Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Building resilience during challenging times

It has certainly been a challenging time for most people since COVID-19 became part of our vocabulary. Many of us are now trying to figure out how not to succumb to “COVID fatigue,” not a physical symptom of the virus, but an emotional symptom. It’s the feeling that life as we knew it is still a very long time away.

During a time like this, is it possible to build resilience and weather this period with less stress and more enjoyment? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. Emotional adaptation is a muscle that, like a physical muscle, can be built and strengthened. There are several relatively simple things we can do to build our emotional resilience.

Stay in the moment

One of the things that contributes to our feelings of fatigue and anxiety about this time period is when we find our thinking running way down the road and we begin “what-iffing.” This might sound like, “What if they don’t find a vaccine quickly? What if I can’t see my family for many more months? What if we have a second wave of the virus?” Just reading those questions can lead to an increase in anxiety, fear and exhaustion! Instead, when you feel yourself worrying about the future, stop and ask yourself: What do I need to focus on between now and when I go to sleep tonight? What this does is bring us back to the present moment and out of a future we have no ability to predict. When you do this, you may notice your body relaxing and your mind calming, as it deals with what is in front of you right now. Meditation, yoga and mindfulness are all ways to help train our minds to stay in the present moment.

Focus on what you can control

One way to enhance our feeling of control is to have routines, perhaps new or revised during COVID-19, that provide some structure to our day. It might be a tea break at a certain time each day, or a check-in call with someone we love every morning that provides us with some comfort and familiarity.

Having a small goal for our day can also help us focus our time and our energy. Perhaps it is something that we have been putting off and now have more time for, like cleaning out a junk drawer. Or maybe it is writing that letter to someone we have lost touch with over the years. Or it could be taking a daily walk for 30 minutes. All of these can make us feel more in charge of our lives and less anxious.

Shift your perspective

Our minds are powerful tools that we can mold more than we may realize. Often times, it just takes a small shift in our perspective to change the whole course of our day. One way to do this is to practice gratitude. When you are feeling yourself growing anxious or irritable about how much your life has been interrupted by this virus, stop and write down two or three good things that have come out of this time for you. Perhaps the slowed pace and lessened in-person interaction have allowed you to finish some things you had put off. Or perhaps you started reaching out to other people who you thought might be isolated and lonely and you had the pleasure of good feelings that come from helping someone else. Or maybe you started focusing more on the people in your life and you deepened some relationships. The beauty of focussing on gratitude is that it is near impossible to be both grateful and upset at the same time. We can edge out those difficult feelings by bathing ourselves in happier emotions.

If we practice even one of these ideas it will help build our ability to weather the storm and come out the other side stronger, happier and more peaceful. In the case of COVID-19, we may not know when we will get to the other side, but we know that eventually we will be able to get on with our lives in some sort of a “new normal” manner. And, we may just find that we look back on this time with some gratitude for the ways in which it forced us to grow, change and learn to appreciate the small things in our lives.