Fostering resilience in daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic

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By Vasan Srinivasan*

MELBOURNE, 10 September: Resilience is the term used to describe a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation when facing adversity. We are all born with an innate capacity for resilience. We all have it in us to display resilience. As humans, we can foster this innate capacity by developing five characteristics: social competence, problem-solving skills, critical consciousness, autonomy and sense of purpose:

-Social competence includes qualities such as responsiveness, being able to elicit positive responses from others, flexibility, empathy and communication skills

-Problem-solving skills pertain to the ability to plan, to think abstractly, to be reflective and to be resourceful

-Critical consciousness is the ability to develop awareness of adversity and to create strategies to overcome any adversity faced

- Autonomy is having sense of identity and having an ability to exercise control over one’s environment

- Sense of Purpose refers to goal setting, hopefulness and motivation.

These five aspects are the main ingredients in a recipe for fostering resilience. Another concept that ties closely is optimism. There is a growing body of research to suggest that attitude has an influence on mental health. In other words, it has been revealed that individuals with an optimistic perspective on life generally are more positive and are less likely to experience mental health struggles. Additionally, optimistic individuals tend to be calmer, generally happier and more resilient people.

In addition to the five innate capabilities an individual has to foster resilience, there are protective external factors or processes that can increase the capability of an individual to be resilient. These can be sorted into three major categories: caring and supportive relationships, positive expectations and opportunities for meaning participation and development.

Having caring and supportive relationships is a protective factor against many mental health issues that may arise. Having supportive individuals around you who convey an attitude of compassion, goodwill and understanding is something that can aid in building resilience. As social beings, our relationships and connections can take many forms. Support networks for many people include family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, social media groups and local community members. There is great power in having a good support network, especially when it comes to fostering resilience.

Positive expectations and high motivation are very important in building resilience. Greatly resilient individuals have tremendous motivation to get themselves out of a situation of adversity. They set positive expectations for themselves and work toward displaying resilience. However, it is important for these expectations to be structured and realistic. It is also helpful for individuals to engage in self-reflection and positive self-talk — all things that are important in fostering resilience.

Having opportunities for meaningful participation and development relates to individuals placing themselves in situations where they feel their presence is valued. This can be in family situations, work settings, with friends etc. Individuals who entertain their time in situations where they feel welcome and where they feel their ideas are welcome are much more likely to display resilience. This is in contrast to individuals who places themselves in situations where they do not feel empowered and allow themselves to be oppressed. Realising self-worth and individual capabilities is vital in bouncing back from hardship.

Having effective tools to exhibit resilience are especially important in times of crises, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. I present you with four approaches that can be helpful in these challenging times:

-Acceptance: The first step to being more resilient during this time is to accept. Accept that it is okay to feel stressed and challenged by the current situation. Accept and acknowledge you are feeling a certain way and positively work on strategies to allow yourself to recover. I encourage those struggling to call the MHFA’s National Mental Health Helpline (1300 MHF AUS (643 287)) and learn more about the many options you have to become more resilient individuals.

-Awareness. Being aware relates to being fully present in a situation. It is easy to get caught up in your thoughts and feelings. Being aware can help you make clear and well-informed decisions. A way to feel more present is to engage your five senses. Look around you and look for five things you can see, smell, hear, taste and touch.
- Activeness. The benefits of physical activity are very well researched. Remaining active during periods of stress is an excellent way to relieve that stress and feel calmer. If you are feeling confused, take a walk or go for a run. After you have engaged in physical activity, your mind may be less clouded and more able to make decisions.

-Connectiveness. Stay connected with those in your life. Check up on your family and friends through phone calls, video chats, email etc. You can make a great difference in someone’s life and in your life through maintaining social cohesion. Embracing community spirit is something every Australian should be doing during this time.
Resilience is something every individual can foster within themselves. It is about realising this and using tools to undergo this process of becoming more resilient. If each individual works on building their resilience, Australians will see the other end of this pandemic and any other adversity faced in their lives, stronger than before.

* Chairperson, MHFA.

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