Resilience: 8 tips for getting through the next few months
January 8, 2021
Well here we are again. Back in lockdown and somehow, this time it feels harder, probably because it’s the middle of winter. There is light at the end of the tunnel but we’ve suddenly realised that the tunnel is longer than we thought and has a murky difficult section we hadn’t anticipated. So how do we get through the next few months? Here are eight suggestions, some of which are mindset shifts, some practical tips and some refer back to previous articles.
1. Work out what’s difficult about this for you
The pandemic poses different challenges for different people. That may sound obvious, but a lot of advice on getting through it seems a bit one-size-fits-all. If you’re trying to manage back-to-back Zoom calls while simultaneously ensuring that two small children focus on something vaguely educational and worrying about your sick mother, your needs are quite different from someone who is furloughed, lives alone and feels isolated and aimless.
What is it that you need more of and how can you build it into your life? Here are some things you might be missing:
· Rest and relaxation
· Intellectual stimulation
· Time alone
· Sense of purpose
· Connection with others
· Sense of belonging/joint endeavour
2. Do more of what works
Well, yes, obviously, but we don’t always do it, do we? Don’t assume that what worked for you last time will work this time. Maybe you’re keen to bring Joe Wicks back into your life. Perhaps you have your sourdough starter on the go already. But you might want to consign them to 2020 and find something new. Last lockdown I started my mornings with a live streamed meditation session with people from all over the world. This week I’ve discovered that I can start the day dancing on Zoom in my dressing gown and I couldn’t be happier.
What would bring you joy? What could you lose yourself in? What would meet your needs? Online singing/dancing/quizzes/book club? Some kind of volunteer work? Watching all six series of The Sopranos? A really, really complex jigsaw? Learning to knit? Building a scale model of the Taj Mahal? If this isn’t an excuse to do something just for the sake of it, I don’t know what is.
3. Do less of what doesn’t work – break bad habits
Boredom, stress, exhaustion and anxiety can cause us to fall into patterns of behaviour that we know aren’t good for us. These include comfort eating, drinking too much/too often, obsessing over the news and mindless scrolling through social media. This time last year I wrote about breaking bad habits and forming good ones, drawing on the excellent book Atomic Habits by James Clear. In a nutshell, work out what triggers the bad habit, have a plan for what you’ll do instead when that situation occurs and make it harder to do the thing you’re trying to stop doing. I often leave my phone in another room to stop me scrolling through Twitter, for example.
4. Reassess your work/home boundaries
I wrote about home/work boundaries back in August and it’s worth revisiting now. One key difference is that there is so much less daylight now. If you have autonomy over your time, make sure you get out during daylight. If you don’t, lobby to be allowed away from Zoom during the day. You can always phone people while walking and you could even arrange a remote walking meeting – you both go for a walk while talking on the phone. I guarantee you’ll have a different conversation than if you’re both looking at a screen.
5. Let go of the idea that this shouldn’t be happening to us
There is something bewildering and unsettling about the idea that our lives can be turned upside down almost overnight. We live in a largely peaceful, prosperous democracy with reliable food supplies and access to good medical facilities. This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to us. And yet, in a historical context, we’re an anomaly. For most of human history, and for many people in the developing world today, the threat of deadly disease – and other threats, like death in childbirth, war, famine, tyranny – were ever present. Out of all the billions of people who have ever lived, there is nothing special about us. People get caught up in events beyond their control all the time. Now it’s our turn. There’s no point railing against reality. Other people have come through hard times and so can we. If you’re finding the lack of control an issue, my last blog article may be of interest.
6. Don’t suppress your feelings
Shifting your mindset doesn’t mean pretending you feel fine when you don’t. Difficult times provoke strong emotions – anxiety, irritation, fear, sadness, frustration. Feelings are like weather. They come and they go. Like weather, they can be turbulent and disruptive but they do pass. As I discussed in my article about self-compassion, often it’s not our feelings that cause us a problem, it’s the thoughts and judgements we wrap around them. “I hate feeling like this. How can I make it stop?” or “I should pull myself together”.
Rather than fighting your feelings, the best way to deal with them is to label them, using a technique called ‘name it to tame it’, e.g. “I am feeling anxious”. Paradoxically, facing the feeling gives you a bit of distance from it.
7. If you’re a worrier, schedule ‘worry time’
Worrying is essentially problem-solving gone awry. It is particularly prevalent during times of uncertainty, as if we think constantly fretting over something it will resolve it. If you find yourself worrying, one strategy is to set aside a specific 15 – 30 minute designated worry time and save up your worrying for then. It takes a bit of practice, but has been shown to decrease worry. You may also find this previous article on dealing with uncertainty useful.
8. Look for the positives
Humans have a strong negativity bias. We just don’t pay as much attention to positive experiences as negative ones. Our brains are like Velcro for the negative and Teflon the positive. So it helps to pay more conscious attention to the positives, to savour them, no matter how small. A laugh with a friend, a delicious piece of cake, a beautiful sunset, stroking your dog’s tummy. Do this often enough and you become primed to spot the positives.
There are a number of ways you can do this. You could simply share the best or funniest things that happened in your day with someone else. You could keep a gratitude diary where you note down things you feel grateful for every day (it sounds cheesy but there’s evidence it lifts your mood). Another research-backed option is an ‘awe walk’ where you go for a walk, in nature if possible, looking at the world with a sense of wonder. This induces a feeling of being connected to something bigger than yourself, which is good for your wellbeing.