Personal resilience in times of a pandemic. Tips for growing from adversity.

It has never happened before. We have never handled a situation like this in recent history.

Absolutely unexpected. 

Never have so many people in the world been concerned about the same issue at the same time (the last time we felt this way, it was during World War II).

Be it COVID-19, or the next pandemic (just taking a look at the work of some scientists and historical evolution, you understand that there will be more), these times of fragility come along with a daily flow of negative, concerning and, sometimes, overwhelming information. 

So, it is normal to feel overwhelmed, unmotivated, anxious and suffer poor sleep quality.

You might wonder, what is going to happen now?

To address this vulnerability, the feeling that we are not in control of what is happening, we have analysed one of the most powerful survival tools in this psychologically-challenging scenario.

Resilience.

RESILIENCE, in capital letters, is the trick we have up our sleeves and is at the heart of the first Vigmar Talks.

These talks are designed for the Vigmar team and for our closest circle of clients and collaborators, and we are launching them with Andreu Gatuellas, psychologist, certified coach and trainer specialised in Emotional Intelligence and Personal Skills.

We turn to him to try to understand (ourselves) in the ‘new normal’, as individuals, as professionals, and as a team.

His words were so loud and so clear to us that I want, we want, to share with you this great learning. 

Human beings channel the feeling of not being in control through fear. 

Our brain is engineered to survive. It is our mammal response. 

In stressful situations, our sanity goes down the drain and our brain opens the ‘brain 999’ line. 

This is when the so-called ‘amygdala hijack’, a defensive reaction of the brain, takes place. This is when we lose our temper and self-control, and do or say things we will probably regret.

Sounds familiar?

(Andreu’s tip: when this happens, it is better to take a step back, not say a thing nor make any decision).

When our amygdala, which are in charge of generating a defensive response, are very active, they hijack the conscious control of our behaviour. It is like they abducted our reason, our common sense, so we behave, in plain language, like idiots.

Amygdala are not only activated by anger or fear. They are also triggered by what Andreu calls ‘the curse of the right prefrontal cortex’.

It is the source of 99 % of our misery.

The ‘curse of the right prefrontal cortex’ is like a window into the future. So, as we look into the future, we can also anticipate great tragedies.

The right prefrontal cortex has a ‘direct line’ with the amygdala. And that is the curse. We are capable of imagining the worst things that could happen. And the amygdala, which are not very rational folks, believe everything we tell them, they get triggered and send a signal to release cortisol into the blood. We just get ready to raise hell.

So, we build up stories that will either not happen or, if they do, will not be nearly as severe as we have imagined. These stories exist only in our minds.

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. (Mark Twain)

It is normal to be afraid.

Do not eliminate the fear. Transform it, cause this is for real.

Turn it into a controlled fear. Change it into the smart, good part of fear: caution.

In companies, and in society in general, fear should be transformed into a zero-risk culture. A culture where we all take care of each other. And we prioritise mutual respect. 

How can we increase resilience at a personal level?

Resilience is the ability of a material to withstand energy, whether from impact, friction, temperature, pressure…

For people, it would be the ability not to break down and to grow from adversity.

The good news is that a person’s resilience is not a fixed value, but can be trained and build up.

5 habits of resilient people

(who also do better in life) 

Andreu Gatuellas shared 5 tips that, although you may think are common sense, have a catch: you have to put them into practice.

A resilient person knows how to recover from setbacks. They affect us all, no exception.

Knowing these tips is half the battle. Without action, knowledge is often meaningless.

Self-help books do not work because people read them 

but they do not apply the knowledge. (Eduard Punset)

So, what does a resilient person do?

1. They have personal-recovery times in their daily lives. 

They generate routines to recover energy. 

Two fundamental actions for this: The first is to sweat. Your brain is happier when you move. When you sweat for an hour, 3 times a week, you generate endorphins, an internal opiate that makes you feel great, is anxiolytic and calms you. Improves your emotional tone and your immune system goes into overdrive. 

The second action, our brain needs silence. An increasingly scarce commodity due to the life we lead. The brain needs to have moments of disconnection. Small meditation routines once a day. As a way of resetting your brain and giving it a little bit of silence.

(Andreu’s tip: practice breathing 6-4.  Set the timer to 10-15 minutes. Find a quiet space. Breathe in to the count of 4 and breathe out to the count of 6.

In this way, you activate the vagus nerve, which calms the heart and relaxes the pericardium. Tremendously healthy for the heart and nervous system.

Important: when breathing out you must surrender, let go, release.)

2. Invest in others.

The people around you are the best source of personal resilience there is. 

Being kind and caring about personal relationships, both at work and away from it, is the smartest thing you can do to increase your personal resilience.

What has made us successful as humans over the centuries is our ability to work as a team, in society. To go for more. 

The fact that we are loved, valued, makes us very happy. When there are good vibes, when we laugh with someone, when someone is nice, and also when we help someone, when we make peace with someone… we generate oxytocin. 

It’s in times of stress that we need each other the most.

(Andreu’s tip: if you want to lower someone’s cortisol and increase their oxytocin, that is, do them a wonderful favour, just listen to them. Being listened to feels great on a neurochemical level.)

3. It reduces mental noise.

It is very difficult to concentrate on the present. There are many people who live more in the future and in the past than in the present. 

90% of the problem is not what happens. It’s what you tell yourself about what’s going to happen. 

The only antidote to mental noise is the attention mechanism because it disables the concern mechanism. 

You can’t be worrying and attentive at the same time.

(Andreu’s tip: on ‘bad days’ learn to control your attention. Choose anything that requires your attention but does not involve social interaction. Make up an Excel sheet, send an e-mail, prepare an order… Try to consciously focus your attention on that task for half an hour or an hour. In that time frame of full attention, the world disappears and so does the anguish.)

4. Direct your attention to the control circle, which depends solely on you. 

The more time you spend on the things that do depend on you (control circle), the less time, energy and attention you devote to the things that do not depend on you (concern circle). 

And there are many things that depend on us that improve our lives. In the times that we are currently living, an excellent way to increase our power over fear is to focus on what is actually under our control (I’ll put on a mask, wash my hands, respect social distancing). 

And be stubborn about it.

5. Practice active optimism.

Optimists aren’t the ones who think everything’s going to be fine. They’re the ones who think it’s possible. (Martin Seligman).

What differentiates optimists from pessimists are explanatory styles. Pessimists magnify the bad. It is not that optimists deny it, they just give it its own space but no more. Optimists limit time and pessimists eternalise it. 

Pessimists let the negative weigh on their self-esteem, on themselves. Optimists feel they can do something about it. They say, ‘Maybe I can’t now, but give me time. Let me prepare myself.’ They focus on their control circle and train themselves to achieve what they want to achieve.

So, now more than ever, it is time to practice resilience. I hope that this reading has been useful to you and that it accompanies you in the moments when you need to remind yourself that our well-being depends on each one of us. 

Warmest regards, we will see you soon

3 de Septiembre 2020 – LinkedIn.