Maintaining positive mental health during a crisis is challenging. Between the added stresses of our lives constantly changing and feelings of hopelessness with no end in sight, many people are struggling to remain resilient. There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a tremendous strain on people everywhere. However, it has forced us to have an honest conversation about our need to make our families, communities, workplaces, and government more resilient. Thinking about simple changes we can make in our everyday lives to create a positive environment opens up possibilities to make us much more capable of withstanding long periods of forced isolation, financial stress, and even grief.
Here are 12 tips for building resilience during a pandemic (or any other time of high stress):
- Maintain structure in your life, which means getting up in the morning at a regular time and keeping as many routines as possible.
- Be accountable to others, whether that is focusing on our role as a parent or helping to look after someone else’s pet. The more accountable we feel, the easier it is to maintain our mental health.
- Invest energy in your most intimate relationships. We will need these more than ever. Take time each day to show others they matter, whether that person is a spouse, child, close friend or roommate.
- Reach out and continue to nurture social connections, whether online, or by checking in on friends and family (without getting too physically close). The more we contribute to maintaining and building connections with others, the more we will fight back against depression and anxiety.
- Take this opportunity to strengthen different parts of your identity, whether that is taking up a new hobby or simply showing others a different side of our personality. By broadening who you are, you are proving that even without your job or schooling, you still have value.
- Take control of whatever you can control. Whether that is limiting your television watching or exercising regularly, the experience of control gives you the strength to cope and to resist feelings of helplessness.
- Nurture a sense of belonging and maintain your spiritual path. Look for opportunities to express your life purpose. If you are spiritual, or affiliated with a faith community, do whatever you can to continue your spiritual practices, especially if those practices remind you that you are not alone. This is also a time to celebrate your culture. Connecting with your past will help you predict a better future despite these uncertain times.
- Exercise your rights. Whether that means asking for help from your government or ensuring you are treated fairly by your employer or landlord, we are more resilient when we insist on fair treatment and take responsibility for ourselves and others.
- Look after your basic needs. Put your house in order. Rearrange the furniture. Clean out closets. Review your bank statements. Do your taxes. The more parts of your life you put in order, and the more your basic needs are taken care of, the more secure you will feel.
- Takecare of your physical health. Stay as active as you can. This will lift your mood and prevent health problems that are unrelated to the pandemic.
- When possible, stabilize your finances. Make a plan for how you will get through this time of economic uncertainty. Reach out for help from your family, your bank, government or local nonprofit if you are financially in crisis.
- Think positive thoughts. Avoid catastrophic thinking by reading and watching things that lift your spirits. Talk to others about how you are feeling. Do whatever it takes to stay hopeful. Be grateful for anything that is going well, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
Michael Ungar, Ph.D., is a Family Therapist and Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience; and author of Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success. More about Dr. Ungar: www.michaelungar.com