Resilience: Managing in the “New Normal”
Change is a part of life – there is no escaping it. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the frequency and spread of change in our modern-day life. The constancy of change, together with the upheaval and uncertainty it generates, has become a way of life or what may be described as the “new normal.”
What is the impact of this “new normal?” Fear of getting sick with COVID-19, changes to our work role or routine, childcare challenges, and loss of colleagues through staffing reductions challenge our ability to adapt and manage effectively. Ongoing change can drain our coping reserves and cause us to feel overwhelmed and depleted. For many, this “new normal” impact is exhaustion, feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and depression. At these times, we may experience a “sink or swim” feeling. Critical to keeping our heads above water is resilience.
What Is Resilience?
Resilience is the quality or capacity within oneself to cope, recover, or grow after a “life quake” of any dimension. It is the factor that sustains us, enabling us to flourish and experience a sense of well-being amidst ever-increasing expectations, workplace stress, and life challenges. Resilience does not imply that one is less impacted by change. It does mean, however, that one can respond differently. While resilience is something that each of us holds inside, we can develop and heighten this capacity to thrive during times of uncertainty and challenge. Psychologist Beth Miller says, “Resilience is like a muscle – the harder we work it, the stronger it gets.” When fully developed, resilience can enable us to turn adversity into an advantage.
5 Factors of Resiliency
Research indicates that those who bounce back in the face of multiple life demands display specific attributes that others do not. These attributes, or resilience factors, are the conditions that help a person to survive and recover during times of extreme stress and trauma. Research shows that five factors of resiliency promote resilience at both the individual and organizational levels. These include purpose, flexibility and adaptability, connection to others, wellness and hope.
Purpose: Purpose in life is a long-term, forward-looking intention to accomplish aims meaningful to the self and the world beyond the self. People who have a clear sense of purpose and direction in life find it easier to bounce back in the face of challenge. Having purpose (and a shared sense of purpose within an organization) provides perspective, confidence, and determination. Feeling a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life contributes to more healthful and adaptive regulation of negative emotional responses—meaning one is better prepared to respond to emotional challenges more quickly and efficiently. A sense of purpose is linked to higher levels of employee engagement, fulfillment, organizational commitment, and an increased sense of well-being.
Flexibility and adaptability: Flexibility and adaptability represent the mindset, skills, and abilities we need to learn so we can move forward in the face of challenges. This factor involves possessing problem-solving skills, balanced and healthy thinking, and managing our emotions. When we possess this factor, we have advantages that nurture greater work and life success, including a greater sense of mastery and growth. For example, we can identify when stress is turning harmful or toxic and can take action to manage it effectively.
Connection: Humans are inherently social beings. We are better positioned to bounce back when we have a social support network with whom we can both give and receive support during times of stress. Research studies show that social support is essential for maintaining our physical and mental well-being. It can enhance our resilience and help lower feelings of distress and reduce the impact of traumatic stress.
Wellness: Attending to our physical well-being is a critical factor in resiliency. Sleep, nutrition and exercise are vital in maintaining physical well-being and recovery from injuries or illness. They are also instrumental in protecting against mental health problems and in mitigating potential consequences of stressful events.
Hope: Hope is desire or wishes accompanied by an expectation or belief that what we desire will come to be. It is a positive cognitive state that enables us to see and create a path towards a goal. In essence, it gives us the drive to develop strategies to reach our goals and motivates us to act on those strategies. During challenging times, hope fosters an orientation to life that allows for a positive, optimistic outlook.
Building Your Resilience
Building or developing your resilience involves enhancing each of the 5 factors or characteristics within yourself. For each of the 5 factors, there are specific area actions that research shows, if taken, strengthen one’s resiliency.
The graphic below explains:
Have a strong sense of purpose and direction in life—They know what is most important to them. Knowing their core values provide clarity and enhance their ability to make tough decisions during stressful times. They experience a sense of calm from living and working in congruence with their values.
Are flexible and adaptable in the face of adversity—They are effective problem-solvers and manage their emotions to stay calm during times of distress. They also practice balanced healthy thinking—meaning they look at the entire situation—considering the positive, negative, and neutral aspects before concluding. They view change and challenges as opportunities rather than threats.
Have a strong social support network and a sense of connection to others—They reach out and receive social supports when needed and give support to others in need.
Attend to their wellness—They attend to their physical well-being by practicing healthy eating, good sleep hygiene practices, and regular exercise.
Have a positive outlook and hope for the future—They spend time thinking about the potential for positive outcomes, not just the negative.
Have strategies and a plan to support self-care when feeling high stress—They engage in self-care to reduce stress as soon as possible.