woman with mask social distancing

Resilience: Thriving During COVID-19

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By Dr. Debra Kawahara 

Resilience is being discussed during this pandemic as a way to help people cope and deal with COVID-19 in a positive way. Resilience is defined as the process of adjusting well in the times of adversity, trauma, threats, and significant sources of stress. Simply put, it is a bouncing back from a hard situation and it can potentially lead to personal growth.  It is believed that we may not have control over the situation, but we can choose how we respond to it, which is where resilient strategies come into play. From my research of articles, webinars, podcasts, and other informational sources, I narrowed it down to three resilient strategies that you can do to cope with the current pandemic.

1. Accepting that suffering is part of life.

This is just a fact.  We all experience things in our lives that are difficult and painful.  Deaths. Accidents. Loss of a job. Infidelity. Miscarriage. Cancer. Betrayal. Bad things happen in life to everyone and there is no way around it.  However, it seems like this has been forgotten and there is a belief that one should be happy all the time or have fortunate circumstances.  Otherwise, you did something that caused you to be unhappy or have this bad thing happen to you (what we call in psychology the just world belief).

A common belief among resilient people is that suffering is a part of life.  When people are able to acknowledge and accept this, it appears that they are better able to cope with the situation, which is part of resilience.  It does not mean that you are passive in your life and things just happen to you.  It means that you know that these things will happen and when they do, you gather your strengths and skills to deal with these situations and events when they do happen as opposed to asking “why me?”

2. Being optimistic and having gratitude.

Resilient people have good selective attention and realistically appraise the things that they can control and those things that they can’t control.  Our bodies are wired to protect us from threat and harm so we naturally tend to look for and remember things that are negative or painful so we can attempt to prevent the harm and pain to ourselves.  

What we can do is make an intentional and deliberate effort to be positive and be grateful.   Martin Seligman and his research team conducted a 6-month study where individuals were instructed to think about three good things each day.  In the end, those who engaged in this gratitude activity were found to be happier, more grateful, and less sad.  Whether it is a gratitude journal or thinking about 2-3 things in your life to be grateful on a daily basis, it has been shown to be make you resilient.

3. Doing what is good for you and not doing what is bad for you. 

Asking the question “Is what I’m doing good for me or bad for me?” is the third resilient strategy.  The answer will then guide you to differentiate whether engaging in something is healthy or helpful or is it damaging or harmful, ultimately assisting in the decision-making process of whether you should do or not.  This is a simple way of assessing what the impact of an act or behavior will have on you.

For instance, a friend recently was sent to the hospital for the virus and I was receiving reports of her health fluctuating.  Some days were good; on other days, her health deteriorated.  I found myself feeling sad, anxious and helpless on the days that I received bad news.  I knew that this was not good for me so I thought about what I could do that would be good for me.  I reached out to close friends who also know her and we talked about what we appreciated and admired about our friend.  We also remembered good memories that we spent with her.  I also took some time to be sad about what my friend is experiencing now by writing in my journal. 

While these are not panaceas to solve all of life’s problems, there are some strategies that you can take charge of your life by using your resilient muscles.  Not only are they within your reach, they can be used at any time wherever you are.  

About the Author

Debra M. Kawahara, Ph.D., is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Distinguished Professor for the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University.

Known as a multicultural feminist scholar and practitioner, her work centers on multicultural and feminist psychology; Asian American mental health, family systems and therapeutic processes; and the delivery of culturally competent services and supervision.

She is widely published and has presented at national, state, and local conferences. In 2018, she became the Editor of Women & Therapy and is also a Fellow of Asian American Psychological Association and APA Divisions 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women) and 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race).

In recognition of her work, several awards have been bestowed on her, including an APA Presidential Citation in 2019, the Shining Star Award at the National Multicultural Conference & Summit in 2017, Division 45's Distinguished Career Contributions for Service Award in 2015, and Division 35's Pioneer Award (Section 5, Asian Pacific Islander Women) in 2012.
 

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