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Positively Recommending Resilience in Recovering from the Coronavirus Pandemic

March 30, 2020

By H. Steven Moffic, MD
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The opinions expressed by Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.

Most everyone is making complex everyday adjustments to the coronavirus epidemic. Among them:

  • Administrators of mental healthcare facilities have the challenge to switch evaluation and treatment online as much as possible as well as addressing the challenges of providing safe treatment in live inpatient settings, and to do so by engaging staff in considering the options.
  • Clinicians have to be flexible and agreeable in adapting to new service delivery methods, including how to retain the crucial therapeutic alliance while adjusting to the new safety needs of physical distance.
  • Patients may have to be more patient as service adjustments are made for them.
  • The public who do essential everyday services may be working harder and at more risk, while those staying at home may be subject to family conflicts or feeling “stir crazy,” all the while needing to obtain true and relevant information.

What we positively and simply all have in common is the potential to become more resilient in the process. Resilience is the ability to come back well from adversity, sometimes even stronger than ever. Although it seems that some people can apparently bounce back almost naturally, more often this requires a certain attitude and the supportive help of others.

Resilience can also be applied to institutions. The president applies it to the economy, now under duress, but with the potential to recover. Our mental healthcare institutions and social services may lose staff and resources, but can also set the stage for recovery when the pandemic is over. Sometimes, extra value can be added in the process with creative new endeavors.

Resilience involves behavior, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn, but it usually takes time and intention. Here are four core components that can help build more resilience.

  1. Connections. Finding people who are trustworthy, compassionate and empathetic will help you to build resilience. When we are in the unusual need to stay at home, having those people may be an even bigger challenge. If you are home with loved ones, they can fill that role as long as interpersonal conflict with them is minimal from being together much more than usual. When the relationship, such as marriage, works well in this situation, it will be strengthened. Otherwise, having such people online that you can’t see live can help. You may find new relationships there, too.
  2. Wellness. Basic wellness includes taking care of your body, mind and spirit. Taking care of your body includes exercise and proper nutrition. Mind wellness can be helped by relaxation techniques, meditation, praying and new learning. The spirit can be nourished religiously and by connecting to your authentic self. Avoid covering up any current physical and psychological pain with alcohol or addictive drugs.
  3. Thoughts. Optimism helps to maintain hope and avoid panic. Accept that crises are an opportunity besides a danger, as conveyed in the Chinese language character of crisis. Review past personal challenging times and what worked or didn’t work then. Think and learn.
  4. Purpose. Finding personal meaning in this new world helps, even as it did in the concentration camps that the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote about. There certainly are many opportunities to help others, even while living at home. Generosity increases happiness. Try to be proactive as far as potential problems, all the while developing new strengths and skills. Use this new situation to find out more about yourself and your character—aspects that usually only emerge in a crisis.

There is one painful exception to this quest. The common reassurance we hear on the media— “we’ll get over this”—cannot apply to those who die from the virus. The best way to honor them is by becoming better and stronger through resilience as we get over this, grieve who and what we have lost, and to always remember the ultimate sacrifice of the deceased.

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