Building Personal Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Building Personal Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The NewYork Times and other leading media celebrate heroic stories of the resilience of health care workers and others serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deservedly, these brave and committed individuals should be featured. But as the days and weeks of social distancing roll on, everyone’s resilience is being challenged, even if in less life-threatening ways. The New York Post reports a huge increase in calls to divorce lawyers, stressed parents are juggling work (if they are lucky) and home-schooling or having adult children back home. Axios warns that virus vices are taking a toll on Americans, with alcohol sales up 55% and people eating more and exercising less. Domestic violence is skyrocketing and gun sales have soared. The Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index finds 43% of Americans surveyed saying their emotional well-being had declined in the last week. We are afraid of an unseeable enemy with no clarity about when the end is in sight.

When I wrote The Resilience Dividend, I focused on cities, institutions, and communities. And, after the Ebola crisis, my colleagues at The Rockefeller Foundation and I focused on how to build resilient health systems, which I will say more about in the weeks to come. But I am a psychologist and, since retiring from Rockefeller, I have been reading all the psychology and psychiatry research literature on individual resilience. Perhaps some of this will help you and your family.

First, resilience is not an innate trait. It is a skill that you can learn and sharpen. It is one you can and should be teaching your children, especially in these times. Two, there are actions and behaviors across several domains that you can develop during this or any crisis. Not all will feel right for you or the moment but try practicing as many as you can. These include:

  1. Self-awareness These are horrible times and understanding and honoring your feelings and those of others is critical. Increasing your mindfulness builds resilience.
  2. Goal-setting and problem-solving Even small goals achieved or problems solved, create a purposeful sense of accomplishment that builds resilience.
  3. Perseverance is related to number two. Keep working at something, whether a project, a puzzle, any challenge.
  4. Activating positive support This takes outreach and compassion, for yourself and others
  5. Reflection and story-telling Building positive narratives, remembering great moments, and creating future happy scenarios all contribute to your resilience skills.

Building resilience now will make you stronger during the crisis moments, activate your capacity to rebound more quickly and effectively from this or any crisis, and build your potential for transformation. The wish to return to “normal” is a profound and understandable desire at this moment. But, with greater resilience skills also comes the capacity to build something even better and stronger than normal, for your life, your community, your world.

**Published April 6, 2020 on LinkedIn

Author:  Judith Rodin, President Emerita, University of Pennsylvania & Former President, The Rockefeller Foundation.

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