Developing resiliency in a post-COVID world

With everything that has happened in 2020, thinking about what challenges may lay ahead is probably the furthest thing from most people’s minds. It has not been easy for many people to adjust to what has become the new normal, especially when so many seem to be living in a constant state of uncertainty. Yet if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that emergencies can happen to anyone, at any time, and there is very little that we can do to stop them.

September is National Preparedness Month, and preparing for an emergency is probably not on the top of your list of priorities right now. But instead of the usual preparedness messages of learning how to create a “Go Bag” or developing a plan for a specific disaster, I want to focus on something that is a bit more personal: how resilient are you? How do you act when the unexpected occurs? How can we plan to become more resilient in preparation of future disasters?

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is defined as the “capacity to draw on inner strengths that help us rebound from stressful or even traumatic events” and can provide an opportunity for profound personal growth. Simply put, it is the ability to bounce back from the challenges you face. Oftentimes we look to others for inspiration on how to manage stressful situations, but that quickly can become guilt and shame for not being able to live up to what turns out to be an unrealistic expectation, causing us to quit trying before we truly even begin. So how do we train ourselves to be resilient? Building resiliency isn’t as simple as trying to convince yourself to “tough it out”. As the ancient Greek poet and soldier Archilochus once said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” And while there is no one way to become resilient, there are guides that are simple enough to follow, although simple does not mean easy.

A simple recommendation to begin developing resiliency comes from another Ancient Greek aphorism, “Know thyself”. Knowing yourself and thinking about how you may respond in an emergency is probably not something you have done, or even comfortable in doing. What do you believe, and does it go with or against the flow of what is happening around you? Knowing what makes you anxious and afraid is important, but knowing how you react to these stressors and deciding what you can do better the next time is even more important. Knowing yourself also includes knowing how you think, speak, behave, and act towards yourself and others when you are faced with the stressful and unexpected. Knowing yourself also comes with the acknowledgment of your limitations and strengths, and how you can use your strengths to grow past your limitations.

So as we move into the cooler weather and shorter days, think about how you might face future disasters or emergencies by seeing where you have been and how you have demonstrated resilience in the face of stressors during this pandemic, this economic downturn, and with your own personal struggles and losses. Take a deep, compassionate look at yourself and ask what have you learned and in ways you can continue to grow. Take a look at what you are doing and ask what you need and want to develop resiliency. Know what makes you tick; take the small step; divide and conquer that task so that it is manageable and that you are less likely to give up. And when the time comes, you can fall back on your training to be more resilient for yourself and others.

Fernando P. Tirado is owner of Resilient and Sustainable Community (RSC) Strategies, a social innovation company, and operates a social media blog called “The Stoic Republic”

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