April 19, 2020
The only way we will be defeated during this unimaginable time is if we give up or turn on ourselves, or each other.
We need to become intentional in ratcheting up our resilience by doing everything in our power to remind ourselves of the best of who we are.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is about proactively taking ownership of how we’re leading our lives by managing ourselves in specific ways in the face of adversity. It’s important to know that resilience is about cultivating behaviors that anyone can develop–it isn’t a characteristic only gifted to a few people. Yes, it may come more easily to some than to others, for sure. But that’s true of just about everything.
Some things, like math, require that I work harder to master them. Or Origami, which challenges my somewhat impaired sense of spatial relationships. In both cases, when I tax myself to complete a math problem, or an Origami project, as long as I follow the directions with precision, I can usually master them. Maybe it takes me longer than it would take you, but so what?
How Does Resilience Show Up?
We all have untested reserves of resilience — those heroic parts of ourselves that rise to the occasion when necessary in ways we never imagined possible. A great example of that was during and after the September 11th terrorist attacks, when we came together as a nation and supported each other in rebuilding our lives.
Today, we’re seeing it again in so many ways. I interact online via Zoom with emergency room doctors and ICU nurses who are being taxed to the outside of their limits, and yet they’re not giving up–they’re still showing up for us. The police, emergency, utility, garbage, and mail services continue to do their work for our benefit. Grocery, delivery, warehouse, and supply-chain workers are keeping us fed. Countless companies are offering free delivery services, extended salaries, and benefits for laid-off workers, and delayed billings to support us through this global crisis.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Craig Spencer talks about our future:
“The year 2020 will be remembered as a turnaround point in human history. Not just because many will die, but because the Covid-19 pandemic is offering us a chance to reinvent ourselves.
We would be foolish not to embrace the central message of our predicament: that we must come together to survive, that we are fragile despite our capacity to create and destroy, that the tribal divisions that have defined our moral choices over the past millennia must be tossed aside for our own good.”
Resilience and Mindfulness Go Hand-in-Hand
We don’t have to start from scratch. That means we can build our resilience muscle with the same mindfulness techniques we’ve used in the past to calm ourselves and bring us back to the present moment. The same strategies that help us be more grounded, caring, and compassionate, can help us develop greater resilience.
Increasing our resilience takes time and intentionality, just as it does to build a physical muscle. But if we focus on what matters — relationships, physical, mental and emotional health, and purpose — we can empower ourselves to withstand, learn, and grow from the difficulties we’re facing.
Resilience Isn’t a Pollyanna Divorce from Reality
Being resilient doesn’t mean we go around with inane smiles on our faces as we confront tragic or traumatizing events. We will, at times, have uncomfortable and debilitating thoughts and feelings. When we acknowledge those uncomfortable thoughts and allow the feelings to have their organic life, we engage with our resilience. Facing discomfort without running away or ignoring it transforms roadblocks into valuable information.
As always, we face life most effectively by bringing ourselves back to our breath and to the present moment, where we are okay. We return to our breath over and over. Just for the moment, and drop ruminations about past mistakes or scary future possibilities.
How to Build and Support Resilience
If we are to not only survive but thrive in what at times feels like a surreal world, we need to come home to the basics. In a nutshell: eat well, move more, stress less, love more.
We’ve heard it a million times: water, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fats high in Omega 3’s — a whole-food, plant-based diet. It has never been more important — or more difficult — to eat healthily. I’ll leave it at that, because we know what we need to do.
Move like the Centenarians in the Blue Zones — you don’t need a gym. If you have a Fitbit, shoot for a minimum of 8,000 steps a day. Get outside and walk or ride your bike. In warm weather start that garden you’ve always wanted. In the house, be productive. Reduce TV time and increase activities like cleaning and organizing, cooking and games with the family that make you move–Twister, treasure hunts, hide and go seek. Record dance-a-thons with your kids, and post them. Teach yourself some new dance moves. I’ve gotten moments of lightness and some of the best laughs of my life watching the current batch of family dance challenges on UTube.
Stress suppresses our immune systems. During these times, consider temporarily blocking Facebook posts that encourage hate in any form, and any extremist media on either side. Stay away from naysayers who offer unscientific opinions like, “It’s no worse than the flu,” to gloom and doomsayers who lead with, “We deserved this, and the end is around the corner.” There’s much that we still don’t know. Hindsight will tell us the truth. In the meantime, we need to put our attention on managing ourselves in ways that don’t add to our own, or anyone else’s, problems.
Maybe, as a country, we have done less in preparation than we might have. If we can change that, great. If we can’t, dwelling on it will take our attention away from what we can do. Today we need to keep our attention on learning and educating so that we can prevent it from creating the same degree of global devastation in the future. Stick with reading and learning from the epidemiologists, scientists, and healthcare workers on the front lines for accurate information.
We have evidence that anything we can do to reduce our stress will strengthen our immune systems. At the same time, we must still deal with the realities we face — job and income losses, lack of access to resources and medical care. There is only so much we can do. But we can take responsibility for finding and accessing available resources. We activate resilience when we remind ourselves what we are capable of, in even the worst of times.
Relationships come first. We have never needed each other more. In this hyperconnected but somehow disconnected world, we can reach out in ways we’ve been too busy to consider.
I recently joined an online neighborhood watch group. Folks are offering support, and those in need are reaching out. Food pantries are in dire need.
Older people living alone, or those with compromised immune systems, need us to reach out to them. It’s not comfortable to ask for help when we’ve spent our lives learning how to be independent and self-sufficient. We can make it easier for people who tend to isolate, by checking in on them and letting them know we’re available.
Do whatever it takes to feel part of a supportive community. Check up on a neighbor. If you’re well. Offer to run errands. Get some extra groceries on your next delivery and leave them at the drop off place for the food kitchens and shelters.
When everything is relatively right with the world again, we don’t have to stop doing this stuff. We may even form some meaningful new relationships in the process, and that will only add to our resilience, and make our communities stronger.
Pick One Thing
Pick one change, one new thing you are willing to do each day while we are sheltering in place that will bring you back to your best self. The vast majority of us want the best for each other, and for that to happen, we need to be our best.
Here are some resources to support, uplift, or inspire you:
A summary of how to apply Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication” techniques.
Andrew Weil’s “4-7-8” breath exercise can be life-changing.
Check out the longevity secrets around diet and movement from centenarians living in the “Blue Zones” of the world. Simply search for “Blue Zones” and a wealth of information will pop up.
PS: In the near future Seedlings will come to you from a new site that focuses on the blog and other resources. Stay tuned.