleep, really disconnecting from work and stress when you are on holidays? Are you eating healthily and drinking enough? Enjoying the little things in your life? Are you being as kind and compassionate with yourself as you would be with others? Self-care is vital. You can start a gratitude journal (a daily list of at least 3 things you are grateful for in that day), commit to a healthy sleeping routine , exercise and breathing deeply, or engage in any activity that bring your joy (dance, cook, gardening, walks in nature, reading, whatever). Give yourself at least as much love and attention as you would give others, and enjoy it!
There are many other actions you could take that would also be extremely useful (such as building authentic and real human connections or developing positive institutions such as family, workplace, community...). But do you really have any excuse not to start at least one of the tips mentioned above? All of them are actions that you can do today, by yourself, with basically no equipment. You can do it! Go for it! 😉
(First published: 08 May 2020)