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Developing Resilience During COVID

One of my favorite lines from the time I was doing professional development was, “I don’t have time to learn time and stress management.”

Well, now (most of) you do.  It seems that, for many of us, right now amidst the quarantine the stress comes not from feeling like you have too much to do, but from feeling like you are being corralled away from the things feel you need to do, or what you want to do.

Someone mentioned to me yesterday that the traditional in-person education community would never have had the will to move to the online space, and yet they have done so within a matter of days or weeks.  I think we can say the same about our consumption of fossil fuels and material goods… all the willpower and political will in the world would not have accomplished what COVID has in a matter of weeks.

The same is true for us and our individual lives.  Many of the things we thought we had to do, things we couldn’t imagine parting with, we can’t have or do any more.

The things we should’ve been doing all along, but haven’t had time or priority for, are what is now available to us and staring us in the face.   Exercising.  Cooking.  Rest.  Reading.  Cleaning our houses.  Investing in personal or professional development.  Getting organized.  Spending time talking to your loved ones, even if by Skype.  Reflecting.  Meditating.  Praying.  Connecting with nature.  Gardening.  Dreaming about who we are and what we could do with our lives and our futures.

Learning to be more resilient.

Practicing to be more present.

Finding sources of comfort which are available to us right now, when it feels like everything has been taken away.

I’ve had a jump start on this process since I’ve been finding comfort-in-place since my late husband fell sick two years ago.  I wasn’t isolated because of pandemic, but because of the need to care for my husband, and then because of my grief.  I also had very few friends in the area who would come keep me company, so I’m somewhat experienced in learning to tolerate isolation and deprivation.

But this feels different in many ways, and I’ve had to develop new strategies.

What worked then was to be as present as possible, and do so in the presence of nature.  I’d sit on my back porch, watch the forest, listen to the creek, and walk the dogs.  I’d meditate to cultivate my ability to be present.  I’d notice emotions, such as despair, sadness, grief, and eventually gratitude and hope, as they would flow through me.  I’d name the emotions, allowing the more challenging ones to dissipate.

What worked then isn’t necessarily working for me now.  In Athens GA, I could sit on my porch 10 months per year due to the warmth of the climate.  Right now in Richmond, my porch is too cold most of the time.  I can’t even go sit in a coffee shop to soak up human energy.  My dog walks are just not cutting it.

I’ve had to create new strategies.  This is a work in progress but it’s improving.

First, I’m taking longer walks, both with and without the dogs.  I’m going slower, to be more present.  I’m exploring new trails which makes it interesting and exciting.  There are people out and about, and seeing them even from afar is comforting.

Second, my Director of Earth Programs, Kimberly Andrews and I are learning to garden, caring for ourselves and Earth in the process (see our ad for our new Youtube Series, Brown Thumbs Turn Green).  I’m able to flex my care muscles for my tiny seeds and seedlings, and the idea actually has me jumping out of bed each day.

Third, I’m dreaming of the future where we reap the benefits of this tragedy by maintaining and growing the positive habits we’ve adopted because of the quarantine.

Imagine that, in the future, we commute less to work, decreasing pollution and increasing our available free time.  We’re creating resilience for our quality of life.

Imagine that, in the future, we spend more time with our loved ones and in our communities.   We’re creating resilience in our relationships.

Imagine that, in the future, we continue to spend time in nature, exercising, and being present.  We’re creating physical, mental, and spiritual health and resilience.

Imagine that, in the future, we do not resume the tasks and projects that we thought were so important, but we committed to more out of habit.  We now have time for what matters the most, including feeling connected to our purpose and to our values.

Imagine that, in the future, we decrease our consumption of unnecessary goods and services, creating financial and environmental sustainability and resilience for us and for Earth.  Imagine also that we cannot conceive of going back to the mindset and practices that allowed us to damage our ecosystem and our financial health in the first place.  We’re helping Earth to heal, and in so doing, facilitating our own healing in the process.

Imagine that, in the future, we replace the jobs that feel meaningless to us to do the work that we love and that can also pay our more modest bills (since we’ve downsized our lives).  Our daydreams where we live our true purpose becomes a reality for us.  Though a painful process, we will create richer, more meaningful and fulfilling lives for ourselves.

Imagine that, in the future, we savor every moment, every day, because now we know that life, good health, and even the roof over our heads are precious and not to be taken for granted.  We create a sense of wellbeing for what we’ve always had available to us, and improve our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

This dream of a more beautiful future does not diminish the challenges that we face right now, but provides hope.  Change is hard under the best of circumstances.   But think about it this way:  to create these changes when things are going well is nearly impossible.  Change that is required due to disaster makes the impossible a reality.

The impossible reality is upon us, and having hope and a vision for a better life can help us weather the challenge right now and create the outcome that we desire.

What really matters to you now that all the frills, and some of the necessities are stripped away?  Your new life is here to be created, limited only by your imagination and your commitment to it.