Resilience in the time of coronavirus

young woman reflecting on thingsSocial media is littered with opportunities to ‘self improve during this difficult time’ but for many of us, statements such as this do nothing, expect increase our anxieties. The implication is that we should be using the time to improve and to flourish, and yet most of us are in fact focusing on today, on now, on being. So rather than self-improve, how about a few small changes to support your own resilience and the collective wellbeing of our communities?

There are 5 elements to our human resilience:

  1. Identify and manage own emotions
  2. Setting realistic goals
  3. Communication
  4. Maintaining respectful relationships
  5. Solving problems

Let’s now consider these elements and what resilience might look like in the time of coronavirus…

Identify and manage own emotions

The news media is also often accused of feeding into the collective anxiety, by encouraging excessive shopping by portraying empty shelves, reducing our confidence in the government by calling it “bumbling”, and vilifying the ‘young’ for partying in the early days of the collective ‘lockdown’.

But what do we think when we see these headlines and images? Do we get angry and accuse the shop of not keeping up with demand? Do we panic because our own needs cannot be met at this moment in time? Do we share on social media how awful it all is? These are all expected emotions during a time of ‘crisis’, so let’s begin to recognise these emotions as this. They are an emotional outpouring triggered by those who appear to break our new social norms, we cannot control the media, but we can control our reactions and responses to it.

During this period of time, we will all feel emotions, we will have days where we just feel like a ‘slug’ (Talbot 2020), where emotions are low and motivation is lower. We will have moments and hours where we are angry, anxious and depressed, just like there will be moments when we are happy, energised and feeling positive.

The key is to ride these negative emotions, note them, but don’t dwell on them. Instead reflect and find the trigger, but don’t ruminate (and as humans we are all good at ruminating) and importantly know that these emotions are OK and it is a sign we are adjusting to a new way of being.

We are adjusting, just like when we adjust following the loss of someone dear, we are grieving for our ‘old life’, we need to adjust to this ‘new life’ and we had no control over when it happened to us. So, just like with the media, we cannot control the timing, but we can control our reactions to it.

Set realistic goals

Whilst we are adjusting, we tend to live day by day, so whilst we might download that app to get rock hard abs in 30 days, we are less likely than normal to set aside time every day to reach this goal. Let’s be kind to ourselves, set daily goals, and make them your own. This week I have had people tell me that I should cook a healthy meal; you could, but if you want to eat junk food (and you are not diabetic like me) then do so. Your goals might be to write that essay or report which is due in next week or it could be to binge watch Netflix. Remember we are riding our emotions, adjusting to change, we are not improving we are being.

Communication

Communication is not just about output, but it is also how we think. In order to adjust it might be useful to focus on the language we are using and to make some amendments. Throughout this piece I am carefully using the word ‘being’ not surviving, as surviving implies challenge, which we could fail, surviving is something we ‘must do’, whereas being is being.

Moving on to social distancing, yes we are reducing the number of people we come into contact with, but it is actually physical distancing that we need to be focusing on. There are many ways we can use our usual behaviour to be sociable whilst we are physically distant, from a wave through a window at a neighbour, to a phone/video call to friends and family, to participating in online group activities such as bingo, pub quizzes and Friday night parties. All the time remembering that whilst we might be motivated to participate, others around us may not want to.

So as well as monitoring our own should and musts, we need to be mindful of not telling others what they should or must do. “You should participate, it will do you good to socialise” and “you must go out for a walk” are at face value both statements that reinforce norms, communicate the rules and reflect our human desires to help others. But when you hear yourself saying a should or must statement, stop and rephrase. Perhaps say “there is a Facebook pub quiz on this evening, would you like to join” or “going outside might offer a different perspective on life”. A different perspective, we are not physically distancing to keep ourselves safe, we are physically distancing to keep everyone safe. Our collective wellbeing is supported by focusing on our mental wellbeing and adjusting our thought patterns.

Respectful relationships

Now more than ever is a time to focus on our individual and collective wellbeing. Communities are joining, forming protective circles and creating new alliances. People are working together to protect our communities. All participating in the positive actions, complying to the new social norms, which are very positive moves for ourselves, our identities and our communities.

What about those who do not? Do we vilify those who break isolation rules? Do we make fun of peoples purchasing choices? If we think about these questions in terms of our social identity, these actions help support our social identities, give us a sense of ‘we’re in it together’, reaffirm the social norms, and make explicit to those who break them that it is ‘not OK’. Further to this, it assists in the creation of these new alliances and communities which will continue to support our wellbeing and enable us to be resilient within this time period and beyond.

On a more individual note it reinforces our own sense of wellbeing and morality; we are following the rules, so why are others not? It enables us to ensure we are meeting the new social norms, through comparison and reflection. The use of the term ‘we’ reminds us of our shared identity, our collective goal – to beat this virus, we are in this together, and we all follow the same guidelines and adapt to new ways of being.

So, is it OK to vilify those who break the rules? Looking at this from this social identity perspective it would seem so, but it could also create collective anxiety, or create a new sub group of rule breakers and the social norms change. Humans break rules for various reasons, often by placing their own needs or assumed needs above the needs of others. Therefore, are we doing the same? By poking fun at those who bought an excessive number of toilet rolls, are we placing our need of wanting to feel better about ourselves above theirs? In parallel, this collective anxiety can cause shortages in goods, we see others stocking up, so we follow suit; it’s the new social norm. The key to stopping this cycle is to collectivise rather than personalise (Reicher and Dury 2020). The key is to be respectful.

Solve problems

As we are focusing on things we can control, and not the uncontrollables, we are reminded to solve the problems we can, and not fuel them. There are some individuals in our society who are seeking the big answers: How do we stop this? How do we immunise? How do we protect and feed the communities? If you are not one of them, let’s focus on what we can do. Let’s not call them basic actions, as the term basic minimises the impact of the action. They are fundamental actions; we monitor and manage our emotions, think for the collective good, not for personal gain and finally be respectful of others.


Thank you to Dr Hazel Bending, our BSc (Hons) Psychology course leader, for writing this.

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One comment

  1. Lovely words Hazel. Thank you. I am using the thought “emotions are visitors, welcome them in and then let them go again”. Stay safe.

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