“How do you stay so positive all the time?” is the most common question I’ve been asked recently – notably during this period of “social distance”. Simple – even before COVID-19 changed our lives I was already building up my energy stores to ensure that if crisis did hit, I would be able to manage. I didn’t need to go “hoarding” emotional strength…it was already there. In actual fact, I'm probably doing what I do all the time as part of my job - I'm only extending my reach to include friends, and the value of my work (usually confined to my to books, workshops and "expert comment") may have become little more universally visible.
I’m not saying it won’t deplete, nor am I saying I don’t have down days – but the point about resilience is you build it prior to the point of crisis because when crisis hits you’re most likely scrabbling to survive, and it really helps to have a supply of energy to draw from.
Practice your ABC’s of resilience
These three tips come from Dialectic Behaviour Therapy, used very effectively to help people manage and work with their emotions. As with any form of building resilience they are most effective when done before a crisis, as they are much harder to find time to do when in “survival mode”. It’s hard work – but think of emotional fitness like physical fitness – the more you practice, the better you get!
A = Accumulate positive experiences
- Spend more time with people that make you feel positive and less with those who bring you down (this may mean muting, blocking or unfollowing some accounts on social media – even if it’s temporarily).
- When you are doing something you enjoy focus on it consciously. This Christmas I set a “Conscious Christmas Challenge” giving people £5 to spend consciously rather than habitually handing over a card and forgetting what they bought. One person bought “The best £5 beer ever!”…I think it was a large beer – but he really enjoyed it, and that’s exactly what it was about!
- Actively seek to do things you like. This may mean revisiting once-loved hobbies or skills which daily life has shelved. I now do two dance classes in place of my regular workouts and love them (right now they’ve even moved online!).
- Recognise the value in the little things you already have – a beautiful day (even out of the window), a pet curled up on your lap (happening as I type), tastes, smells, sounds and textures which you might otherwise take for granted. This goes for the people you value in your life too – tell them, often.
B = Build Mastery
- Remind yourself of what makes you proud of you. I tell my younger “clients” to write down all the things that make them special in pretty shapes and look at it often – you might want to do that on a few post-its!
- Do something that makes you feel accomplished. I’m all for encouraging you outside your comfort zones, but sometimes, when you’re in a tricky patch and you have to find the strength to pick up and start again, doing something you’re already good at can remind you you can do it. It’s not the actual skill that counts, but the reminder that you know in yourself that you can learn, you do work hard, and you will get there.
- Learn to stretch your comfort zones every day. This doesn’t mean making huge leaps forward, but just focus on being a little bit better today than you were yesterday!
C = Cope ahead
- While you cannot plan for every eventuality, how prepared are you for the situations that are foreseeable? If there is something that has caught you out in the past, learn from it and have an action plan. You may never need to use it, so it doesn’t always need to be much more than awareness of how you might respond, but that very act of priming your mind means it is more likely to swing into action should the need arise.
- Have a list of “useful numbers” ready and be aware of who can help you should you need it…in doing so, perhaps spend a moment strengthening those relationships positively. Collaboration is key to survival – who is your network…and can you rely on them?
- Make regular “sense checks” – be aware not just of your immediate environment, but of the wider one. In a business this means not just your field, but how the global zeitgeist is moving and begin future-proofing. What training might you need? What adaptations could you start to consider now?
Resilience is largely preparation. As I said earlier, it is emotional and mental fitness not necessarily “perfect health”. It is the knowledge that you can and will cope BEFORE the act of proving it. The only way to ensure it is to work on it when things are calm.
You will also find that if you have built up your strength, not only is survival and rebuilding easier, but you are already better placed to find ways to thrive following the unexpected.
Audrey is a chartered psychologist and author. Learn more at www.draudreyt.com and follower her on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook @draudreyt