All these years later, it’s the absurdity of the normal routine that I remember most about the morning of 9/11. I was getting my kids ready for school when my sister-in-law called to tell me to turn on the television.
I was standing in our sun-speckled kitchen, cleaning up breakfast dishes when the planes struck the World Trade Center. At first I thought it was a movie clip, it couldn’t be real. The look of disbelief and bewilderment on my kid’s faces matched my own. Little did they realize the world would be forever changed. Like millions of Americans, I watched the towers collapse in real time. What happened after that was a collective nightmare.
A few years ago, I had to face the uncertainty of cancer. I live alone and the fear of being a burden on my children loomed large. I was lucky enough to be amongst those who are “cured” with surgery, but the fear of relapse is always in the back of my mind.
Here we are again — facing an entirely different, yet terrible threat that has already claimed more American lives than the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Government leaders and health care workers liken the COVID-19 pandemic to war. So far, my family has been spared. Still, I worry because testing continues to be elusive and everyday thousands of people appear to be spreading a virus they don’t even know they have. The stories of sickness, death, and people losing businesses and jobs, my kids being some of those people without employment, and worrying about which bills they must pay, make me weep. It hardly matters if we turn away from the news and our social media feeds. The silent screams of this pandemic are deafening.
Is it any wonder everyone’s feeling unmoored in the face of such massive fear and uncertainty? As someone who focuses on helping others cultivate resilience, I’m having to remind myself of what it means to grapple with the kind of looming unknowns that terrorist acts, cancer, and now, COVID-19 present. Don’t count on me to sugar coat these events. Life is full of random, unfair hardships. But I know from hard experience that we are often far more resilient than we realize.
What does it meant to be resilient? We recognize that we have choices. We accept the circumstances while doing all we can to push forward in our lives. We know ourselves — know what triggers us, calms, us, inspires us, motivates us. And we learn strategies to move us in the direction we want to go. The goal is never to get someplace quick. Resilience requires thoughtful intention. Resilient people understand that no matter how dire the situation, we are never truly stuck — ever. We allow ourselves to wrestle with fear, sadness, frustration and pain, and then we work to reimagine new possibilities. Forget about a lifetime of misery! Because we are resilient, we recognize where we are and where we want to be, and we allow ourselves to feel cautiously optimistic about the future.
Here are 7 ways to live with greater resilience in a COVID-19 world. See which ones work best for you.
1. Express yourself.
Write it out. Talk it out. Do what you must to unburden your fears. There’s a trove of research about how writing to better understand and learn from our emotions, strengthens our immune systems and minds.
2. Release stress through laughter.
Watch comedy reruns or Saturday Night Live. I try to look at a silly cartoon or graphic about the absurdity of our situation every day. I send silly jokes to my grandkids and know that their parents are laughing too. It’s not only okay to laugh, it’s healing. Take a look at The Mayo Clinic’s prescription for laughter here.
3. Stretch yourself.
This is probably not the time to tackle a huge, long-term goal. How about organizing the medicine cabinet or planting your favorite herbs in a pot?
4. Give your mind a break.
Wiggle your toes. Take a walk and smell the fragrant spring air. Listen to music. Meditate. Your fears won’t necessarily go away but your grip on them might.
5. Show empathy.
Worry and fear can keep us trapped in our own egos and mental silos. It’s not necessary to be heroic. How about making a simple phone call to a friend or sending a “thinking of you” letter? “Empathy is the game-changer. It is the trait that will ultimately save the world,” -Judith Orloff M.D.
6. Think of a time you triumphed over a challenge before.
It doesn’t matter how small. What matters is that you transitioned to a different place.
7. Have faith
Your presence in the universe matters. It’s just as astronomer Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Cautious optimism. Believe.
I’m rooting for all of us.