By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

It hasn’t been easy for many people. But easy or hard, it hasn’t been normal for anyone.

And not being normal is harder on some people than others.

Consider the new brand of humor making the rounds:

  • I don't think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks we'd go from Standard Time to the Twilight Zone.
  • Classified Ad: Single man with toilet paper seeks woman with hand sanitizer for good clean fun.
  • Day 3 of home-schooling: It’s going well -- two students suspended for fighting and one teacher fired for drinking on the job.
  • PSA: try on your jeans every few days just to make sure they fit. Pajamas will have you believe all is well in the kingdom.
  • Quarantine Day 5: Went to this restaurant called THE KITCHEN. You have to gather all the ingredients and make your own meal. I have no clue how this place is still in business.
  • Day 6 of Homeschooling: My child just said, "I hope I don't have the same teacher next year.”

Perhaps the most illustrative piece of humor circulating is this: “Half of us are going to come out of this quarantine as amazing cooks. The other half will come out with a drinking problem.”

Yes, no doubt some cope better than others. But it’s also true that we all can become better at it.

Stress is the new normal

I daresay everyone has felt some stress – whether you’re well or sick … whether you’ve been laid off or had a double load of work dumped on you … whether you’re totally isolated or packed into a tiny place with your family like sardines.

It’s been rough no matter what your particular challenges. But it always helps to be resilient.

And that’s a trait you can actually foster.

Five ways to being more resilient

Here are five tips for being more resilient, borrowed from Eric Barker, author of Barking up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong.

1. Engage in positive self-talk: When we aren’t talking to others, most of us “self-talk” almost constantly. Often we’re not even aware of it. So be more aware. An abundance of research shows that how we talk to ourselves really does make a difference. Try to keep your focus on positives. Be nice to yourself. Recall your successes, even small ones. Be encouraging. Be assuring.

2. Strive for physical fitness: Research shows that when we purposefully stress your body a little bit every day, it helps us handle the big stresses when they show up. We are physically stronger to deal with them – which is especially critical with Covid-19 on the prowl. But we’re also mentally stronger too, because being more fit brings with it more energy and confidence.

3. Make a challenge a game: Often when we encounter an obstacle, we just want to quit. But when the challenge comes to us in a game, we’re often driven to jump in – sometimes even play until we win. So when we turn challenges into games, we do better. For example, prioritize your goals and make them “levels” of achievement in your Life Game or Quarantine Game or Goals Game. Give it a try. It can’t hurt.

4. See the humor: Many people in our military’s special forces talk about the importance of humor in getting them through the rigor of qualifying for their elite units. Vow to smile or laugh at least once a day. Watch a funny show on TV or on YouTube. Read funny stuff on Facebook, wherever. Share it to magnify its therapeutic power. Times of crisis generate a lot of “gallows humor” (see above). Stake out some time for humor in your harried life.

5. Embrace meaning: You might think that in times of crisis, people increase their chance of survival by looking out for themselves first. If so, you would be wrong. Research shows that those who get through life-threatening situations improved their odds of survival by reaching out and helping others. That’s because when you’re helping others, you rise above your fears. You become a rescuer rather than a victim. “Seeing how your leadership and skill buoy others up gives you more focus and energy to persevere,” Barker says. Then “the cycle reinforces itself,” he adds. “You buoy them up, and their response buoys you up.”

Connections a key

Barker reports that even many who go through their survival ordeal alone physically are actually linked to others mentally. They say, for example, that “they were doing it for someone else -- a wife, boyfriend, mother, son -- back home.” That keeps them from giving up and gets them through the ordeal.

Religious belief helps

Other research reported by Barker “found religious belief among survivors to be the single most powerful force in explaining the tragedy and in explaining survival.” Here belief matters, but so does behavior. Being connected to a community of faith helps. Just being “spiritual but not religious” doesn’t cover that.

At the same time, those with no religious faith can embrace some form of meaning in life that really matters to them and often is rooted in a deep connection with others.


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