The post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne once said, “If isolation tempers the strong, it is a stumbling-block of the uncertain.” Most of us can relate to this sentiment. The coronavirus crisis is a huge stumbling block for people who hate uncertainty, which is pretty much all of us.
Each new day brings increasingly bleak predictions, and death toll numbers that just keep going up. For many it’s emotionally difficult to find one’s bearings in the middle of the storm, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
But there is always hope. We will get through this, and if we’ll allow it, the experience will make us stronger and more resilient.
Some of why we’re stretched thin can be attributed to the condition we were in before this crisis hit. Americans were already in emotional free-fall from large amounts of stress, worry, and anger, and now we’re seeing evidence of it in the form of outrage and panic.
The torrent of bad news is enough to put the most sanguine person in existential crisis. Self-quarantining has only exacerbated the problem by driving people indoors and onto their computers.
The coronavirus is taking a toll on our collective mental health, even more so if you’re sensitive to external stressors. Crisis definitely wreaks havoc on your well-being. Maybe you’re one of the strong who’s tempered by isolation. Either way, it’s always a good time to build and fortify resiliency, especially for such a time as this.
What Is Resilience?
Resilience is a person’s ability to adapt to stressful situations, to roll with the punches, as it were. People need resiliency to see them through adversity. The trouble is, we’re not born naturally resilient. It’s an intentional process and hard work.
We learn resilience when we’re exposed to, and triumph over, hardship. There are two things needed to create resilience: adversity and triumph.
Psychologists believe what we do with adversity from a young age determines the degree to which we will become resilient. Did we endure or surrender? To help reduce distress caused by the coronavirus, we can become adaptive and develop this resilience. Here are three ways you can do this.
1. Internalize Your Value
Studies have shown people with a strong sense of value and worth have better resilience. We find greater purpose and meaning in our lives when we understand our intrinsic value.
It can be really difficult to accept this truth in a world that wants to cancel you at a moment’s notice for not conforming to an ever-changing narrative, especially when we’re continually reminded by news, politicians, celebrities, and social media that the measure of a person is essentially determined by mob rule. It’s an impossible standard even those holding the measuring stick couldn’t hope to meet.
So it’s vital we reject the tyranny of the cancel culture and lean heavily on the belief we have value and something to contribute. We may suffer from our poor decisions, but our inherent worth is not determined by our actions.
Christians will recognize this as one of the defining features of our identity in Christ: “Yet while were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If you’re not a Christian, I would strongly encourage you to start seeking. Pray, ask questions of friends who have faith, go to church with them, and connect with the knowledge that you were designed to be a part of something bigger and more beautiful than what this world can offer.
Practice affirming and internalizing that Truth every day. This may be a challenge at first, but your brain will adapt over time and it will eventually become second nature. Don’t give up.
2. Practice Acceptance
If understanding your self-worth builds resilience by feeding your soul, acceptance creates resilience by developing psychological flexibility. It’s challenging to do this because a crisis grows fear and anxiety, triggering our natural tendency to flee from suffering.
It doesn’t help that we’re hardwired to avoid emotional and physical pain. Humans avoid distress because of the complex neurological relationship between physical and emotional pain. They’re processed in the same region of the brain, which is why we go to extraordinary lengths to protect our emotions in the same way we protect our bodies from physical injury.
This makes practicing acceptance feel counterintuitive. Yet this is what must be done. If you fight or flee from your suffering, the negative thoughts and feelings will come back, sometimes with a vengeance.
The coronavirus has made life uncertain and uncomfortable, but it’s also given us an opportunity to learn to accept our experiences. Let suffering and distress be what they are, no more and no less.
If you feel yourself being consumed by anxiety or panic, pause, breathe, lean into the experience, and remind yourself, “Just because I think or feel something doesn’t make it true.” Then let the moment pass.
3. Find a Support System
The quality of our support network has a tremendous influence on our ability to face adversity. Notice the criteria is quality, not quantity. Even one friend can be the difference between hope or despair.
Since relationships are dynamic, they require energy to keep them going. If you find yourself feeling alone and a little vulnerable, now may be good time to explore how well you are cultivating and nurturing your relationships. Perhaps you need to reach out to some of your friends and re-connect, or find a mental health therapist or a support group.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or be vulnerable about your needs. A healthy support system is ready and willing to handle anything you bring.
Also consider what it would mean for you to reach out and help others. Compassion for someone else has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. When we are intentional in helping someone else, we create a “virtuous circle” that makes us feel better, those we help feel better, and then we feel better.
This is a time of great uncertainty, so be intentional about developing and maintaining a network of people in whom you can find support and provide support. Here’s where you can find a therapist and a support group.