This blog post was authored by Susan Swick, MD, physician in chief, Ohana, Montage Health
The current public health emergency is one without precedent in our national experience in the last 100 years. Disruption always creates stress, and the coronavirus pandemic has brought tremendous disruption. The shelter-in-place orders have isolated people from their friends and family, removed meaningful activities and created financial hardships. The fear of infection and discordant public health responses have brought anxiety, confusion and even conflict. Merely waiting for the crisis to pass can leave us feeling powerless and discouraged. If instead we can focus on what is in our control: finding reliable information, preserving meaningful structure and routines, being helpful to others, staying connected to those we care about and engaging with this historic moment in ways that connect with our talents or values, then we cultivate resilience. That is how individuals emerge stronger from a difficult challenge, and even how we develop a stronger fabric for our communities.
Find reliable information, and know when to turn off the news
Accurate information is the antidote to anxiety or panic in a stressful situation. But in a situation in which there is so much that is unknown (about the virus and its potential treatments) and meaningful developments emerge gradually, news can often be repetitive and upsetting without offering new or helpful information. You may want to read one newspaper, or watch the news for just 30 minutes, or check your preferred news website once daily. Reading upsetting information repeatedly heightens feelings of powerlessness and distress, so get the news and then save your energy for other activities!
Preserve structure and routines
Routines and predictability are critical to our sense of stability and well-being. While many disruptions are unavoidable, preserve what routines you can, and establish some new ones. If you are stuck at home, set up a consistent routine, with a similar wake-up time, activities and bedtime. Be sure to preserve time for physical activity, your preferred hobbies and social connections within this new framework. Social time does not require physical proximity, and can happen by screen or phone. Physical activity should be outside if at all possible. And protect time for activities you find most engaging, whether practicing piano, bird watching, reading or cooking. Create a rhythm for the important and satisfying activities to protect against the feeling of drift that could come from an extended lockdown.
Take care of the vulnerable and ease others’ hardships
Without a doubt, this has been a difficult time for many. One powerful strategy to build resilience is to consider ways to help those who are most at-risk or burdened by this challenge. Sewing masks, raising money for food kitchens or supporting the work of first responders, even just with appreciation is a powerful way to pull together in a challenging time. Offer to Zoom tutor a grandchild or nephew who is struggling with school at home, bake for a lonely neighbor or send cards to someone who may be grieving. When you give to others, you improve your well-being and theirs.
Protect time to connect with the people who charge your battery. Happily, we have phones and computers that enable us to connect with one person or a treasured group of friends. Write letters or emails. You can play card games over video chat, watch movies together or teach someone how to cook your famous soup. You might learn something new, or something new about your friends or your children. Your grandchildren are digital natives and are very comfortable connecting this way. You may find you get to spend more time with them than ever before. And you offer a model of finding the opportunity in adversity, creating some wonderful memories from a difficult time.
Use your talents and values to engage with this challenge
Use your special talents in this moment. If you are a teacher, maybe you offer to tutor your grandchildren (or friends’ grandchildren). If you are a writer, create poetry about the lockdown. If you are a physician, investigate the emerging literature about the disease. Consider what you find meaningful, what values have animated your life and bring those values to this moment. You have gifts that can meaningfully contribute to how your family, community and even our country may face the health, financial, social and political dislocations of this pandemic. Bring them even to the small tasks, and trust in their value to you and to others.
This article on COVID-19 and resilience also appears in the summer 2020 issue of the Aspire Advocate quarterly member newsletter. You can access the full issue here along with past issues.