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Three Elements of Resilience for Better Coping

Some potentially useful skills and abilities of resilience.

I’ve been studying resilience over the past few months, and a few concepts with have been useful to me recently. 

Putting It In Perspective

Seeing the bigger picture, and paying attention to those who have it worse than us, can help make our problems seem relatively minor.

Drawing in pinks, reds, and purples of building blocks. Title: Seven Skills of resilience. There are seven building blocks, each labeled with a skill: Learning ABCs (adversity, beliefs, consequences). Avoiding Thinking Traps. Detecting Icebergs. Challenging Beliefs. Calming and Focusing. Putting it in Perspective. Realtime resilience.

For example, if you or your loved ones aren’t among the most vulnerable, and your priorities right now are non-life threatening, nor about serious economic hardship, it could be possible that they’re first-world problems. Trying to stick too stubbornly to your plans, being upset and inflexible about disruptions, and prioritizing personal gains or achievement goals might be over-investing in relatively minor concerns (over which you probably have limited control anyway).

It’s important for everyone to work together to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Personally, I’m relieved that employers, businesses, and organizations are temporarily closing to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. (This is a great example of society leading when government is flailing.) It’s a time for cooperation and making sacrifices for the vulnerable—as well as their caretakers and all health care workers.

Optimism

Recognizing when to be optimistic, and what we can control.

When to use optimism

Everyday, we’re evaluating risks and making decisions.

I love optimism, optimists, and being optimistic whenever possible. Still, I recognize the limits of optimism. When grave consequences are at stake, be wary of being too optimistic. (Trump’s bluster and uninformed overconfidence are so disrespectful of people’s intelligence and the gravity of COVID-19.) If you’re making a decision that could impact health—yours or society’s as whole—err on the side of caution.

Drawing on gridded vellum. Title: When to use optimism. Red circle

From Positive Signs, a series of 60 drawings interpreting positive psychology research and more. 2011, glitter and/or fluorescent pen with holographic foil print on gridded vellum, 11 x 8.5 inches.

On the other hand, if you’re making a decision with lower consequences, choose optimism. For example, maybe you want to check in on an elderly neighbor but you’re worried about social awkwardness. In the best case scenario, it’s welcome and helpful, and you both feel good. In the worst case, it’ll be awkward, not that big a deal.

What we can control

As Karen Reivich, PhD and Andrew Shatté, PhD, define it in “The Resilience Factor,” being optimistic is to believe we control the direction of our lives.

A drawing in bright chartreuse with a

From a suite of drawings I’m currently working on about resilience.

There is a lot we can’t control right now—travel restrictions, closures of businesses and schools, and diverted plans.

So what can we control?

We can be creative in fostering connection despite the disruptions. For example, sharing photos of families instead of photos of empty shelves and commiseration memes (H/T artist Risa Puno).

We can gather resources and share knowledge.

We can try to use time at home productively, such as brainstorming ways to generate income. [Artists can work on applications, update websites and CVs, and improve art storage and inventory records. For example, I recently make boxes for art that I’ve been meaning to pack.]

Or, we can choose to see the restrictions on movement as a chance to rest, reflect, and practice self-care (such as using yoga instructional videos on YouTube instead of going to the gym), or doubling down on our support of neighbors and our communities.

We can choose to take steps to manage anxiety, and stop obsessing about coronavirus news (H/T artist jenifer k wofford).

Reaching Out

For Reivich and Shatté, reaching out is both a skill of resilience as well as a use of resilience. One definition they offer is to enhance the positive aspects of life.

A colored pencil drawing in green and black. Shown: of an arm reach up with the text,

From a series of drawings on resilience currently in progress. 2020, colored pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches.

We are in an unprecedented time, when everyday brings scary news, anxiety is high, and everyone is coping with uncertainty. This is a recipe for poor mental health. Balance the negative with positive: connection, joy, humor, generosity. I love the videos of Italians singing from balconies, and Iranian doctors dancing. These are much-needed reminders of the human spirit and resilience.

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