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How to become more resilient in COVID-19 times

Wilhelm Crous - Monday, May 11, 2020


Although most of us understand that COVID-19 is one of a series of pandemics that humans have encountered over hundreds of years, from a human perspective, this is a perfect storm with winds coming from all directions. The risk of damaging your health or losing loved ones,  coupled with social isolation and the potential loss of income are all causing stress, anxiety and panic for most of us. 

It’s crucial to understand what we can do to make the trauma of this experience as manageable as possible.

Research shows resilience has a lot to do with how we think, how adaptable we are, how we view life, whether we feel in control, how focused we are on remaining busy and committed, and whether we are socially involved and supported. 

Contributor to our new book: Managing Organisations During the COVID-19 Vortex and one of the leaders in the consulting psychology field, Dr Jopie de Beer shares the following practical tips to help you tap into your own personal resilience during these turbulent times:  

1. Start with absolute honesty and acceptance

Within all the emotional turbulence, anger and shock we may be experiencing, it is important to start on the road to sustained resilience by accepting that:
  • the COVID-19 crisis is a reality and will create chaos for some months. To resist, deny, rationalise, feel guilty or blame yourself will not help;
  • blaming others will make no difference to the outcome of the virus or the trauma at hand;
  • you will now have to create a new rhythm and structure in your life and accept that life will never feel, or be, the same again; and
  • you’ll have to be kind to yourself in this process, and it won’t be easy...
The acceptance of these principles can enable us to use this chaotic and traumatic time to learn more about our own personalities, our ways of coping and our resilience, as well as to help and understand the resources and needs of others. 

2. Build physical resilience

Our physical condition has an impact on our thinking and emotions, as much as our emotional state and thoughts can affect our physical well-being. 
  • Prioritise your health: To remain physically healthy it’s essential to eat healthily, to sleep enough, to breathe deeply, and to do exercise. Learn how to be “physically intelligent” by listening to the feedback from your body, whether it relates to pain, discomfort or tension. 

  • Set new goals: For those who miss interaction and competition, make your exercise regime a social one by participating in streaming activities. Formulate goals and outcomes that you would like to reach and identify ways in which you can show achievement, whether it includes being able to do more push-ups or achieve a slower heart rate. Physical activity, being outside and achieving goals can all have a positive impact on your mood, and therefore on your resilience.

  • Add structure to your day: Structure your day to include waking up at the right time, dressing, and putting on your make-up as though you were going to work. Make sure that you allow for activities that ensure that you do remain physically active and busy. Also use meditation or prayer to calm you down mentally, emotionally and physically.
3. Build mental resilience
  • Hone your reasoning skills: Develop your mental resilience by learning to ask for facts, figures, proof or logic to help calm your emotions down. Nowhere is this more important than in the age of “fake news”. The intention of those who create false information is to create emotional shock, fear and anger. Fear can make us act in irrational ways but at an enormous cost. On an individual level, the cost may lie in physical and emotional exhaustion. On a group level, the cost may lie in the loss of relationships, impulsive actions, and destructive actions or words. 

  • Be aware of what you pay attention to: Be careful of being on social media to such an extent that you become absorbed in all the chaos and drama. Change your habits to include hobbies, interests and activities that provide more balance in your life, as well as alternative sources of satisfaction or even pleasure.

  • Take care of how you think: Do your best to frame and interpret events such as COVID-19 with realism, by focusing on constructive, useful and positive information and outcomes. Look for information that can at times include reasons for gratitude or possibly even humour. The physical and emotional benefits of this will support resilience. 

  • Take care of managing how people around you think: People and their dramatic stories can sometimes be as contagious as the coronavirus. For self-care purposes, choose who you socialise, communicate and interact with during the trauma of an event like COVID-19.

  • Use this time for personal development and learning: One of the worst emotional enemies during this period of social distancing, quarantine and isolation is boredom, so use the time to learn something new. Read all the books, articles or blogs you can. Register for online courses on topics of interest to you. Use what you learn as topics of online discussion with friends and family to focus some attention away from the realities of COVID-19.
4. Build emotional resilience

The ability to identify emotions accurately, understand them, use them effectively, and manage them appropriately is a core component of resilience. In this regard, particular attention should be given to the below:
  • Self-awareness and self-management: Use self-reflection and previous assessment results, and ask colleagues and friends for feedback, to establish a clear sense of your own hardwiring. This will not only guide you in understanding your strengths, but will also guide your understanding of why and how you derail at times. For resilience, this self-knowledge is essential as it allows you to anticipate the situations that will cause you the most stress, and helps you to understand how to best respond. 

  • When your focus is on catastrophe it tends to become your reality. Positive emotions such as optimism, hope, happiness, joy and gratitude are essential for resilience; such emotions build personal resources and are directly related to health and coping. Negative emotions tend to trigger fear, anxiety and survival instincts in you and those around you.

  • Stress tolerance: To ensure resilience it is essential to identify and constructively manage sources of stress. This may include reassessing boundaries between home and work life, taking up hobbies that provide joy, or making time for relaxation and other exercises. Optimal resilience will not be maintained if self-care work is not done on managing the sources of stress and finding constructive ways to manage its impact.
5. Build interpersonal resilience
  • Nurture good relationships. A vital part of personal resilience comes from the quality of the relationships we are in. Relationships characterised by honesty, empathy and care provide essential support, feedback and advice during times of trauma, chaos and hardship. Human beings need to know that somebody cares and that they are not alone during the pandemic. In addition, those who provide such care gain as much emotional value as those on the receiving side.

  • Stay connected. Your resilience is strengthened when you make time for closeness with, and compassion for, others. Some argue that there is no sense of self or self- definition without a sense of other. Make sure that in the time provided to you during the pandemic that you re-kindle relationships and that you touch base with others who need care, and in the process, you will develop the kind of insight and gratitude that will replenish and strengthen your own resilience.

This pandemic has turned every aspect of our lives upside down and there’s a real chance that our lives may never be the same again. It’s important to acknowledge that during this time we will be emotional, we will despair, and in general we won’t always be as resilient as we may wish. Ultimately, be kind to yourself and be kind to others. Use the time available to structure your days as close to normality as possible, whilst working on building your own resilience and supporting the resilience of others.

Dr Jopie de Beer will also be speaking at our upcoming "HR Leader Summit" on how to foster grit, resilience and hope during a pandemic. This two-day online event will take place on 23-24 June 2020 and will address some of the most burning issues for HR right now. You can view the complete programme - here. We will also be hosting an online “Mental Health in the Workplace during Coronavirus Seminar” on 18 June 2020. This one-day online event will give you the opportunity to find out how Discovery, Sasol, ICAS, Momentum (and more) are managing employee mental health during COVID-19 - learn more here.





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