Trying to discern fact from opinion with the different and often changing messages we receive through the news and social media have also caused many people to experience greater levels of anxiety and stress. This has led many of us to experience change fatigue as we integrate these changes into our own lives in what is often called a “new normal.”
Some changes have been easier to manage than others. In addition to spending more time at home and online, we’ve also seen people get creative in how they interact – playing games on Zoom, talking to family through facetime, sending online greeting cards, or making videos to promote optimism and hope, not to mention discovering new apps such as TikTok.
Some people find making these changes easy, while others find it more difficult. What makes it easier for some than for others? And what can you do to make them easier to manage?
The answer lies in the concept of resilience. Resilience refers to our ability to recover after hardships. People with many personal protective factors, or ways of coping with stress, are able to manage change through personal resilience.
How resilient are you, and what helps you bounce-back? Below is a list of characteristics that can help build your personal resilience. Take a look at the list and see if there are areas in which you excel or areas in which you would like to grow.
1. Flexibility. Flexibility applies to one’s thoughts. Do you know someone who has very rigid thinking, who denies new perspectives or ideas? How satisfied are they with their lives? It’s natural to focus on what we’ve lost, to mourn the loss of passions, to feel sad that life has changed. However, having a willingness to learn and adopt new ideas can build one’s internal resources. The next time you’re feeling frustrated with change, ask yourself – is this in my control? If not, think about your thinking, and see if there are other perspectives or approaches that might be more helpful.
2. Hope, optimism, and faith. According to a study by the University of Houston, people who are hopeful and have strong faith often have less anxiety because they can imagine a positive outcome. They believe that things will get better. This perspective can be difficult to maintain for long periods of time, particularly in a situation that continues to drag on, such as the pandemic. How hopeful are you? Try to pay attention to or find good news stories to remind yourself that life has challenges and triumphs, and that there is a time for each.
3. Gratitude. Being thankful for and finding moments of gratitude each day can significantly improve mood. When we experience loss, we can struggle to remember our blessings. When we feel gratitude, it is easier to feel positive about our lives. What are you grateful for today? If you won an award, who would you thank in your speech and what would you thank them for?
4. Humour. Sometimes laughing at ourselves or funny perspectives can lighten the seriousness of a situation. We need to be careful that we’re not poking fun at people as this can be damaging, particularly among those with low self-esteem. However, there are times when a touch of humour can provide some relief from the stress of a situation, and help to ease the pressure that comes from the more difficult parts of life. Do you like to look at memes on social media that show the lighter side of current events? Try to find opportunities to laugh every day and notice any differences in your mood over a two-week period.
5. Meaning. Having a life worth living is a very important part of emotional wellness. Many of us find meaning through our faith, volunteering, participating in sports, being a good friend, and achieving goals. What makes life worthwhile for you? The value of helping others is a cherished tradition in our community. What gifts, skills, or talents do you have to share with others? Look for opportunities to give to others in a manageable and meaningful way. Even one hour per week can help you feel more satisfaction and purpose in life.
6. Self-esteem. The ability to accept oneself is extremely important to mental wellbeing. We all have times in our lives when we doubt ourselves or feel critical of our actions. Sometimes we compare ourselves to friends or people we see on social media and feel inadequate. Can you validate yourself? Can you have more compassion for yourself? You may wish to keep a collection of compliments or positive feedback you’ve received. You could also end your day by listing three things for which you are proud of. Doing this can help you remember your value when you’re feeling down.
7. Social support. We need to feel a sense of belonging and attachment to one another. We’re social creatures! Even those who consider themselves introverted need contact with other people. However, we sometimes get caught up in our own lives or feel embarrassed to ask friends for help. It can be difficult to show our vulnerability, even with the people closest to us. Who do you have in your life that makes you laugh? Who makes you think about things in a helpful way? Talk to a trustworthy, supportive, and non-judgmental friend about how you are feeling. Their response may surprise you. If they don’t respond in a supportive way, don’t give up! Instead, find another safe person to talk to.
8. Self-awareness. When in times of high stress and crisis, we can sometimes lose sight of ourselves. At these times, we need some perspective. We need to be aware of when we need help and use our strengths to help us overcome adversity. Are you aware of your needs? What are your strengths? How good are you at managing your emotions? The next time you are distressed in a situation, you may need to think about things rationally rather than react emotionally.
Resilience is not inbuilt, but it can be learned and developed. If you feel you are having a hard time coping with stress, change, or anxiety, reach out for support. Some people find therapy helpful, while others prefer to write in a journal or talk to friends and family. You don’t need to do it alone. Ensure you are getting the support you need.
Zahra Jessa is a Registered Psychologist in Alberta, Canada.