With the pandemic taking a continued toll on mental and physical wellbeing, a resilient approach in 2021 is crucial, says Hira Ali
The coronavirus pandemic, escalating at an alarmingly pace this last year, has been traumatic and intimidating for even the most positive people. The uncertainty of it all has had a nerve-wracking impact on adults, elderly and the children and in 2020, we have all had to practice resilience like never before. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from changes by focusing on the silver lining rather than being knocked down, and it can be taught and modelled. It may not be helpful to be told, “It will all work out” because many people do not cope naturally, but they can learn techniques to help them cope better than they might have without any help at all. As we head into the new year, here are few coping strategies that can help:
Be Aware Of Your Feelings
Change can be frightening due to the unknown elements involved. The first step toward managing change is to recognise and accept that it is happening and to acknowledge your feelings. Self-awareness is the key to effecting change in the way you think and act. The moment you recognise your feelings, you are opening yourself up to different strategies for managing them.
At a time like this, you can be occupied with an influx of emotions, concerns and problems bouncing up and down in your head all at once. That’s why it’s a good idea to document your feelings by penning them down. Committing everything to paper can also be compared to performing a brain dump or ‘letting it all out’. This lets you clearly sift through muddy, confused thoughts to expose your raw emotions and pinpoint the exact emotion or feeling. In separating emotion from rational thought, it then becomes easier to let your intellect dictate your choices and get some clarity around your experiences.
After all, your thoughts are your inner dialogue. Very simply, you want to become aware of what you tell yourself inside so that you – rather than your emotions – direct your choices. Make a list of triggers for your self-doubt and fear. Select one trigger at a time. Pause for a moment to take three to five slow, deep breaths from the belly, and allow yourself to relax. Keep your eyes closed and focus on your breath.
Scan your entire body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, finding and releasing any tension or tightness. Take note of any sensations. Accept and acknowledge the feelings. Imagine yourself in a safe place and find your centre. Remind yourself you are not your emotions or thoughts. You observe, create and choose your emotions and thoughts. No one and no situation can ‘make’ you feel a certain way without your permission.
Understand that any emotions you experience are merely old pockets of energy – social conditioning – from a time when you did not have the cognitive ability to know and see yourself and your life from many different perspectives. Now, as an intelligent, capable adult, you are fully in charge of your feelings.
Find Support Groups
There are many others who share the same fears as you especially when we all are facing a global crisis. By sharing your concerns you will likely discover that you are not in this alone, which makes the fear more tolerable. Seek support from those who identify with your issues and have effectively conquered them. You might even benefit from joining a virtual support or affinity group. Remember that life is not struggle-free and these circumstances can help you to grow.
Find Reasons To Be Positive And Grateful
What about the many other times when we are blessed beyond measure, bestowed with blessings that we never even asked for?
I often emphasise the importance of gratitude in my leadership trainings, particularly in trainings that are focused on resilience and stress. Gratitude is that one habit that can make all the difference in your daily life and can be a powerful weapon against heartbreak. It’s a practice that can eliminate half of your stress straight away. Negativity and unhappiness are as contagious as happiness, positivity and gratitude.
When you are grateful, you attract positive energy all around you and vice versa. However, do not confuse gratitude with acceptance towards your status quo or being lackadaisical towards goals. You can be grateful yet still be ambitious and demand what you deserve. You can be grateful but still experience disillusionment temporarily and that’s okay too! It’s when you are constantly negative that problems arise. Negative feelings sap energy and set up a self-perpetuating cycle of disappointment, worry and regret. Waking up each day and acknowledging just one positive thing, and the less obvious blessings goes a long way towards recuperating the most dampened spirit.
Gratitude journals are a great way to help you do this. They also encourage calm, lowering stress levels and granting new perspectives. Pain easily overshadows joy; we are quick to point out what isn’t working in our lives. What is going well, however, takes time to recognise, because it’s likely something we commonly take for granted. And this is exactly where gratitude journals can help.
They remind you to take into account all of the good things in your life and set your day off on the right foot. Yes, there are times when circumstances make us stressed and heartbroken. But what about the many other times when we are blessed beyond measure, bestowed with blessings that we never even asked for? These blessings might seem pretty ordinary to us, but they may mean the world to someone else.
A few days back as I was brooding in despair, on the many challenges that these crises seem to have exacerbated, something in business unexpectedly came up. At that point in time, that issue seemed like the worst problem occupying my mind given its urgency and impact. After a few hours, the problem was fixed and I was immediately relieved at the relatively quick resolution.
And that’s when it suddenly hit me – perhaps this emergency was a reminder that sometimes additional issues arise from nowhere on TOP of our existing challenges, only to make us grateful of our previous state whatever that was.
As I looked back, I gained perspective and realised that even though my challenges seemed huge, none of them required my immediate, compelling attention and that I could still enjoy some downtime for the rest of the day. Sometimes, all it takes is to be grateful one day at a time?
I am not going to undermine my problems and neither am I going to suppress my feelings. But I do acknowledge that no matter what I am facing, there may always be a possibility of being worse off and that I am still better off than many. And that, my friend, is a huge consolation even on the hardest days.
Remember, every day you have a choice. The choice to wake up happy and content, or to wake up complaining about what you don’t have enough of – at this time it may involve lack of socialising or work opportunities. If you choose to focus on what you don’t have, then spending the next few months in social distancing may prove to be very difficult: what you currently have will never be enough and you will always be seeking more.
However, when you are thankful for the countless blessings that you do have despite being isolated and locked down at home, the simple shift in perspective will make the next few months more tolerable. In NLP, it is also called reframing i.e. changing the meaning of a communication by changing the context, the frame size or other changes that put the communication into a situation where the meaning is altered.
Be Adaptable And Seek New Ways To Learn
It is clear that in the current pandemic, we will have to change our old way of doing things if we wish to stand a chance in the new way of life. No matter how good you are, chances are there still might be many things which you don’t know about and accepting that sooner than later can be the first step towards managing a challenging situation. Whether you are an entrepreneur or working professional, there is no limit to learning and continuously reinventing yourself.
People with great flexibility have the best chances of getting the result they want. The people who get the most out of life are people who are ready to explore options. Think of ways that you can adapt or things that you can do to make the change easier. If what you do doesn’t work, test something different. Also, remind yourself to have realistic expectations. Know that you probably will not like the disruption at first, but that you will adapt.
Mindfully adjust your attitude: imagine a positive outcome. Recall how you have handled the change in the past, and what strategies worked for you. Get more information: ask constructive questions in order to understand the change better. Be part of the change: if you are able, get involved with the changes taking place.
You will better understand what is taking place if you are directly participating in it. If you act on a change in the early stages and modify your expectations accordingly, it will be much easier to deal with the change than it is in the later stages, when things are already underway and you have less opportunity to influence or already feel a loss of control.
Reconsider Your Perception Of Failure
Put the past behind you: do not dwell on what was
Many people have been hit hard as a result of this virus. With a plethora of projects cancelled and sources of revenue stopped, it’s not an easy situation to be in. But perhaps, this also a time to reinvent the way you have been doing business and explore alternate opportunities to sustain and thrive. A lot of people will avoid taking risks because they feel that if they don’t try, they won’t fail. But failure is important. It makes you stronger and teaches you much more than success ever will. In trying out new ways of doing business or work, there may be repeated failures and that’s okay. Failures aren’t frightful, not having the chance is what’s scary and no matter how bad the situation seems, as long as you are alive, you will always have that chance.
Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor, introduced an important concept called the ‘growth mindset’ which really helps in recasting failure. A fundamental difference between men’s and women’s typical reactions to failure is that women consider their talents to be fixed, finite and immutable. Men, however, believe that they can learn almost anything.
The growth mind-set encourages hard work more than smartness. It motivates people to take up challenges and learn from them to enhance their abilities. This in turn makes people resilient and more tolerant towards failure. Top-notch teams sometimes lose, the best players often miss the goal, and many million-dollar businesses fail as well. Evaluate the impact of what could go wrong to mitigate your fear. Most importantly, reframe the failure as an opportunity to learn.
Always remember, at this point, no one really knows the outcome. No one has it figured out, you will learn more as you progress. The fact that you are trying even when you are unsure makes you admirable and authentic. Put the past behind you: do not dwell on what was, instead focus on what the future can bring. Acknowledge that a period in your life has ended and a new one is beginning.
Believe in Yourself By Re-Wiring Your Brain
Your success largely depends on the state of your mind and the latter can be changed into a positive state by working on a single attribute and that is Self-Belief. Simply because, if you believe that you can do something, you most likely will.
This very attribute can change your life in unimaginable ways, as it has changed mine. But honestly, self-belief doesn’t come instantly. It requires practice and conviction and a careful re-wiring of your brain.
To believe in yourself, you first need to convince your brain that it can and will achieve what you want it to do. You see, the brain will do exactly as it’s told. If you keep telling yourself that you can do something, you will be amazed to see how well your brain cooperates in reaching that goal. And that’s precisely why repeatedly feeding your brain with positive affirmations is important in these challenging times.
Ultimately, you own and control the most powerful weapon that can help you to get out of your own way – your brain. Do not underestimate its power; it will play a pivotal role in making any of your efforts successful and empower you to make well-informed decisions regarding any situation or relationship, free from personal biases and subjectivity.
Many of us are victims of our minds. Just as we can get in shape with the right diet and exercise, you are capable of overcoming any prior conditioning of your mind, so long as you are willing to do the work. By repeatedly telling your brain that it can achieve something and following techniques above, you can train it to think affirmatively. Make sure you feed it with only positive and ‘can do’ thoughts. As Henry Ford aptly put it: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
Self-Question Limiting Beliefs
Remember when you wanted to pursue a goal but didn’t because you failed the first time? Or the time when you didn’t voice your opinion in a meeting for fear of being rejected or judged? In both cases, those are limiting beliefs holding you back. A limiting belief is a false belief that a person holds true based on incorrect or incomplete conclusions about certain things in life.
Human beings have a tendency to be negative and some are more prone to it than others. However, when these beliefs turn into toxic thought traps that sabotage your own progress, they need to be addressed promptly. The good news is that with a little practice and discipline, you can avoid succumbing to these naughty mind chattering gremlins and stop them right in their tracks.
In difficult situations, people often find themselves unable to think clearly, so they seek out advice from others. But unless you consult a qualified coach who can help you manage the problem effectively, most others will likely make the situation worse by passing on their own negativity to you. Hence, other than a coach, it is always best to rely on yourself or a positive circle of friends.
An effective way to do this is through self-questioning. Self-questioning involves scrutinising your beliefs and examining the actions you take as a result of them. There are many different types of limiting beliefs, including generalisations, mental filters, emotional reasoning, distortions, magnifications, labelling, etc.
You can subvert each one by testing its validity through a belief-audit that enables you to identify holes in your thinking. The moment you encounter a limiting belief, you can question it using various techniques. This also helps you in acknowledging positive elements of a situation, creates positive vibes, and helps regain and maintain control.
No one except you should take life decisions on your behalf and moreover, no one should have the power to disengage you and negatively influence you. You can’t control what people around you will think and say but you can control your own reaction and not let any negativity get to your head.
Negative thinking can be an energy vampire that severely limits your ability to achieve your objectives. Self-questioning can distance you from debilitating thoughts and allow you to view situations more objectively. However, for self-questioning to be most effective, you must stop believing in the myth that someone else will come to your rescue. Trust yourself to be your own best rescuer, simply because who else could be a better expert in your life than you yourself?
Use The Brain Flip
If we perceive something as a liability, that’s the message we deliver to our brain. Then the brain produces states that make it a reality. If we change our frame of reference by looking at the same situation from a different point of view or flipping our thought, we can change the way we respond in life.
The minute I find myself encountering a negative thought, I count to three and immediately flip it, or replace it, with a positive thought. For example, a thought like, ‘How may I going to survive weeks in self-isolation?’ 3…2…1 insert the flip: ‘I love the freedom and flexibility I now have! There is so much I can do now that I am at home, things I didn’t get a chance to previously do and if nothing else, I can always catch up on sleep!’ Do you see?
Try changing an unhelpful perspective to a more helpful and happier perspective. Start with one. Typical examples include *I am safe at home* instead of *I am stuck at home*
Maybe try focusing on the freedom and flexibility you now have? Perhaps, this was the much-needed break you always craved for? Perhaps it’s a good time to revisit many priorities and plans?
The brain feeds on your thought process and acts accordingly. I know that if I allow my negative thoughts to linger for too long, they will gradually overtake me and permeate every cell of my body to the extent that when I allow them to hang on for too long, I will be shaky and unsure. However, Brain Flip ensures that I flush out any toxic thoughts and only focus on the positive ones, so when I have to confront any challenges, every ounce of my existence is reflecting that positivity back.
I know people these days are anxious and we are continuously judging people for being selfish, for not being mindful or not doing enough but please understand everyone is trying to cope in the best way known to them I.e everyone is doing their best with the tools they have available at that particular moment.
The positive intention of any behaviour could be to feel connected or to be heard, contain losses, self-preserve or even to self-protect. It isn’t easy for any of us, none of us has experienced pandemics before so we only act in what we think is in our best interests or interests of our loved ones.
It is but natural to be affected by what people you care about, do or do not do. However, when you start acknowledging ‘the difference of maps’ in various individuals in your life, you will start becoming more empathetic and understanding of how and why they react, the way they do.
Laugh Heartily and Often
Laughter is the best therapy out there. Moreover, it’s free! It gives your heart and lungs a good workout, and research indicates that laughter releases feel-good brain chemicals which in turn lower blood pressure and relax the muscles while reducing pain and stress hormones. Humour is one of the best ways to ward off stress and can be an amazing line of defence when it comes to coping with stress and normalising intense experiences.
Seek Coaching and Mentoring
Coaches and mentors help you steer your way through un-surety and overwhelm. They help identify as well as bring out the potential and talent in you, which you didn’t know you had. Confront your feelings and seek support: it is normal to feel uneasy during a change. Talking with others about your feelings will help. It’s okay if you feel that you can’t do this on your own. We all go through phases in which we’d rather hold someone’s hand. In such scenarios, coaches can help guide us past obstacles and limiting beliefs so we can achieve; they can steer our way through the confusion and overwhelming doubt. If you feel as though you need a navigator, consider hiring a coach to guide the way.
Practice Mindfulness, Meditate & Exercise
Take 10 to 15 minutes each day to just sit by yourself and let your mind float. Meditation declutters the mind, helps you unwind, develops an inner sense of calm and equilibrium, and boosts your mood. Mindfulness helps you focus on the present moment rather than worrying about the past or dwelling on regrets. It enhances your ability to control your emotions. Indulge yourself with a
luxurious warm bath or light up some scented candles, close your eyes and let your mind and body drift. What’s more, meditation and mindfulness also shrink the fear centre in your brain – the amygdala.
Any form of exercise, whether it’s dancing, yoga, walking, or even daily stretching at home will make you healthier. What’s more, you don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it. Even just 20 minutes of an activity you enjoy is enough to improve circulation and kick starts your metabolism in the right direction.
Pursue Your Goals Relentlessly Even When You Are Unsure
To keep going and not give up, despite all odds, is tough but necessary in times of uncertainty and volatility. Pursue your goals relentlessly, regardless of how you feel; the best way to beat uncertainty is to continue taking action no matter how small it is. It’s been said that if you take the risk and do what you fear the most, then you can do anything and this is especially applicable to exploring new ways of doing business. It takes a great deal of courage to pursue the challenge and endure even in the face of doubt. But you can never really know how much you can accomplish if you don’t try.
Not trying is worse than failing because you miss an important opportunity. When you refuse to try, you also refuse the opportunity to try, fail and learn from your mistakes. What’s more, you refuse the opportunity to try and be successful! We are all innately risk-averse, especially women. We are afraid of putting our vulnerability on the line. The status quo, while not particularly fulfilling, can seem like an easier, less scary option. I suggest you take that one action that creates a shift. And you can start by taking graduated risks.
Remember, you can do one of two things: either change how you feel about the situation or change the situation itself.
Show Willingness To Start Afresh
I know many entrepreneurs and businesses have adapted quickly and gone online but if you haven’t done that yet, please don’t feel bad or disengaged that you were unable to act fast and respond in a timely fashion. We are going through a global pandemic and it’s okay to stress and let that sink in before you can actually do something about it. Everyone has their own way of coping with stress so don’t feel pressured to act fast or you will miss the boat/ opportunity whatever that is.
However, do remember that ultimately, no matter how intimidating the change, you still have a chance if you are sensible and quick-witted, and even though you cannot turn the time around, you still have the power to start afresh and turn around the situation – keeping your past experiences in mind. Many times in life we need to be ready to begin from scratch, like moving to a new country and starting all over again, reconstructing your business after a huge loss, changing your field/career, recuperating after a disaster, recovering and getting back to the field after a major accident. Several people give up and are not ready to wind up the clock, but there are others who refuse to give up and begin again with renewed determination. And these are the ones the world knows as survivors, champions and heroes.
This article was originally published in ‘Thrive Global’. You can download your free Survive & Thrive Kit over here