Building emotional resilience for individuals and communities: Our learnings from an event series hosted by the Impact Hub Vienna how to build emotional resilience to bounce back from adversity.
Riding the Coronacoaster
Only one hour, in short distance from Vienna, the capital of Austria, there is a summer sledge run, a tourist attraction for city dwellers. What’s so special about it is it’s name Corona Coaster, inherited due to its location in the lovely village of St. Corona. It’s promoted as a swift ride that guarantees fun and perfect safety for the whole family. Certainly no one would have ever assumed that the same term would become a synonym for describing the emotional state of the world’s population during one of the greatest challenges in our times. As a noun, the term coronacoaster describes the ups and downs of the corona pandemic. One day you’re loving your bubble, doing workouts, baking banana bread and going for long walks and the next you’re crying, drinking gin for breakfast and missing people you don’t even live.
Most of us have experienced dramatic changes in our private and in our work life this year, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is not the first pandemic in the history of pandemics that is affecting our generation, but what’s so different about it is that it doesn’t seem to be limited to certain age groups, ethnies or people with pre-conditions – it threatens everyone.
We are all in together, Covid-19 is the first global pandemic affecting all countries and continents. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning the world since the beginning of 2000, that a pandemic is going to happen, but nobody listened, until now. The good news is that we can become even stronger and more connected after such a bad thing as the pandemic. It is all about our individual, social and global resilience.
Resilience can be built
There are many definitions of resilience. The American Psychological Association (2014) defined resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors”. One’s ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises is a matter of different factors.
Resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. Like training a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intention.
Being resilient doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer, experience stress or emotional pain, it means getting better through these difficult circumstances and events.
To increase your capacity for resilience to weather and grow from difficulties, use these strategies:
- Cultivate positivity
What we think plays a significant part in how we feel and how we perceive the world. Positive thinking – the glass is half-full – is the cognitive basis of acting positive. Many people have a tendency to think negative, to think about what can go wrong. That kind of thinking was developed evolutionary, as a necessary trait to survive in the early days of humanities where humankind was exposed and threatened by the elements and wild animals, when breaking a leg was literally a death sentence.
Today many people suffer from negativity, not knowing that we can stop our inner critic, our negative self talk and embrace positivity.
We are not our thoughts, we can control our thoughts. To create an optimistic mindset means that we focus on good things, on what we have and not what we don’t have. When you recognize thinking something negative, interrupt it. You can tell yourself, “Stop! No!”, “Enough! I’m in control. Instead be kind to yourself and start by reminding yourself what was already good today, what you are thankful for, and what brings you joy and happiness in life.
Another practical tool is to create a positive mantra, where you first acknowledge that you face a difficult situation, before you remind yourself that you are not alone in this and that you be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.
- Know and believe in your abilities
The time has come to re-wire and to create our own thriving life—to focus on our potential and on our strengths. Many of us do not know how to leverage our own strengths – much less someone else’s. Since so much attention is heaped on our weaknesses, we tend to focus on what’s wrong. What we know from research is that our strengths influence resilience. For example, hope keeps us looking and moving forward, spirituality keeps us connected to a bigger purpose, perseverance and prudence help us to keep going. How do we apply our strengths to build resilience here and now?
“I am” – Get in touch with yourself first. Explore your own strength. Reflect on a time you were your best self. Take the VIA Character Strength Survey and/or ask close friends what they consider as your strength and like about you.
“I have” – Notice what you do have. Your personal strength but also look around – for some, it is a strong family network. For others, it is a skill set or resources. How can these things support you now that you are faced with a new challenge?
“I can” – Lean in and work from your strength. Think about the numerous challenges that you have already mastered. Focus on what got you through and apply that to this moment. What strength or skills did you apply? How can this help you here and now?
- Make friends not contacts
Numerous studies, in particular research conducted by Positive Psychologists or the Harvard Medical School did prove that Relationships are the most important factor for living a happy life: “Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster”. The pain of traumatic events can lead people to isolate themselves, but it’s important to look for and accept support from those who care about you.
Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience. Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others. Connecting with understanding people can remind ourselves that we are not alone in the midst of difficulties. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate individuals and communities who empathize with your situation and feelings. Genuinely connecting by reaching out to new people or strengthening existing bonds with people who care about you will support resilience. The important thing is to remember you’re not alone on the journey.
Emerging even stronger than before
As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth. While you may not be able to control all of your circumstances there are many aspects of your life you can control, modify, and grow with. That’s the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.