Catapulted into temporary hibernation it’s easy to slip into despair. Quality time has become quantitative as the 9-5 working day is on hiatus; handbags are in repose and the schoolyard is our own backyard, if we are so lucky. Even if easing of restrictions is on the horizon there’s still a long way to go before normalcy returns. For many this is a really stressful, anxiety inducing time. There are however proven ways to overcome and survive times like this. This is resilience. But let’s not just try to survive. We can use time – currently our greatest resource – to thrive, to come out of this challenging time stronger, having grown.
Largely quarantined to our homes, our outer worlds have been upended. It can feel like our grip on this volatile situation is slipping, overwhelming us with feelings of anxiety and fear. These are indeed crisis times. Etymologically, crisis means a “vitally important or decisive state of things, a point at which change must come, for better or worse.” So let’s choose better. This softening of time is where our true power lies. Offering this reframe is an important way to invite a sense of better. Opening our hearts and minds to opportunities that exercise our inventive and creative self bolsters resilience and overall wellbeing.
History reaffirms that with the right mindset, from challenges stem opportunities. In one of the first recorded public health examples of physical distancing during the 1665 Great Plague of London, Cambridge University sent its students home to continue their studies. One student, Isaac Newton came up with his theory of gravity whilst sojourning under his mother’s apple tree, later describing this as his annus mirabilis, the “year of wonders.” Cultivating new meaning and a sense of purpose helps us shift from survival mode to reinvention mode, a key attribute of a thriving mind.
A resilient mindset makes us more immune to things outside of our control. Thrust into a totally new living and working scenario, nothing seems the same, especially connecting with one another. To bolster our spirit it’s critical to find ways to connect. We need to ask the question, “How can we get more I see you and less ICU?” Humans are social beings; we crave intimacy. We need face time, not just voice time; it’s one of the main conduits for the hormone oxytocin to flow. In online business meetings or with friends and loved ones, even with our increasingly likely number of bad hair days, we need to see one another, virtually or in real life. It’s how we read our cues, signalling mirror neurons; so a smile on someone’s face lights ours, and mutual eye contact reassures. Texting and email are important means of communication, but were never, ever intended to be our sole mode du jour.
A constant stream of negativity can batter resilience. Whilst it might be difficult to escape your home confines, you can take a break from the news and instead immerse yourself in a comedy, sitcom or amusing podcast. Generating smiles and laughter gets endorphins flowing, a potent wellbeing tool, directing thoughts away from stress to a more joyful present moment. Never before has social media been so abuzz with humorous videos and memes. Humour and laughter creates space between yourself and the issue – a healthy and empowering way of responding to the incomprehensible. As Laughter Yoga guru, Dr Madan Kataria says, “Laughter doesn’t solve the problem but it helps dissolve it.” Finding the funny helps elevate spirits sobered by the situation’s gravitas. Resilience thrives in a weightless sphere. I’m still grinning recalling my son’s first day interning at Parliament. 9.00am raring to go: shirt, tie and undies – a Zoom meeting.
As our physical world grows smaller use this time to explore your strengths – to explore what makes you you, by conducting an online Values in Action (VIA) character strengths survey. A home/work environment poses many challenges but it’s also ripe for honing in on your strengths. The more you exercise them the stronger you become. Perhaps helping others comes up as one of your top five strengths. Exercise your altruistic muscle by starting or joining an online community group, or volunteer to distribute meals to those in need. Helping others creates a sense of belonging, linking us to our common humanity: a central tenet of compassion – literally meaning to suffer with another. No matter how tough things might get, reaching out to others in need helps maintain a sense of perspective and help ease a sense of isolation and loneliness – a known health hazard. We need to feel we’re not alone in this.
Satiate your brain’s desire to learn and grow by filling it with activities you choose, rather than let it passively awash with negativity. In so doing you will begin creating a more positive brain. Return to a project you’ve neglected, or create a new one. Flex your creative muscle by painting a feature wall in a colour you’ve long dreamed about, or turn to a canvas. Schedule things you’ve only ever dreamed of doing or not had the time: meditation, exercise, gardening, or even learning a new language. These choices spark the flow of anti-stress hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.
Every storm cloud presents a silver lining – that’s the gift. It may not reveal itself immediately but it is there. As the race for a vaccine ensues, seize each and every day to make a difference, to learn something new. Resourcing your self will be one of the most valuable things you can do, not only to help weather this COVID-19 storm cloud but future curveballs that come you way, whether health, relationship or work. Relish what’s in your control and relinquish what is not. Your future self will thank you for it.
In love and laughter,