Living in the pandemic means not knowing what the next day will bring, and not knowing how or when it will all end, and whether or not our loved ones will make it through safely. Getting through the pandemic requires cultivating resilience, which is the ability mentally and emotionally cope with a crisis.
In order to understand how we can possibly accomplish this, we turned to psychologists for insight into how to stay resilient during trying times.
Here are some of their suggestions:
Move toward acceptance
“Cognitive flexibility is the key [phrase],” says Mary Alvord, a psychologist who runs a large practice in Maryland, and co-author of the book Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescence. “We don’t have to like this situation, but we have to accept it.”
Once we accept the facts of our situation, that’s when we can start to deal with the reality of what is happening to us and start to problem solve. Life has changed drastically, but there are still actions we can take to help the situation—chiefly doing everything within our power to help slow the spread of the virus. We can wash our hands, practice physical distancing and limit our exposure in order to protect the people we care about.
“Remind yourself you are not alone,” Alvord says.
“I recommend people approach this with a sense of solidarity and an acknowledgement that this is a rapidly changing situation,” says Dana Rose Garfin, a psychologist who runs a lab studying resilience at UC Irvine.
Stay connected with others
“Connect, connect, connect, that is key right now,” says Alvord. “Humans do best when they have social networks.”
We may have to maintain physical distancing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with friends and family through phone calls, video conferencing and emails. That’s why we call it physical distancing now, instead of social distancing: Staying connected is an important part of building the resiliency we need to endure this crisis.
“You are not alone,” Alvord says.
“Watch catastrophic thinking, which is when you imagine the worst-case scenario,” Alvord says, suggesting that if you tend to fixate on worst-case scenarios, one strategy to change your thinking is to imagine what you might say to a friend struggling with the same worries.
“There are things in your environment you do have control over.” Garfin says. “Try and control the things that you can control.”
Alvord and Garfin both advise limiting your news to reputable sources, as there is rampant misinformation floating around right now, not to mention numerous conspiracy theories, and absorbing them will only worsen your mental health.
“Avoid speculative, unsubstantiated messages,” Garfin says.
“Limit news,” Alvord says. “We need the news, we need to know what is going on, but we need to tune in to credible sources.”
Get enough sleep
Sleep is a really hard one, given how anxious many of us are. However, a good sleep routine is essential to helping us cope. Strategies for sleeping better include avoiding anxiety-inducing conversations before bedtime—and that includes watching the news—avoiding screen time, maintaining a routine, finding ways of relaxing and fitting in physical exercise during the day.
“Sleep is one of the most important ways to regulate your mood,” Alvord says. “You have to have some downtime before going to bed.”
Maintain an exercise routine
“Physical activity is very important for mood regulation,” Alvord says, noting that since a lot of us are working from home now, we probably aren’t taking as many of the spontaneous breaks we might be taking when working at an office, such as getting up for some coffee or to chat with a co-worker. We aren’t moving as much as we used to, which takes its own toll on our mood. Finding a way to fit that activity back in is crucial for helping us cope.
Whatever fits your schedule and your resources, whatever helps you feel energised and refreshed, that will help you cope during these times.
And above all:
“Be gentle with yourself and others in terms of what their coping mechanisms might be,” Garfin says.