Resilience, this quality of being able to withstand stress and pressure and then to bounce back once that stress is over, is very much needed as we go through this period of circuit breaker restrictions (lockdown) to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether we are on the frontline facing the risks of infection or in a business that has to be closed with attendant economic fallout, all of us are facing the restrictions of the Circuit Breaker regime that is now in place to enforce social distancing as a way to end the transmission of person-to-person infection so as to bring the pandemic under control in Singapore.

For those families that have suffered at least one of its members succumbing to the COVID infection, this is certainly a traumatic period psychologically besides the physical pain. For those few that have lost a family member, this is a period of grieving besides the stress of loss.

For all of us that are under the circuit restriction, stress can come from many quarters. Loss of income and job losses face some sectors of the economy. Many small businesses may not survive while those still in operation may sustain losses in income. Working at home also brings challenges. A teacher I know complained about the stress of facing her young children constantly and not being able to focus her complete attention to the tasks she needed to perform. We truly need to cope well and then to bounce back after all this is over.

The key to resilience is resources. For businesses, one key resource is finance. Hence each country has their own financial packages to ensure the survival of businesses, including small businesses which are essential to a functioning economy.

Our Resources

For individuals too, finance is an important resource, hence the handouts provided to taxpayers and residents because the lockdown will mean a loss of some kind that has a financial aspect. This is a government intervention, but this is not enough for the individual person to cope.

For the individual, the key resource is personal, so that he is able to resist and cope with stress. To bend and adapt and not be broken. That requires us to be healthy and strong enough to be able to get things done and to pull through.

Indeed, the first recommendation for strengthening your resilience is to maintain or to improve your physical wellbeing by exercise. Exercise has psychological benefits as well as it helps to be more positive and gives us a feeling of self-efficacy. Exercise basically increases our tolerance to stress in part by metabolising away all the toxic stress chemicals. In fact, when all else fails and the victim is in depression and does not know what he/she can do, the best thing to start off is to start exercising. Fortunately, with the circuit breaker on, we are still allowed to pursue our exercise regime with some limitations.

Other interventions such as deep breathing, relaxation training, meditation, yoga, and spiritual exercises such as prayer help us to keep calm, reduce our anxieties and in general lead us to be more effective in coping with the stress ahead of us and to take necessary action where needed.

Next, our attention is on our social and emotional resources. If we are negative, such resources can help us to view our circumstances in a positive light and to take action to remedy it. However, if we are extremely negative, we may be weighed down heavily on us and we cannot fully utilise our social and emotional resources. This leads to unpleasant interaction and causes friction, disagreement, raised voices and quarrels with our support network causing us added stress.

Psychological support

Assuming that one has good relationship with families, close acquaintances and friends, the social networks we have are supportive and we not only derive satisfaction from relating with them, but also support in these difficult times.

It should be noted that past experiences of good interaction with our social network power the sense of support and derived strength we feel from them. In times of crisis however, it’s the comforting presence and the words of encouragement that buoy us in our fight again psychological trauma. In fact, more than anything else, it is the comforting presence of loved ones, the physical proximity as in touch, holding, hugging, stroking actions and the physical ministration to our physical needs that provide this feeling of support. (limited by social distancing)

Physical strength and good social support network can cushion us against the harmful effects from stress. With these in place, it is also much easier to view circumstances in a positive light.

If there are still difficulties in trying to even contemplate positive thoughts, a conversation with someone who is trained is likely to be helpful.

Note that to be positive does not mean that we deny the presence of sad and tragic facts. Positive thoughts and thinking require us to confront reality with all its glaring pain and suffering. The positiveness comes in accepting that this is reality, but we can see that they may be a positive aspect of our pain, and a relief to our suffering.

More importantly, as we go through the pain, given the positive support provided by our physical, social and personal emotional environment, we are able to find meaning and purpose amidst the pain and suffering and perhaps destruction surrounding us.

Finding meaning

The cognitive context of our beliefs and values is an important backdrop as we seek for meaning and purpose. It is this cognitive context that helps us to find meaning and purpose and give us added strength to resist and to bounce back. This is because meaning gives us fresh determination to seek for a better goal, a better life once this is all over. 

Humans seek for meaning in everything, and this is how we make sense of our environment and of the events that happened and continue to happen to us. It is meaning that make us human and help us to establish a community spirit as the whole community is involved in suffering during a pandemic.

It is meaning that provides us with a sense of purpose, and this will empower us to forge new goals and direction, formulate a plan of action and to actually take steps to make things better for the future.

In a crisis situation, and in a community setting, it is often the leader who articulates that meaning for the entire community so that there is a sense of hope among followers. For individuals, the sense of community belonging, and hope must be reinforced with your own personal meaning and purpose. For it is your own experience forged in the pain and suffering of your circumstances that must be worked through for you to find your individual meaning and purpose, and thus to survive whole and intact, infuse with determination and purpose to make the future even better.

If the above is true of you, you will be able to tap on all available resources, and cope reasonably well with all the pain and suffering that may befall you. More important is not only you can go through and survive, but you will thrive once the crisis gradually fades and you need to renew your life once again.

So, Godbless, may you find strength and comfort and the resources to make for a better tomorrow.