Want to Increase your Resilience in Times of Uncertainty? Cultivate Community
#1 of 7 research-backed ways to grow your resilience in the face of uncertainty.
What is Resilience?
Dealing with change, setbacks, loss, and grief is an inevitable and normal part of life.
Resilience is the psychological strength that allows some people to adapt, thrive, and/or return to their baseline faster after adverse experiences happen.
Resilient people are emotionally agile — they don’t ignore bad events or negative feelings, nor do they wallow in negative emotions. They have a “fitting” emotional response — neither overblown, nor callous, nor insensitive.
Fortunately, a person is not “resilient” or “not resilient”- you can always become more resilient:
Resilience is a set of skills that can be grown through practice, not a static trait.
But what happens when normal for everyone changes dramatically and seemingly overnight? In times of extreme collective uncertainty and adversity, like that posed by our new COVID-19 reality, it’s particularly important we all practice resilience daily so we can maintain our health, compassion, grace, and equanimity in the face of change and fear.
This is the first in a series of 10 research-backed ways to grow your resilience daily. Recently, I was asked to speak on a panel about resilience and how to cultivate it for Nobl Collective, which prompted me to write this series for myself as I prepared; I hope it will now be helpful to others.
The first practice is arguably the most important: Cultivating Connection & Community.
Why is Connection Important for Resilience?
One of our most basic human needs is to feel connected to others. This is both in terms of interpersonal relationships, and in terms of feeling like we belong to a larger group.
Our need for human connection is so strong that loneliness can literally make you fall ill and more likely to die. The stronger the relationships and the more love you cultivate in your life, the less ill and less depressed you’re likely to be, and the more likely you’ll be to recover after financial or emotional hardship.
Social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s work on positivity resonance — the “micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being” — has helped illuminate how moments of connection affect us physiologically in a positive way. When we connect with others, our bodies release oxytocin, dopamine, and our vagal tone improves (the vagus nerve connects the brain and the heart and regulates the heartbeat). Oxytocin has been found to modulate aggression, anxiety, and improve social behavior, and to improve social cognition (people’s ability to read other’s emotions). Furthermore, oxytocin is a primary defense against stress and fear reactions by allowing our body to recover from moments of fear or stress faster: it literally grows resilience.
This means we need others to become more physically and psychologically resilient. We become healthier, physically and psychologically, and more able to endure hardship, when we connect frequently with others, which means:
Resilience is as much a property of communities as it is of individuals.
Actually, it’s more of a property of communities than of individuals because beyond our body’s ability to recover, our networks also contribute to our ability to navigate difficult financial and emotional hardship. Resilient individuals — those able to persist and thrive through hard times — are the ones most likely to have cultivated a personal network whose resources they can draw on.
Resilience is not about personal strength: resilient individuals and resilient communities have strong social bonds. We all go through hard times; it’s the people who show up for us that get us through those times, not just our own personal grit.
Cultivating connection makes it “we” not “me” facing any particular challenge: we are stronger together.
Practices to Cultivate Community & Connection
1. Ask yourself, “how can I serve?”
Interestingly, oftentimes the best way to build connection is through giving. It’s through giving we feel connected, and through receiving that we allow others to feel connected.
o What’s one nice thing you could do for someone else today?
It doesn’t have to be big — just set out to brighten someone’s day with a compliment, a call, help with a chore, or a letter or small gift. I recently moved and a few different friends sent me handwritten cards to my new address, which made me feel very connected — and inspired to write more handwritten cards to other friends.
o What’s one unexpected thing you could do for others you don’t even know?
One thing I like to do is buy a $10 giftcard at Starbucks and give it to the cashier for them to buy coffee for “someone who looks like they need it today”. I like that this has a triple effect: I get to give, the cashier gets to give, and someone gets to receive and feel like their community is generous and caring. Given the COVID reality, is there a local business you could reach out to and ask what they need to make it through the shelter-in-place? Or, could you sponsor a meal for a family who needs it more? Or, many communities are doing their own fundraising to help with rent, food, and other necessities for the most impacted.
2. Actively Make Time to Connect
If you can, automate reminders or create rituals to make sure you stay connected even when life is busy. Relationships take shared experience and attention, in person or from afar. My friends live all over the world, which makes it hard to stay feeling connected. With some of my closest friends, I’ve created recurring bi-weekly, tri-weekly, monthly, or every six-week calls with them. It’s on our calendars so that I don’t have to remember to keep in touch or wonder how long it’s been — if we can’t make it, we just reschedule for another time that day or the next day. In my normal non-COVID life, I host monthly community dinners — everyone is invited to bring something to share, usually 15–30 show up and I get to both interact with many friends, and connect them to one another, without too much coordinating.
Listen & share deeply: Make sure at least some of the conversations you have are a real, deep conversation with someone (or many people, 1:1 or in groups!) you care about. Conversations in which you both listen deeply, and are able to share from your heart. There are many cards and games that help you come up with questions, or you can follow these questions for falling in love (it’s not just for romantic love ). You can create a weekly ritual with your partner or friends, or just leave it free flow. When I’m home visiting with family, I try to make sure I get some amount of 1:1 time with each member, not just group dinners.
3. Reflect on your Connections Daily
Take time every day to reflect on the times you felt connected with someone else over the course of the last 24 hours. If you journal, it’s great to write this down (and then you can go back and look at patterns later one), but if not, just reflect on and savor those moments of connection during your morning coffee or at night before you sleep. Then, consider how you’ll actively create more positive connections in the next 24 hours. Reflecting on these moments and savoring connections makes you feel more connected, and can promote positive upward spirals toward more connection and emotional well-being. Practicing lovingkindness (metta) meditation every day is another way to build this into your life.
Additional COVID-19 Specific Ideas:
I reached out to friends to hear how they were adapting their ways of connecting given the COVID-19 reality…here are a few crowd-sourced ideas
· Weekly movie nights via zoom. I’m doing this with a bunch of girlfriends every Saturday night. We have a 30 minute catch-up, then all press play on our agreed-upon movie at the same time, then have a group chat throughout on our reactions.
· House Party App for virtual parties with games and quizzes.
· Sending handwritten letters and notes (extra bonus is helping out USPS while also fostering connection!)
· Creating surprise gift baskets (Easter, May Day, Spring Welcome) and delivering them to friends/neighbors (great for kids or adults!)
· Poker tournament via online site + zoom.
· Co-working — virtual style — have FaceTime, Hangouts, Zoom, or Skype up, but then just work “in the same room” with a friend or colleague.
· Virtual dance parties!
· Book clubs (we have an amazing one for REENVISIONED with educators across the country that meets monthly). Connect across time zones and through ideas.
To Learn More
John Gottman is a clinical psychologist and expert on trust and building healthy relationships, his books are here. Barbara Fredrickson is a social psychologist who has done a ton of research on positivity resonance — the biochemical response that underlies positive emotion in connection. There are interesting resources on her book website. GreaterGood has excellent research-based articles, podcasts, and resources for relationships.
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