Covid & Resilience.

Covid 19 a wake up call for resilience.

Resilience is the modern term and skill for coping through stressful and turbulent times. Dr. Chris Johnstone, a leading Mental Health trainer, defines it as “our ability to withstand, deal with and/or recover from difficult situations. It includes our ability to make the best of things, cope with stress and rise to the occasion”. Its principles can be applied to individuals, business and wider social systems during Covid.

Over the years my understanding of resilience has shifted to being more psychologically flexible than being mentally strong, robust or stoic.  We have to be aware of our inner experiences and allow ourselves the space to feel to process our experiences. Is bouncing back possible if things have completely changed? or the previous way of doing things was not sustainable? Some people have taken this period as an opportunity to change their direction or pace of life.

This flexibility of mind involves a capacity to hold our thoughts and ideas lightly, and move with compassion towards what and who matters most, our values. These are skills and behaviors that are developed from Mindfulness and Acceptance based approaches and take daily practice and time to develop.

However behind every story of resilience or success, lies a host of historical characters and resources who have supported us to believe in ourselves when times get tough. Every day we also rely on others to live our lives whether it is delivering food, educating our children, or cleaning the office, they are the invisible team that support us to be resilient at what we do.

Covid has highlighted fragility within systems to sudden change, the Black Swan that comes from nowhere to disrupt the system. Employment, childcare, housing, education rely on the physical presence and movement of people. Each area impacts on the other which makes an individuals life either harder or not. There was no equal playing field. If providers within child care continue to keep closing then how can working parents be expected to work from home without greater stress.  Some Industries despite high profits had little in reserves to buffer e.g. hospitality or airlines with minimal reserves highlighted a lack of sustainability within their models.

Resilience as a system

Resilience is managing your energy and need for recovery. Good sleep, exercise and activities that increase your resilience are restorative, meaningful, and meet your physical, emotional, and psychological needs. However, most people I meet know this, yet will sacrifice their self-care when things get busy. This is the ultimate productivity paradigm that has been influencing us from a young age and difficult to break free from.

We can focus on treating symptoms instead of the root cause e.g. consider if people were falling sick from swimming in a river should our focus be on teaching people to be resilient swimmers? or to get them out and improve the quality of the water? This is prevention-based approach.

Over the years, I have worked with many clients that may have lived in a way that delayed or denied meeting their own needs. Many described a drive to keep going, push hard and sacrifice their own self-care. Some companies have even gone as far to attract a type of worker termed the insecure over achiever. Their ability to over-commit and withstand pressure increases their risk of burn out. Resilience, therefore, has its own shadow side and is not about staying or adapting to toxicity, a culture of overwork or something that is not healthy for you. Resilience can involve leaving.

Turning points
Turning points can happen following difficult experiences, and there are some lessons we learn only by coming through them. In my own experience, I learned how much I needed others and my social well-being. Yes, I could adapt to the disruption to my routine, pivot my work however I began to feel more isolated despite my zoom  busyness, my social needs where not being fully met. I needed to re imagine how I could stay connected whilst being physically apart. I reached out, shared my struggle, and set myself a 5 a day for my social well-being challenge which helped a lot. I will share the 5 a day challenge in a future blog.

My struggle with the term Resilience is that it is as much a systemic issue as a personal quality or skill set. People can find themselves stuck and repeating patterns however it is the systems that are mostly broken. It is cheaper and easier to run workshops that focus on the individual however I would question their long-term outcomes if they do not look at environmental and cultural factors.

In moving towards a new future we will need our values to be the lighthouse to guide us to a more sustainable future. However we also need skills to stay the course, pass on short cuts and that is worth investing in.