Are You More Resilient Than You Think? Dealing With Challenges Post Covid-19

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown, one element of us all that has been well and truly tested is our resilience. We've all had to cope with changes to our usual habits and patterns and we've all faced restrictions on leaving home. Whilst we all face challenges throughout our lives at one time or another, it's rare for a countrywide, and even worldwide, challenge to affect so many at one time.

As time passes and the rate of cases and deaths continue to drop here in the UK, more and more the focus turns to life after lockdown and the gradual return to more of a sense of normality, albeit that social distancing may be here to stay for quite some time yet.

For many of you, lockdown may have taken a toll on your mental health with increased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Some of the things that you may usually do to feel better, such as socialising, getting out, and some forms of exercise are not available at all or in the usual way. Combined with these changes to normality is the risk to health from catching the disease, financial worries, home schooling and a sense of being confined and trapped in a situation where you aren't in control.

Certainly your resilience has already been tested, and when the lockdown is lifted or relaxed, that resilience may be needed to an even great extent.

Resilience and Covid-19

The dictionary defines resilience as 'the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness' and a person is considered to be resilient if they are 'able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.'  It encompasses handling challenges, being able to adapt whilst maintaining your mental health and sense of well-being, and being able to 'bounce-back' after facing your difficulties.

I've written before about how to deal with life under lockdown itself, and following that advice will help you to deal with your current challenges and so develop and exercise resilience in your life. Have a read here:

How To Cope With Coronavirus Anxiety

Free Stress Relief Hypnosis Download to Help During Coronavirus Lockdown

More Ways To Deal With Anxiety - Mental Health During Coronavirus and Beyond

The more you focus on the right things, take action on things you can control, manage your time and thinking and engage in constructive activities like exercise, eating healthily and getting enough sleep, the better you will feel (and do be sure to download my free hypnosis audio to boost your mental health too!).

As well as those with elevated anxiety and stress, we must also keep in mind that there will be many people who were already struggling with their mental health before all of this and who may have continued to struggle or found things even harder.

Whilst a lot of the focus has been on physical health (those contracting Covid-19), their treatment and the economic consequences of the pandemic, there is some research evidence for the extent of anxiety, depression, stress and Covid-19 related anxiety in the UK. 

Shevlin et al (Anxiety, Depression, Traumatic Stress, and COVID-19 Related Anxiety in the UK General Population During the COVID-19 Pandemic, April 2020, not peer reviewed) assessed the mental health impact of the current pandemic. They investigated the prevalence of Covid-19 related anxiety, generalised anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms in a representative sample of the UK population during an early phase of the pandemic.

They found that there were higher reported levels of anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms compared to previous population studies, but not dramatically so. Anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms were predicted by young age, presence of children in the home, and high estimates of personal risk. Anxiety and depression symptoms were also predicted by low income, loss of income, and pre-existing health conditions in self and other. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the reported nature of the virus, specific anxiety about Covid-19 was greater in older participants.

Shelvin et al concluded that,

"The UK population, especially older citizens, were largely resilient in the early stages of the pandemic. However, several specific COVID-related variables are associated with psychological distress: particularly having children at home, loss of income because of the pandemic, as well as having a pre-existing health condition, exposure to the virus and high estimates of personal risk."

Of course, this is just a snapshot and from the earlier stages of the lockdown so it is uncertain to what extent, if any, mental health issues and emotional distress may have altered over time. It's possible that over an extended period, anxiety, stress and depression have worsened as things persist, whilst equally it may be that others have adjusted to life under lockdown and have accepted it and got used to a new way of living.  

Again, perhaps unsurprisingly, the people who face specific health or financial challenges and difficulties are, based upon this research, those most likely to be facing psychological distress. Those whose income has been affected, who have children living in the home and who have pre-existing health conditions that make them vulnerable to the more serious effects of the Covid-19 virus are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression and stress symptoms.

As the focus slowly starts to shift (at least here in the UK) to what life after lockdown may look like, there are still many unknowns that can feed into anxiety, depression and stress. 

resilience dealing with challenges covid19

Once we are out and about more, we will need to remain vigilant and social distance to protect ourselves and others and so life will not return to normal for some time. Those with health anxiety or who are most vulnerable may have anxiety about being out and around others more and the increased risk of contracting the disease. There are questions about schools and how having all the children together may impact on the spread of the disease, as well as worries about their education itself. Many will have been hit hard financially and being able to work may be a relief but there will be the ongoing stresses of meeting any debts accrued and a potential reduction in employment levels and opportunities. And many hundreds of others may still be coming to terms with having lost a loved one in such challenging times.

Whenever, and however, the lockdown is lifted, we will all need to be resilient as we move from one set of challenges to another, and as we all aim to recover and bounce back whilst also adjusting to he fact that life may not return to how it was for quite some time.

Are You More Resilient Than You Think?

If you are struggling with your mental health, and you are experiencing anxiety, depression or stress symptoms, then it may go hand in hand to doubt your own ability to handle, deal and cope with challenges in your life.  

Yet it turns out that we are all kind of poor at estimating our own resilience and ability to handle challenges and set backs that may occur. We tend to inaccuratly predict how we will respond to emotional life events.

For example,  the end of a relationship is a pretty distressing and disruptive event that could happen to you. Yet research shows that people predict they will be more distressed than they actually are following the break up. That's not to say that people don't experience any distress, but their predicted level of distress was was higher then it actually turned out to be in reality. As Eastwick et al (Mispredicting distress following romantic breakup: Revealing the time course of the affective forecasting error, 2008), "a romantic breakup is apparently not as upsetting as the average individual believes it will be."

In another research paper, Gilbert et al (Immune neglect: a source of durability bias in affective forecasting, 1998) write how their studies "offer evidence for the existence of a durability bias in affective forecasting. In our studies, students, professors, voters, newspaper readers, test takers, and job seekers overestimated the duration of their affective reactions to romantic disappointments, career difficulties, political defeats, distressing news, clinical devaluations, and personal rejections." Once again, our predictions are inaccurate. People tend to overestimate the impact that future events will have on their emotions.

And Sieff et al (Anticipated versus actual reaction to HIV test results, 1999), found that people predict they will be more distressed by a positive HIV test result than they experience when they get that result.

And there are other studies (a couple listed below) that cover similar ground.  We tend to persistently and erroneously predict that the emotional impact of an event will be greater than is actually the case. That is, we are more resilient than we think we are.

This means that whatever your thoughts about the impacts and challenges that face you post lockdown, your predictions of the emotional impact are likely to be greater than will actually turn out to be the case.  

There are a couple of potential factors for this discrepancy between predicted and actual distress. 

 Firstly, we tend to overlook our own 'psychological immune system.' That is, your ability to make sense of, and subsequently reduce the impact of negative events. Combined with this, is this issue of 'focalism' which refers to your tendency to focus only on the emotional event in question when making a forecast and ignoring other life events that could raise or lower your distress in the wake of the event.

"At the time of prediction, people focus too much on salient features of a single future emotion-eliciting event. They fail to adjust their predictions sufficiently to account for the fact that there are sure to be other features and events that will also occupy their thoughts and influence their emotions" (Levine et al, 2012).

That is, that we have a tendency to focus on one thing, like the anxiety of contracting covid-19 after lockdown, and fail to take into account other factors that will absorb our attention and other aspects of life that will still happen and distract us. Many things could happen that will distract you and engage your thinking such as (potentially) the schools reopening, being able to see friends more, getting back to work and being able to go out and about more to places you enjoy visiting.

Failing to account for the rest of life going on means we can overestimate the impact of any one event.

All of which certainly suggests that if you are dreading the lifting of lockdown for any reason, then your prediction of how distressing it will be is probably higher than it will turn out to be in reality. In addition, you will already have encountered many challenges and set backs in life, and you have come through those somehow, and therefore you will find the resources to come through this challenge and bounce back. Whether you think you have the resilience to deal with life after lockdown or not, you almost certainly can handle it.

In addition to all of this, other aspects of life don't happen in a vacuum either. Whatever your anxieties about life after lockdown, there are things you can actually do. You won't just passively let life happen to you without doing anything.

With regard to health anxiety post lockdown you can still (and probably will have to) maintain some form of social distancing, you can (and should) continue to wash your hands regularly and you can mange where you go to minimise being in busy places or even reduce how often you go out buy continuing to work from home.

With financial worries you can investigate things such as government support, mortgage holidays, payment holidays, re-financing, reducing expenditure, finding a new job or taking a temporary one.

And with regard to psychological and emotional distress you can call upon many of the things I've mentioned through my posts, such as getting out in nature, exercising, getting enough sleep, using self-hypnosis, breathing techniques, challenging your thinking and so on.

Post lockdown we will still be faced with challenges but we know our assessment of the impact of those is generally flawed and that there will be other things going on to distract us and things we can do (at least in part) about most things we face.

There are some ideas on how to tackle any anxious thoughts you may be experiencing in these posts: 

Anxiety - How To Deal With Anxious Thoughts

Diffusing anxiety-fuelled worst case scenarios

Anxiety - Taking Back Control Over Worst Case Scenarios

Using Choice Overload To Reduce Anxiety

The future is uncertain, many things can and will happen, and there are many things that you can do about events and that you do have control over. By reigning in anxious thoughts you can dilute your emotional distress and support your future health. As described in those posts, you can bring things back to the here and now rather than thinking too far into the future. You can consider other possibilities other than the worst case to add options to your thinking (there could be a best case or many other possible outcomes that are ok and where you manage and cope well).

Of course, many of the things you may feel anxious about when thinking ahead are perfectly normal and natural things to experience. Once more information emerges about the lockdown exit strategy you may find you start to feel calmer and more able to cope. Many things being experienced are normal reactions to stress from the current circumstances. 

Yet it's always worth checking in on your thinking to make sure that your thoughts are based upon facts and are not just emotional driven perceptions about what may happen. And the research and evidence above suggests that if you are asking yourself whether you have the resilience to cope in the post lockdown world, then the answer is almost certainly that you can and you will. 

To your happiness,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket 

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Dunn, E.W., Wilson, T.D. and Gilbert, D.T., 2003. Location, location, location: The misprediction of satisfaction in housing lotteries. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(11), pp.1421-1432.

Eastwick, P.W., Finkel, E.J., Krishnamurti, T. and Loewenstein, G., 2008. Mispredicting distress following romantic breakup: Revealing the time course of the affective forecasting error. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(3), pp.800-807.

Gilbert, D.T., Pinel, E.C., Wilson, T.D., Blumberg, S.J. and Wheatley, T.P., 1998. Immune neglect: a source of durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75(3), p.617.

Levine, L. J., Lench, H. C., Kaplan, R. L., & Safer, M. A. (2012, August 13). Accuracy and Artifact: Reexamining the Intensity Bias in Affective Forecasting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029544

Shevlin, M., McBride, O., Murphy, J., Miller, J.G., Hartman, T.K., Levita, L., Mason, L., Martinez, A.P., McKay, R., Stocks, T.V. and Bennett, K.M., 2020. Anxiety, Depression, Traumatic Stress, and COVID-19 Related Anxiety in the UK General Population During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Sieff, E.M., Dawes, R.M. and Loewenstein, G., 1999. Anticipated versus actual reaction to HIV test results. The American journal of psychology, 112(2), p.297.