We already knew we were living in uncertain times and then Nature came along to say “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. Without notice, we have been pitched into a global pandemic that has prompted border closures, civil constraints and an economic crisis. This worldwide disruption to lives and livelihoods calls for decisive leadership by governments and institutions… and each of us also face personal challenges about what to do for the best. This is a testing time as we each adjust to the ‘new normal’.
Just getting to the facts is difficult. Fake news, misinformation and vested interests all compete for our attention alongside respected news sources. Even our governments are having to improvise as they address an emergency on a scale not seen in generations. Confusion and contradictory information makes it important to question what we hear, to search out credible views and to find ways of independently verifying what we’ve learnt.
The most important thing to find is authoritative advice about what to do to reduce the risk of catching and spreading the virus. Next we need to turn to the personal economic and social fallout. For many, the impacts will be profound: being laid off, loss of income and more…
Our ability to recover from such problems depends on how we approach them. Having good information, getting help, good decision-making and acting swiftly will all play a part. As this is new ground for all of us, questioning our usual biases (e.g. for pessimism or optimism) and assumptions will be critical. Good information is critical to developing the confidence to act.
Follow the Government’s medical advice
Naturally, we should follow official guidance: trust the medical experts and science rather than your intuition or the guy down the pub (if indeed pubs and bars are still open where you are).
In chaotic and volatile situations people often panic or shrug things off, both of which are counter-productive behaviours. Our own actions may feel insignificant in the current crisis and unlikely to have any effect on the overall situation. However, we can reduce our own risk of infection by taking basic precautions. If everybody follows the health advice, the aggregate effect will be to slow down the rate at which the disease will spread. The slower the infection rate, the fewer people will catch the disease. So, seemingly minor actions taken by many people will add up to saving lives.
Good individual practices build group resilience whether that is in your family, your team at work, your community or the society as a whole. Societal resilience comes from acting in concert, supporting each other, protecting the vulnerable and doing the ‘right thing’ even if it is counter-intuitive or personally inconvenient.
Work out what else needs to happen
When deciding what else we need to do, everyone will have different factors they will need to take into account: things like age, health, income, finances, job, family and the risk of infection. Ask yourself what you need to do in your particular situation. Some questions to get started:
What would make a real difference? How can you do that? What needs to change? …And by when? What difficulties do you anticipate? What support might you need and where can you find it? What are others doing that you might also try? Who should be involved and who else will be affected by what you do? What would success look like?
When thinking about what you’re going to do differently, consider the wider picture: your organisation, team, community, people who you depend on and those who depend on you: How might they be affected? What support might they need?
This stage in building resilience is to think about the changes you need to make and the ‘who, what, why, when and how’ of making them. You should consider different scenarios and decide what you might have to do should they occur. A key part of resilience is being flexible enough to react to new situations as they arise.
Choose action not fear
While it’s human to be scared about something so dramatic, some of the media seem to be adding fuel to the fires of our fears. It is undoubtedly serious: at the time of writing, infections are doubling every 4 or 5 days. The numbers of critically ill and of deaths are rising at a similar rate. Without decisive action, our medical facilities may become overwhelmed. Despite knowing that the authorities are working to prevent that happening, the trumpeting of such distressing information obscures the fact that this is a mild infection for most people. If possible, hold on to that. Either way, know that, by following the advice to minimise your risk of infection, you are doing what you can.
The economic effects are a different matter. At the time of writing many Governments around the world have closed almost all non-essential public places and are enforcing a ‘stay at home and work from home if you can’ policy – we are all affected by them. Actively getting to grips with the issues that affect you and finding ways of improving your own situation is a great antidote to anxiety. Some things are easy… do them first (pick the ‘low hanging fruit’). Others, such as changing ingrained habits, are harder… so find some support. We are all in this together and working alongside others helps us stick to our aims.
Resilience means consciously changing to meet new challenges. It is taking control where you can.
Worry can be debilitating. At the extreme, it can disable your thinking. So another, often-overlooked element in building resilience is to look after yourself. Set aside the time to:
- Get good quality sleep
- Eat regularly and follow a good diet
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
- Be in nature (as much as you are permitted to)
Be thorough and systematic about developing good practices for each of these topics (there’s plenty of on-line advice). Doing so will support your immune system and strengthening your mental resources. Mental resilience is as important as being fit and healthy: it enables you be more effective at what you do.
Wishing you every success in rising to the challenges of your ‘new normal’. I hope that you and yours emerge healthy and strong.
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