Recharging Resilience

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Patricia Pereira-Sethi

We have confronted weeks of unrelenting anxiety, uncertainty, frustration and confusion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our daily routines are being sabotaged with surgical precision. The new normal constantly presents us with a Hobson’s-choice dilemma. Either work from home, or do not work at all. Either study online, or not at all. People with comorbidities must stay home or run the risk of dying of the virus within days. Financial concerns besiege us, and especially if we lack a rock-solid savings account to fall back on. There is simply no clarity about when we can kick-start a bustling economy and begin to harvest profits again. Those families with small children are struggling to explain the concept of social distancing: no hugs or hand-holding with friends, no sitting up-close and laughing together without masks covering all faces. We can barely recognise each other behind the veils; muffled voices prevent us from hearing each other distinctly. Grownups are struggling to understand the aberrant situation themselves.

Our physicians have warned us that the presence of the virus can be especially stressful for vulnerable sections of the citizenry: older adults, children, healthcare workers and first-responders, as well as people with existing mental health problems and substance abusers. Our doctors preach resilience – but it is not as easy as it would appear, since stress levels careen aggressively, depending upon the age group or individual personality.

Resilience is the process of adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or other significant sources of stress. Developing resilience helps us to handle difficult events, but it also helps us grow and improve our lives, even in the absence of calamity. Some people refer to resilience as a “bounce back”, but it is much more than that. Being resilient includes learning from past experiences, as well as developing new survival strategies for the future.

Interviews with large numbers of highly resilient individuals – those who have experienced much hardship and have emerged successfully – indicate that they share similar characteristics.

 They have an optimistic, realistic outlook. They do not dwell on adverse conditions: instead they seek opportunities within the bleakest of situations, continually striving for the positive within the negative.

 They have a high moral compass. Extremely resilient people have a robust sense of what they consider to be right and wrong, and this is the beacon in the darkness that envelops them. They believe in a Supreme Being, one greater than themselves, and wrap themselves in the comfort of religious or spiritual practices.

  They belong to a group via the phone or internet, be it religious, social or cultural. Such alignments give them a sense of connection and coherence because they provide for a mutual support system. Few resilient people go it alone. Building a backup network of empathetic and compassionate people, be they friends or relatives, helps them feel less lonely  in times of need.

  They are invariably altruistic; they have a deep concern for others and a compelling degree of selflessness. They are often dedicated to noble causes: they find meaningful channels to direct their energies and that gives them a sense of purpose. They accept what they cannot change and focus their energy on what they can. Resilient people reappraise a difficult situation and cull out meaningful opportunities within it. They become committed to a mission, a meaning, a purpose in life: this in turn affords them courage and strength.

Like building and fortifying a muscle, boosting resilience requires time and dedication. If we do not enhance it, it could well atrophy. People are conditioned to think of resilience as a personality trait (either you have it or you don’t), but this is not so, according to psychologists. With intention and practice, we can train ourselves to become more resilient, no matter our age.

We can do so by absorbing certain skills and strategies: Deep breathing helps calm the central nervous system and works especially well when we experience symptoms of panic or general discomfort. Meditation and visualization assist with getting into the habit of clearing the mind of dark thoughts and envisioning
positive outcomes.

Daily exercise is a natural stress buster: walking in open spaces or attending a live-stream exercise class relieves tension. Articulating negative feelings helps adjust the thought processes. When we talk through issues, they lose their intensity. It is difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook when the future appears so grim, but positive thinking helps place the spotlight on Hope, with images of better times to come.

A friend remarked recently that, once the pandemic was over, we would either emerge as Chunks, Hunks, or Drunks. There is no need to fall into any extreme condition. Merely concen

trating on Healthy Living should be our goal, since stress can negatively affect our emotional state and hobble our immune system, thus making us more susceptible to the virus. Maintaining a grip on our health and basic parameters plays an important role in constructing resilience.

A holistic approach to self-care should be a must: preoccupation with both body and mind. We must prioritize sleep and eat balanced, nutritious meals. We should drink 8-12 glasses of water daily, as dehydration can exacerbate symptoms of stress. We can remain active mentally and physically:  indulging in stimulating activities to enrich our soul and spirit. Card games, puzzles, chess, painting, embroidery, gardening, learning a new language, are some of a host of hobbies to engage the
whole persona.

These small steps each day build our resilience muscles, and will assist us in combating the crisis. It will also prepare us for dangerous circumstances that could be lurking ahead.