Resilience is what will help us cope with adversity
I recently read a very interesting article on resilience, something that one now realises to be crucial for situations such as the upheavals caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The piece (by Emine Saner in The Guardian) talks about what we understand resilience to be and how, after 2010, this has become “the quality we all crave.”
When we were taught the meaning of this word at school, we understood it simply as the ability to bounce back and, in human terms, as the ability to put up with and recover quickly from adversity. Teaching children resilience is now a key part of education curricula and resilience is something that is part of much professional training as well. But is resilience a trait or is it a skill? Is it something that can be learnt or is it part of one’s personality?
My view is that it’s probably a bit of both — a trait as well as a skill. Some people might have a more optimistic outlook on life and the positivity of their outlook will allow them to cope better with unexpected circumstances but equally this is a skill that can be learnt through putting in place coping mechanisms and changing one’s approach to the problems that life hits you with.
The pandemic has affected hundreds and thousands of families all over the world, people are coping not just with illness, bereavement, quarantine and health issues, their lives have been disrupted in ways they could not have imagined. Young people’s educational and social landscapes have been altered and diminished, many businesses have collapsed, thousands of jobs have been lost and it looks like the situation will get even more bleak in the future. Graduates are struggling to find employment or professional opportunities and families are struggling to pay rent and food bills but in addition to the economic hardship is all the various issues created by the isolation of lockdowns and the restrictions on social gatherings.
This is why resilience has become, as Saner says in her piece, “during the pandemic…. a buzzword for successfully steering through adversity.” And why has this disruption thrown us so off kilter? Well part of the reason why we have found it so difficult to cope with this disruption must be our own arrogance about the world we live in, our conviction that we know what we were doing and where we are going, our assumption that life will always continue to function in a certain way.
The upheaval caused by the pandemic has also caused societies to rethink so many things about the way modern life is constructed, to reflect upon what’s essential and what is not. And for so many people it has been a time when they have been forced to confront themselves, to think about who they really are and how they are able to function outside the tyranny of socially imposed pressures and expectations. For many whose self-worth is inextricably linked to their work life and work identity rather than their own self this has resulted in mental health crises. But here’s where we have to realise how important it is to care for one’s own sanity. You need to remind yourself of the importance of resilience, of the futility of excessive stress.
For her article Saner also spoke to a director of the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience, Lucy Hone, and her experience and what she said should help to remind us of the importance of making resilience and self-care a priority. Hone lost her 14-year-old daughter along with her daughter’s friend and the friend’s mother (a close friend of Hone’s) in a car crash some years ago. She says that when she was dealing with this loss, the most important question she would ask herself as she mourned was “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?” and she would apply this question to all her actions and attitude.
It’s a good reminder for us as we deal with pandemic life, let us ask ourselves if our negative feelings, our rage, our frustration, our sadness is helping us or harming us. Let’s work on strengthening our resilience so that we can cope, no matter how adverse the conditions.