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Bouncing back… with resilience

The virus is going to be here for a while and we have to live with it. Slowly and surely, we must pick up the threads and get back to our work and life. We all have the capacity to adapt to adversity, trauma, tragedy and threats in life, it is our resilience that enables us to do that. Like the tree, you bend with the wind in a storm but do not break.

So, what is resilience? When you stretch a rubber band and let it go, it comes back to its original size. Similarly, tough times in our lives make us stretch ourselves and even require us to bend backwards, but we can draw that mental strength from the reservoir of resilience that we have and bounce back.

Resilient people face difficulties head-on. It is not that they experience less distress, grief, anxiety etc. They handle difficulties in ways that foster strength and growth and emerge stronger. Their mental outlook allows them to experience and express all their feelings and work through them.

The pandemic and the lockdown have been difficult for each one of us. There is a lot of anxiety, depression, frustration, helplessness and loneliness which is overwhelming. The most predominant emotion has been fear, fear that I will catch the infection – fear of death, fear of losing a loved one.

Some of us have lost a loved one and have experienced loss and grief. For those in quarantine and isolation, there has been fear, uncertainty, helplessness and loneliness. For the many who have lost their jobs- there is anxiety and uncertainty – how am I going to pay my bills? With the economy spiralling downward it is not going to be easy for the majority.

We applaud the courage and hardship of our doctors, medical staff, police force, journalists and other essential services personnel who continue to go out and work so that we can stay safe at home. But along with courage, they experience anxiety each day for themselves and their families. For many have got infected in the line of duty and even succumbed to the infection.

Those of us who have been lucky enough to be able to work from home could use the time saved in commuting for doing other things, helping in the chores at home, bonding with the children and family and even upgrading ourselves with webinars. There have been mixed emotions like gratitude, relief, boredom, fear, uncertainty, irritation and even anger when we have been denied our space at home or taken for granted and distress due to lack of freedom of movement.

The question is what have we done with all these emotions. Have we allowed ourselves to really experience them, express them and listen to what they have to tell us about ourselves? Each emotion is a message to us about who we are in that given moment. Have we been so consumed by the emotion that we are stuck or have we just suppressed all these emotions.? Every emotion has a purpose and while we welcome the so-called positive emotions, we shun the negative ones. But emotions are emotions they are neither negative nor positive -what we see as negative emotions are the difficult ones and they too have a purpose.

Fear is a survival emotion and we must all acknowledge how it has helped us to stay safe and protect ourselves from the infection just as it helps us to stay safe from a fire or a moving vehicle.

Anger is also a survival emotion, unfortunately, most of us get conditioned into suppressing it. It is both anger, fear and even frustration that has propelled our labour force to trudge back home thousands of miles for want of any other option. The sad part being so many lives are lost in the process.

It is the sympathy and pain we feel with them that makes us empathise with them driving us to Twitter, blog, and make videos to share with others their plight – it is also what motivates us to donate to the many NGO’s that are working hard to feed and support the homeless and hungry.

It is our loneliness that propels us to keep telephonic contact with our relatives, friends and loved ones, some of whom we have not spoken to in a long time.

When we acknowledge, experience and express our emotions we bring them into our consciousness. And if we only take the time to listen to each of our emotions, they not only tell us why they are there but also guide us to the best course of action.

I recall my accident and the fact that it took me one whole year to recover. I went through a myriad of emotions from deep despair, depression, anxiety, anger, frustration after every surgery. But having worked with the disabled I began telling myself the very same things that I told them and then there was hope as I was given a place to stay on the university campus where I was teaching, I could go to my class on crutches. It was here that I learnt to live in the here and now and experienced moments of joy as I learnt new things and became a better person. I will always be grateful to all who stood by me, especially my students.

It is said that 95% of our emotions are determined by the way we talk to ourselves. It is not what has happened but how we view it that is important. Therefore, resilience is about reframing the event and looking at it from various perspectives while not focusing on the negative aspects. Optimistic people see the effects of traumatic events as temporary and this is what is needed to bounce back.

Can we develop our resilience? Yes, we can because it involves mental processes and behaviours that help us in promoting and protecting us from the effects of the stressors. For e.g. We cannot change the fact of the pandemic but we can look at the positive side. We have proof of nature healing in terms of clean rivers, clean air etc.

Also, if we look at the number of infections and deaths as compared to our population, it is something to be thankful for, it could have been worse without measures like social distancing. So basically, it is about taking action to deal with the demands of the stressors and also stepping back to rest and re-energise yourself.

The three most important factors in building resilience are reframing the way that we view the situation which is useful in coping with and changing our emotional responses, drawing support from our relationships and other support systems and living in the here and now.

Let us take stock of the lessons learnt when we adapted to the lockdown. Consumerism was at its peak but with the malls and supermarkets shut down, we just got our essentials from the local stores in our vicinity. There were many things that were not available but we learnt to do with what was available, be grateful for it and not lament what was not available We have done without junk food as it was not available. We now know there is a difference between need and want. We learnt to give a hand to all the household chores. We were able to give quality time to our families.

It has been a time for reflection for all of us and each of us has brought about changes in our behaviour and attitudes. Many of us during this time decided to transform ourselves. But unlike change transformation cannot be achieved it just happens when we love and heal in thought, word and deed. It happens with the letting go of our ego and therefore it is said that change is psychological but the transformation is spiritual.

Leonie D’mello

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