It feels like we’ve been here before. A new year dawns and with it, a countless number of aspirations, dreams and goals for the next 12 months…shrouded, again, by the uncertainty of the global pandemic.
Whilst such positivity and forward-thinking is good – great in fact – it is impossible to ignore the fact that many of our 2022 ambitions may well be hindered by the ever-present cloud of Covid-19, whose ability to mutate and transmit more rapidly than ever before via the Omicron variant, has brought a fresh wave of caution and compounded unease amongst the worldwide population already in the throes of uncertainty. So how, with our budding aspirations and rejuvenated positivity, can we retain drive, commitment and focus in a world where uncertainty remains the only thing of which we can be certain?
Well, the first thing to note is that by the very nature of being a sentient being in an ever-evolving cultural landscape, we are primed for change and ripe to adaptation. It is, quite simply, what the human species does best. Over generations (and indeed thousands of years), we have developed to where we are today, navigating geo-political, socio-economic and technological change and handling devastating health and natural disasters all while growing our knowledge, expanding our empathy and building an interconnected global community. As such, we are more resilient today than we ever have been as a species.
It is important to pause here, as being more resilient, doesn’t mean the situation we find ourselves in today is easy (or ‘easier’ than other generations before us may or may not have found it); it means we have developed our toolkit of coping mechanisms to harness the resiliency that is needed to retain a positive attitude regarding the outcome of the pandemic. But what exactly is this toolkit and specifically, what tools are in it?
Here are some of the essential ‘tools’ for harnessing mental resiliency and supporting ‘good’ mental health. It’s worth saying that this list is not exhaustive – not by a long shot – and the tools in one person’s box may differ considerably from those of the people around them. As such, what you read below is merely a starting point of five simple strategies – compiled from various readings, research and personal experience – that are designed to help create and maintain a healthy mindset. This will allow you to not only survive this continued period of uncertainty but will encourage you to harness this period as a time to thrive (maybe in a different way than you ever could have imagined)!
- Set aside time to check in with your mind, body and feelings. The value in taking time to pause and reflect cannot be underestimated. In a world that is moving at 100 mph and in which we are quite often not only multi-tasking but receiving new information hundreds of times a day, 10 minutes of ‘quiet time’ is positively sacred! If you have meditated previously, you may feel comfortable taking time to do self-guided reflection; however, many people feel happier using an app (Headspace or Calm being the most popular options) to assist in their slowing down. Taking this time to be still and quiet in the comfort of your own home or a safe space will allow you to open yourself up to the most honest version of yourself and give space for thoughts and emotions to come to the fore. Taking this time to check in on how your body and mind feels may also support the process of ‘thought management’ and may prove helpful in labelling difficult emotions and/or feelings.
- Re-claim your calendar. Whilst this sounds simple, reclaiming your hour/day/week etc. and prioritising your time can be one of the most liberating things we can do! How many times have you opened your diary and struggled to find time to see a friend for coffee/attend a gym class/go to the cinema (you get the picture!)? If you are anything like me, it’s a lot – too many – so how do you make time when time is of the essence? Obviously, everyone’s personal situations are different so the scope of flexibility will vary. However, one thing we all have in common is the ability to say NO. By declining a meeting where your attendance is optional, suggesting the session is 30 minutes rather than the proposed hour or even asking if the meeting can, in fact, be addressed by email, you are freeing up precious time within your working day. Outside of work, committing to social plans you want to be part of, whilst politely (and honestly) declining those that you do not have capacity to attend will not only help you regain a sense of control, but will also enable you to prioritise what/who is most important in your life and give perspective to those things that do not make the list. Taking 5 minutes to check in on your calendar will also help to ensure a daily routine and set realistic expectations around what is achievable in your day.
- Seek out meaningful connection with others. I will keep this short and sweet because it doesn’t need to be complicated! As humans, we are innately social beings who are accustomed to living and being together. In short, we are pack animals. In light of this, we benefit from the relationships formed with others and shared experiences with like-minded people. Whether it be with family, friends or the wider community (eg. a religious group, sports club, volunteering group etc.), healthy relationships with people who care about you are necessary for a healthy mind and will contribute to overall levels of happiness.
- Do more of the ‘good’ stuff, less of the ‘not so good’. Again, this sounds simple but in our world of multi touchpoints, advertising, E numbers and convenience consumption (takeaways, streaming services etc.), it is often hard to discern what we enjoy doing vs. what we do habitually. A prime example of this is scrolling on social media. Studies have shown a link between the increased time spent on social media and a propensity to depression amongst all users. However, scrolling social media is a habit we are almost institutionalised to continue engaging with, despite the fact it often leaves us feeling ‘less than’. Taking time to recognise such touchpoints is important and can have significant impact on how ‘free time’ is spent. We all know what habits or behaviours we engage with that leave us feeling happy, fulfilled and warm (baths, reading books, sport, baking, doing craft etc. to name a few). Conversely, we all know those things that can leave us feeling discontented or lacking. Understanding what serves us and what doesn’t serve us could also be repositioned as ‘taking care of yourself.’ It’s a simple concept: do what you need to do, to make yourself feel good after you do it.
- Give yourself respite from the agents of stress. Finally, it is vitally important to understand the people, situations, pressures, environments, etc. that cause you unhealthy stress and recognise that you can remove yourself temporarily from the aforementioned. It is important to not conflate stress with pressure, which is motivating and often associated with producing positive outcomes. Stresses can come from many forms and will undoubtedly vary over the course of a person’s life. Identifying the agents of stress and then giving yourself a respite from these agents is a healthy way to practise self-awareness and demonstrate self-care. There is no shame in taking an annual leave day to de-compress after a very busy period at work, or to recognise that you need a day out the gym as you are pushing yourself too hard in prep for an upcoming sporting event. Recognition of when you need to stop is just as important as knowing when you should start certain practices.
So there you have it, my mumble jumble of what my personal toolkit looks like! At the time of writing (January 2022), nearly two years on from when the pandemic first took hold in March 2020, we continue to live in a state of uncertainty and contradiction. The coronavirus is more widely spread but (allegedly) milder, hospital admissions are fluctuating regionally and vaccine rollouts continue with varying levels of success worldwide.
The last 2 years have been times of immeasurable physical, mental, emotional and financial hardship for so many and it is no surprise that we, the global community, are tired and are struggling with the ‘bounce back’ that is encourage by leaders across the world. My ask is that when you feel tired, remember this toolbox. You won’t need every tool in the box, and some tools you may use far more regularly than others, but for when life seems that little bit tougher, or you need to dig a little deeper for optimism, you have several strategies at your fingertips to make sure that whatever 2022 has in store, it is YOUR year to claim – confidently, competently and with a strong sense of self-awareness around what is best for YOU.
If you are interested in further reading on resiliency, below are a few books I have found very interesting:
- ‘Rising Strong’ by Brene Brown
- ‘The Art of Resilience’ by Ross Edgley
- ‘Emotional Resilience’ by Dr Harry Barry
- ‘What Happened to You’ by Bruce D. Perry & Oprah Winfrey
Disclaimer: the author is not a medical professional and the above are suggestions to promote general wellbeing ONLY; always seek professional advice if you are concerned about your mental health or state of mind.