These trying times have triggered a mental health crisis worldwide. Charley Joyce, Senior Counsellor, Clarity Singapore Pte Ltd, shares insights into ways in which we can build our resilience.
WHAT EXACTLY IS RESILIENCE?
Charley describes mental and emotional resilience as the ability to adapt and move forward in a constructive way when faced with adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. In other words, it is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences.
QUALITIES OF A RESILIENT PERSON
Charley shared some common characteristics of resilient people.
Physical strength, energy and vitality are often seen in resilient people. If you are physically healthy, you are more likely to be able to cope and adapt in stressful situations.
Mental or Psychological Elements
These include factors like mental flexibility, emotional self-regulation, adjustability, focus, self-awareness, and the ability to express oneself clearly and think rationally.
People who recognise and understand their own emotions and those of others tend to be able to regulate their feelings and switch to rational problem-solving mode in times of crisis.
A Sense of Humour
Having a sense of humour is a great asset. Seeing the funny side of a stressful situation can trigger a shift in perspective that transforms a threat into a challenge.
A Positive Attitude to Mistakes
Allocating a constructive meaning to failures and mistakes is a powerful way to build resilience. You must tell yourself – I have failed, yet I am not a failure. Charley cites this inspiring quote from Nelson Mandela: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Spirituality can be an anchor that provides relief and sense of control in grim and seemingly hopeless situations. Anguish itself can be a catalyst to deepen spiritual and religious practices and beliefs, which can result in a positive coping mechanism that brings personal growth, peace and above all hope to people.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared, “For many people, religion, personal beliefs and spirituality are a source of comfort, wellbeing, security, meaning, sense of belonging, purpose and strength.”
COPING WITH COVID-19
Though everyone has been affected by the pandemic in some way, Charley singled out three at-risk groups who are likely to have been more adversely affected than others.
Victims of Domestic Violence
People are told to stay home, but for victims and survivors of domestic violence, including children, staying home is not a place of refuge, but a case of being trapped with their abusers. Children are especially vulnerable. The increased stress levels among parents can be a trigger for physical abuse and neglect of children.
According to WHO data from April 2020, more than 95 percent of COVID-19 deaths were among people over 60 years of age. While protecting older people from the virus, the isolation of quarantine heightens their risk of loneliness.
People with Pre-existing Physical or Mental Illness
The pandemic can be especially challenging for people with a pre-existing physical or mental illness, as well as those whose circumstances make it difficult to adapt to changes. Dr Hans Kluge, director of WHO Europe, told a press briefing in January 2021 that it is taking its toll, both on those who were already at risk, as well as on those who have never sought mental health support before.
Extensive public health updates and continuous media coverage on the pandemic can trigger panic attacks in people who are already struggling with anxiety and experiencing obsessions and intrusive thoughts relating to contamination or spreading disease. Furthermore, their daily routines are likely to have been disrupted, and they may no longer have access to support networks such as face to-face counselling sessions, meeting friends or attending support groups. All of these factors make them especially vulnerable to crises and relapses.
Tick the boxes in Charley’s checklist for building your personal resources for coping with adverse situations, from global pandemics to personal crises.
By accepting and letting go of the things you cannot change, you are in a better position to focus on the things that you can. This will help you feel more in control of your life at a time when so much is beyond our control.
Set short- and long-term goals and focus on attaining them. From exercising daily to planning a home renovation, goals can help you stop obsessing over the pandemic and other problems, and focus on a brighter future.
Reflect on what gives your life meaning and makes you happy. It could be connecting with nature, supporting your family, pursuing an interest, or a cause you feel passionate about. Remind yourself of these things, often, and especially when you are feeling helpless or hopeless.
Stay in touch with your social support network. Use everyone’s new best friend, technology, to ‘facetime’, ‘Zoom’ or ‘Skype’ your family and friends.
☑Learn Something New
Develop a learning spirit – pursue a new interest or acquire a new skill. Mastering something new will boost your confidence in your ability to cope with the challenges that life throws at you, both during and after the pandemic.
Be kind to yourself. When you are upset, take time out to vent your frustrations or release your disappointment. Go for a walk or a run – it can help you process your thoughts. Once you are calm, reassess your options and open your mind to all of the possible positive outcomes of whatever situation is getting you down.
Make good choices with regard to diet, exercise and sleep. Strengthen your mental health with mindfulness, spiritual practices, journaling, yoga or meditation. Avoid negative outlets, such as drugs, alcohol and other substances. This will help empower your body with the resources to cope with stress rather than succumb to it.
Maintain a hopeful and optimistic outlook, and remember that a difficult situation can be an opportunity for learning and personal growth. This will help you keep your emotions within the ‘window of tolerance’ so that you can rationalise your problems and find solutions.
While Charley admits that teletherapy was never the first choice among mental health practitioners before COVID-19, she champions the many ways in which technology has helped support mental health.
“Given the number of mental health apps and programmes online, and the platforms that doctors, counsellors, psychologists and social workers have been using to stay in touch with their patients, it may remain a viable option even after the pandemic ends,” said Charley.
DO NOT DEMAND TOO MUCH OF YOURSELF
If it doesn’t destroy you, it makes you stronger. The old saying has been quoted often in recent times.
While Charley agreed that hanging on to that thought can be self-affirming and motivating, she pointed out that it can become a problem if you set such high standards for yourself that you feel you must put on an act and hide your fears rather than seek help when you are struggling.
“In some circles, being vulnerable is seen as a weakness and there is an unspoken pressure to present oneself as someone that has it all figured out. If you pursue that ‘can-do ethos’ relentlessly, you could be setting yourself up for failure,” cautioned Charley.
According to Charley, studies show that surviving a stressful event outside the realm of normal human experiences can have serious long-term effects such as hypervigilance, hyperarousal, anxiety, panic attacks, and feeling overwhelmed.
“The truth is that chaos and mayhem make most people psychologically weaker, not stronger,” clarified Charley.
AN AFFIRMATION OF OUR COMMON HUMANITY
Surviving a crisis that is uniquely personal, such as a serious illness or injury from a freak accident, can lead to feelings of acute isolation. The pandemic, on the other hand, has been uniquely universal.
From all reports, a sense of camaraderie has arisen from the collective hardship that has brought the world together. This humbling experience has taught us that adversities can happen to any one of us – and to all of us.
“Collective thinking, caring and connection, and the sharing of resources, will bring the world out of chaos without destroying our spirits,” predicted Charley. “Positive things like unconditional love and care, and a nurturing environment that encourages people to explore, learn and adapt, will make us all stronger.”
You heard it from Charley. We will survive this pandemic. And we may emerge stronger, kinder and wiser for it.