Building Personal Resilience

10 Tips on Thriving in the New Normal

BY CHERMAIN WONG

19 June 2020  |   8 min read

As the old adage goes, “With crisis comes opportunity”. Now that we have had some time to adjust to the initial shock of the pandemic, we are faced with the decision on how we wish to thrive in the new normal. To this end, we can tap on the concept of emotional resilience, the ability to adapt well and bounce back from adverse experiences. This article will describe 10 ways in which you can shape your new normal and thrive with resilience.

#1 Learn from the Past

Learning from the past helps you prepare for the future. Focusing on past experiences and sources of personal strength can help you learn how strategies for building resilience might work for you.

Exercise:

Please consider the following questions.

  • What kinds of situations have been most stressful for you?
  • How have those events typically affected you?
  • What methods did you use to try to cope with the obstacles? Were they effective?
  • whom have you reached out for support in working through a traumatic or stressful experience?
  • What has helped make you feel more hopeful about the future?
  • How can you apply these past experiences to your current situation?

#2 Acknowledge the Present

It is normal to experience distress as you make sense of this change. You’re not alone. Recognise that this is also an opportunity for reflection and renewal. Dr Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist wrote “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior” and “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me”. While we cannot stop the pandemic from unfolding, we can choose the way we respond to this crisis.

#3 Redesign Your Life

Proactively organising activities around what we care about facilitates a sense of control and helps reduce uncertainty by building a consistent structure into each day. Begin by defining your purpose – your “why” for living. Based on your values and intentions, set realistic goals, breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps. Finally, act boldly towards these goals. Take baby steps; do something regularly that moves you towards your goals, even if it seems small. Finally, keep motivated by rewarding yourself for making progress.

Exercise:

  • Revisit values – What’s important to you, in areas of health, career, relationships, personal growth, spirituality?
  • Visualise an intention – If this were to be the new normal, how would you like it to look for you? In 5 years as you look back at this time, how would you like to have lived through it?

#4 Trouble-shoot

Identify your stressors. Discern if they are modifiable. Modifiable stressors are ones that are defined as important, achievable and immediate and that can be resolved with a course of action in the next hours, days or week. Seek practical solutions to these modifiable stressors by drawing on past experiences of how you managed similar situations while tapping on personal resources and social supports. For stressors that are unmodifiable, such as general worries about the future that are uncontrollable, accept and let go so that you can use your time and energy more effectively.

#5 Keep Things in Perspective

How we think about a situation can also affect how we feel and cope. Our perspectives are often biased by the imperfect information that is presented to us. Common cognitive distortions include some of the following.

Mind Traps Balanced Alternatives
Emotional Reasoning
“I’m feeling afraid so I must be in great danger.”
Reason with Facts
What are the actual risks and what can be done to minimize risk?
Catastrophising
“What if… (insert worst case scenario e.g. I lose my job; my family gets sick)?”
Maintain a Hopeful Outlook
Visualise what you want rather than what you fear.
All-or-nothing Thinking
“If I can’t manage everything perfectly, then I’m a complete failure.”
Looks for Shades of Gray
“While it’s been hard staying on top of everything, I’ve also made some progress towards my goals.”
Discounting Positives
Focusing only on negatives and filtering out the positives.

Gratitude
Exercise: List 3 things that you are thankful for every day.
E.g. saving time and money on transport, flexible hours, time with family, having a nice meal

Take baby steps; do something regularly that moves you towards your goals, even if it seems small.

#6 Environment Matters

Your physical surroundings can have an impact on your sense of wellbeing. Spending time with nature has been shown to improve emotional resilience and mental wellbeing. Let in natural light and fresh air and tend to those indoor plants. As you spend more time at home, creating dedicated spaces for work, personal time and family bonding demarcates physical and mental boundaries that can help prevent burn out. Ensure that your home office is conducive i.e. ergonomic, quiet, well-lit, and has strong WIFI-connection.

#7 Attend to Your Body

Most of us are familiar with the basic principles of caring for our bodies – having a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, hydrating well, exercising daily, having regular sleep, and relaxing. However, when stressed, it is easy to neglect the body and turn to unhealthy habits such as consuming excessive sweets, caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, and indulging in addictive behaviours such as gambling, online shopping, and social media surfing. While such coping mechanisms may give us temporary relief from stress and boredom, they often have negative longer-term consequences. Tune in to your body and allow it to guide you.

#8 Nurture a Harmonious Home

As everyone spends more time at home, it can be helpful to re-establish ground rules for co-habiting. Create new routines for the family as a whole and include children to give them a sense of ownership. Communicate often with openness, respect, empathy and appreciation. Be a role model.

When things get heated, as they inevitably may at times, find a quiet space where you can retreat to.

#9 Connect

Connect with people who love you and those you are missing. Plan for a FaceTime or Zoom date, send each other pictures of your day via WhatsApp or have a Netflix Party together. Make new connections via online communities, interest groups and relief efforts. While doing so, try to open up and share your feelings, take it slow and avoid unhelpful comparisons.

Identify your social network of friends, family, colleagues, supervisors and use it to get support, whether emotional or practical. If you find your distress getting out of hand, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Finally, offer support and encouragement too – you might be surprised at how good this could make you feel.

Exercise:

Send a message to a friend, family member or colleague. It could start with a simple, “hello, how’re you?”

#10 Mindful Self-compassion

Mindful self-compassion is about treating yourself with care and understanding rather than harsh judgment, seeing your experience as part of a larger human experience rather than abnormal, and not suppressing or running away from your experience. There are many ways to cultivate mindful self-compassion and one of them is to treat yourself as you might a friend in pain. You could also try the following practice.

Exercise:

Compassionate Movement

  • Anchoring. Stand up and feel the soles of your feet on the floor. Rock forward and backward a little, and side to side. Make little circles with your knees, feeling the change of sensations in the soles of your feet. Anchor your awareness in your feet.
  • Opening. Now opening your field of awareness and scanning your whole body for other sensations, noticing any areas of ease as well as areas of tension.
  • Responding Compassionately. Focus for a moment on places of discomfort. Gradually begin to move your body in a way that feels really good to you – giving yourself compassion. E.g. letting yourself gently squeeze your shoulders, rotating your neck, twisting at the waist, dropping into a forward bend… whatever feels just right for you right now. Give your body the movement it needs.
  • Stillness. Finally, come to stillness, standing again and feeling your body, noting any changes.

This article has described ten ways to cultivate emotional resilience for living in a post-COVID-19 world. Many of us are creatures of habit who dislike change. Our world may never return to how we used to know it. Our best bet striving ahead is to design our own new normal, one that we may thrive in.

Take care and stay well!

The contributor is a Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).