Resilience is key to overcoming pandemic stress
As the profession settles into the third national lockdown in a year, Lianne Weaver explores the resources of resilience needed to see us through the stress.
Resilience is something we have all certainly needed over the past year.
As we enter 2021 there have already been challenges thrown at us, the greatest being the third national lockdown in less than a year. Amidst all the usual struggles of January, the accounting community has been feeling the stress.
“Ultimately my mental health is going to suffer terribly,” said AccountingWEB reader imbs about the new lockdown. “I feel inadequate in every respect - to kids, to household, to clients, to kids’ education.”
Resilience is a necessity for combatting stress, however most people tend to be unsure as to whether they actually are resilient. The problem with resilience is that it is not a trait we tend to wake up thinking about. Resilience is something we only really know that we have when life puts us under pressure and we reflect upon how we have coped.
Instead of asking yourself “am I resilient?”, try the following:
- Have I ever failed an exam?
- Have I ever been turned down for a job?
- Have I ever dealt with a relationship breakdown?
- Have I ever had to overcome an illness or injury?
- Have I ever dealt with the loss of a loved one?
- Have I ever lived through a pandemic?
You will have certainly answered yes to at least one of those, if not several.
Resilience can be described in lots of ways - the ability to cope, to be mentally strong, to be able to bounce back, to deal with life’s challenges. The truth is, life is not a flat line; life will give all of us our fair share of peaks and troughs and resilience is what enables us to ride that rollercoaster.
My understanding of resilience is having the ability to be resourceful enough to get through the challenges life brings. In fact, to me, the most resilient people are those who excel at being resourceful, and the great part of that is that we can all grow and improve our resourcefulness.
Before we begin considering what resources we may need to get through a challenge, it is worth understanding how our brain deals with a challenge in the first place. The principal concern for our brain is always our survival; even as you sit and read this, your brain will be scanning your environment so that if a sudden threat appeared, your brain would ensure you were ready to respond.
This part of our brain is known as the negativity bias and has undoubtedly kept you physically safe countless times; neuroscientists suggest that this part of our brain has not changed in thousands of years.
In prehistoric times, we were under constant daily physical threat. We had to be careful of what food we ate, mindful of predators or enemies, and cautious of becoming injured. If our ancestors had been walking and they heard a rustle in the bushes, it was essential that they assumed it was the worst case scenario (for example a sabre toothed tiger) rather than assuming there was nothing to fear. That way, if they were right, they had pre-empted the danger giving crucial extra seconds to react.
Today, thankfully, we are not at risk of the same daily physical threats that our ancestors were, however our brains are still as wired to scan our environment for threats and danger. The things that cause us pain now are far more likely to hurt us emotionally rather than physically, and so our negativity bias focuses upon trying to help us avoid this.
If you have ever wondered why your brain tends to focus on the bad rather than the good, negativity bias is the reason. If nine people out of ten told you they liked you, but one said they didn’t, it’s very likely that you would focus on that one. That is the negativity bias in action. As leading psychologist Rick Hanson describes, our brain is Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. (Keep Hope Not Fear Alive - Dr. Rick Hanson).
Now if we bring this knowledge into how we may be experiencing current events, it explains why we might be finding it hard to see any positives and instead feel overwhelmed by the negatives.
However, if we can build up our resources using tried and tested methods, we can begin to balance out our negativity bias to see things as they really are.
Depending upon the challenges you face, you will encounter a variety of resources. For example, if you have had to adapt to working from home it could be something as practical as improving your WiFi, or something more focused on your wellbeing like improving your work-life balance.
There are some resources which come up frequently when we are feeling challenged, for example:
- Connection: We are social animals and therefore are likely to lean on friends, family, colleagues, and experts when we are finding things difficult.
- Compassion: We know that it is important to be compassionate to others when they are struggling but we forget that we need to be compassionate to ourselves too.
- Gratitude: The best way to balance your negativity bias is with gratitude, which trains your brain to see the good as well as the bad.
- Calm: If you know how to remain calm and even tempered, you are far more likely to be resilient.
- Courage: Being able to admit you’ve made a mistake, you need help or you don’t know what to do next all take courage. Courage is not an immutable trait and as such we can grow our ability to be courageous.
- Mindfulness: Being able to focus upon the present moment is a great resource when life feels overwhelming.
- Motivation: If you know why you are doing something and why you want to get through a challenging time, you are far more likely to be motivated to do it.
Throughout the next few months, we will look at some of these in more detail and give you tools, techniques and exercises to ensure that you can cultivate stronger resources for yourself. No matter what 2021 throws at you, you will be able to withstand the challenges.
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Lianne Weaver is the Managing Director of Beam Development & Training Ltd, which delivers unique wellbeing, happiness, personal development and resilience training to companies and individuals both in the classroom and online. She works with government organisations, banks, law firms as well as SME’s. Lianne is also a therapist, working...