The Power of Resilience: How To Cultivate Resilience During a Pandemic

Resilience – the new superpower for 2021.

Let’s face it, 2020 was challenging, and 2021 is starting out with more of the same.  Between social distancing, job uncertainty, and child care stress, life has been dishing out lemons for months now.  Mental health professionals say the key to weathering any storm is RESILIENCE.

So what is resilience, why is it so important, and what can you do to cultivate it within yourself, particularly during the pandemic?

What does it mean to be resilient?

Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity, and bounce back from difficult life events. Resilience is what gives people the emotional strength to cope with trauma and hardship, and find a way to move forward with their life.

“Quite simply, resilience is the ability to grow despite life’s downturns,” said Amit Sood, MD, the executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being, creator of the Resilient Option program, and former professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Why is resilience important?

People who lack resilience are more likely to feel overwhelmed or helpless, and rely on unhealthy coping strategies such as avoidance, isolation, and self-medication.  Resilient people accept a situation and adapt to its parameters, and that’s what gives them the ability to move forward.

“Resilience is the core strength you use to lift the load of life,” said Dr. Sood.

What are the traits of resilience?

Dr. Brad Smith, Medical Director of Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, is an expert on resilience.  “I have been studying resilience in those with mental health challenges,” said Dr. Smith.  “For individuals who have experienced severe trauma, I want to understand why some suffer from severe PTSD long after an event, while others are able to move past it.  I think the clear difference is their individual sense of resilience, and the coping strategies of a resilient person are directly applicable to what all of us have been dealing with during the Covid19 pandemic.”

Dr. Smith believes that resilience is created by the combination of seven unique characteristics.  The resilient person is able to:

  • CHOOSE realistic optimism:  Without being naive to your circumstances, you want to look at a situation clear-eyed and try to put it into perspective.
  • EMBRACE behavior change:  Set up a schedule, and fill your days with activities and pursuits that best support positive mental well-being.
  • EXPRESS gratitude:  It’s easier to foster a strong sense of optimism with an attitude of thankfulness.
  • WELCOME social support:  Spend time engaging with supportive individuals that take an active interest in your success.
  • CONNECT to a higher power:  Spirituality takes many forms, so whether it’s via organized religion or private meditation, create a bond with something greater than yourself to help you feel less isolated.
  • CULTIVATE a sense of purpose:  Helping others, exploring new interests, and giving back to your community are all ways to tap into your value system and give your life meaning.
  • MAINTAIN physical exercise:  Exercise staves off depression, and a healthy body and mind make for a more resilient person.

How can you build and cultivate the characteristics of resilience?

The good news is, resilience and its associated characteristics aren’t fixed traits.  Each of these characteristics can be strengthened and deepened by changing certain thoughts and behaviors.  It takes flexibility, adaptability, and perseverance, but you can become more resilient!  Here are some ideas how:

Developing Optimism:  If you’re a “glass half empty” person, now is the time to flip the switch on that thought pattern.  Cognitive behavior therapy works to help break depressive cycles by challenging negative perceptions and thoughts.  No one is suggesting you become a Pollyanna, but actively choosing to focus on the positive jumpstarts your sense of resilience.

Developing Behavior Change:  When your day is structured, it helps prevent you from slipping into isolation, anxiety, or depression.  Establish a new routine that makes it easy for you to engage in activities you find enjoyable, and bring purpose and meaning to your life.  When faced with bad times, resilient people stick to their productive routine.  The OHI Focus Class directly speaks to this topic.

Developing Gratitude:  Gratitude reduces stress, so taking an active approach to gratitude can be an effective stress reliever.  Write in a gratitude journal, or reach out to thank individuals that have had a positive impact on your life.  The point is to make the connection between your life and all the good that already exists within it, so your attitude of gratitude will buoy your sense of resilience when faced with adversity.

Developing Social Support:

Without social support, it’s easy to slip into isolation and depression.  Intentionally seek out those who will speak truth to you, and you will feel yourself becoming more resilient with every conversation.  Whether you text, call, or video chat, now, more than ever, you need to feel you are part of a community of friends, and that mutual social support builds a sense of resilience in everyone.

Developing Connection to a Higher Power:

No matter how you practice spirituality, it is the simple act of taking time for prayer or mindfulness meditation that gives you perspective on your place in the universe.  Strong spirituality validates your value system, which feeds your sense of resilience in the face of challenges.

Developing a Sense of Purpose:

Focusing on yourself often leaves you feeling like a victim.  When you focus on helping someone else, it leaves you feeling useful and important.  Helping others solidifies your own sense of resilience.  There’s no better time than in the middle of a pandemic to find a cause, and make a meaningful contribution to it.

Developing a Physical Exercise Routine:

Exercise strengthens the body and quiets the mind, both of which are absolutely essential to resilience.  Any exercise will do.  It’s the routine that is most important.  With a strong body, a calm mind, and an optimistic attitude, you’ll feel resilient enough to face any adversity.

The 7 Characteristics of Resilience Mirror OHI’s 5P’s to Optimum Health

Dr. Smith’s 7 characteristics of resilience map directly to OHI’s 5 P’s to Optimum Health — Purpose, Positive mental attitude, Persistence, Patience, and Prayer.  OHI has been contributing to your sense of resilience all along!

You are RESILIENT!  What now?

There are three things to remember in the face of adversity:

1. Keep your POWER.

Yes, there are many elements of this pandemic in which we are powerless.  Do not let that sense of powerlessness generalize to all of life.  Focus on what you do have control over rather than what you do not, and commit yourself to a reasonable course of action to deal with the stressor.

2. Resilience is ACTIVE.

Action is a powerful stress-reducer.  Research shows that the body lowers its production of epinephrine, a powerful stress hormone, when a person shifts into action.  Don’t avoid taking action because you fear you’ll make the wrong decision.

3. Ask for HELP

Sometimes your support group of friends and family aren’t enough.  Don’t be embarrassed to reach out to professional resources to ask for help.  They are experienced in guiding individuals to positive outcomes, and can help you build resilience to weather a lifetime of ups and downs.

At Optimum Health Institute, we teach you how to cultivate resilience to support your health and well-being. During your visit, our caring team can help you achieve your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual goals for optimal health. Visit our website at www.optimumhealth.org, and call us at (800) 588-0809 to make your reservation.

“The Power of Resilience” by Dr. Brad Smith, Rogers Behavioral Health, youtube.com

“Resilience is a Super Power” by Sule Kutlay Gandur, TedxBerlin, youtube.com

“Resilience Strategies During a Pandemic,” by Bob VandePol, MSW, pinerest.org

“What is Resilience?  Your Guide to Facing Life’s Challenges, Adversities, and Crises”, by Katie Hurley, LCSW, everydayhealth.com