What can I tell you that you haven’t yet heard about how to thrive in these uncertain times? Is it even possible or are we simply reduced to survival?

We are constantly being exhorted to show “kindness”, however for many of us, myself included, the unprecedented health catastrophe has heralded unforeseen and sudden financial and lifestyle challenges. The prospect or reality of reduced economic circumstances, the social disruption, the isolation and anxiety we’re feeling – all of these are perceived as a threat, causing our brain wiring to process fear and respond accordingly. Once our primitive brain system is activated, our fight/flight/freeze pattern is triggered. This is when we may not show up as the best version of ourselves.

It’s hard to beat wiring, but you can bring forward more of your “new brain”, the civilised, more evolved part of our cognitive functioning. The way to do that is to focus on conscious steps to respond differently when our system is feeling under threat.

As you are acclimatising, remember that the aim is adaptation. This requires internal adjustment of expectations as well as realignment of values and actions. Here I offer just two ways in which you can enrich your experience in these difficult global times.

1. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Research suggests that being both gives you a greater prospect of contentment. Optimists can maintain unrealistic outlooks which could delude them into a false sense of control over their outcome. Pessimists pride themselves on seeing the raw, unvarnished “truth” and can drive themselves into low mood and demotivation through the enormity of the tasks they perceive before them.

“Realistic optimists” combine the positive outlook of optimists with the rational, unemotional perspective of pessimists. You have a clear-eyed view of your current struggles and the challenges ahead. This facilitates creativity, judgment, pro-active decision-making and a sense of self-control.

A big part of thriving in adversity is maintaining a sense of purpose, meaning, and self-control. Thinking, “I have no choice”, paints you into a corner. If you consider, “I have choices, some of which are less palatable than others,” then your brain appreciates the capacity for self-direction.

2. Maintain structure: We are fundamentally creatures of habit and our system responds well when we follow a structured outline to the day. This is not to suggest rigid time-slots, but rather to continue to set yourself goals to be achieved each day.

There is a wealth of information currently available about online exercise classes, the importance of phoning rather than texting, opportunities for video-social gatherings while maintaining social distancing requirements, and myriad lists of recommended podcasts, YouTube videos and audiobooks you might discover.

For some useful tips and inspiration, try these resources^ :
How to Get Through This Crisis from The School of Life
The Great “Meaning” Trend, by Mark Manson
Michael Singer – books and online course
• Reading in Reclusion – ebooks from The School of Life

Something that may not be so useful is binge-watching the news. While it’s important to keep up-to-date with how the coronavirus pandemic is unfolding, it’s also essential that we don’t constantly re-traumatise. Turn off the TV, stop looking at your phone – you don’t need that kind of background noise! Restricting your time spent revisiting unfolding negative events can help you maintain an informed yet balanced approach to managing yourself against a context of global distress.

Do something every day for exercise, relaxation, connection; invest your time in something that feels important to you. But also, take time to notice and possibly even to value the enforced “pause” in your daily activities. These are necessary steps in the right direction to giving life meaning, under any circumstance.

Still struggling?

If you have tried these ideas and you still feel you are struggling to regain your internal balance, seek professional support. Persistent feelings of hopelessness or distress are a sign that your system needs a helping hand in its recovery.

Or if you or others are noticing that your work performance, home life, or interpersonal relationships are suffering, or that you are struggling to get through your life activities, this can also be a sign that your resilience could do with a boost.

Help is available: The pain associated with the human condition is inevitable; but suffering is not. If you are struggling emotionally, not feeling like your usual self and can’t seem to find your way back, then see your GP or mental health professional. They will help you to access support workers trained in addressing emotional reactions following life challenges* .

The Australian Federal Government has also offered telehealth benefits for health services, so even in isolation you are NOT alone. Sometimes, what you need is a personal “mentor”, such as a psychologist or counsellor, to guide you through and help to get you back on track. Medicare rebates may apply for telehealth under 2020 Covid-19 health provisions. Contact your GP for further information.

[^] Note that I receive no financial benefit from any of my endorsements. My suggestions are based on personal opinion and do not substitute for professional support or advice.

[*] Find a Psychologist (NZ); Find a Psychologist (Aust)