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Building Resilience to the Stress of the Coronavirus

Even if you are avoiding COVID-19 by keeping your distance from others and wearing a face mask, the pandemic can be affecting your health in other ways. Many of us are missing our usual yoga or fitness class. For others, the fear of illness, the absence of family and friends, and the unwelcome lifestyle changes are sending our stress levels through the roof. We have been marinating in stress hormones for nearly 10 months, and that can lead to a multitude of health issues both physical and emotional. 

It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief and worry during and after a disaster - and COVID-19 is just that, a national disaster.  Everyone goes through tough times - some people just navigate them better.

Experts recommend we take a resilient approach - recognize that as we face challenges throughout our lives, that struggle has oftentimes made us stronger.  Resilience enables us to develop mechanisms that help us deal with experiences which could be overwhelming and helps us maintain balance in our lives during difficult or stressful periods.  As Dr. Donna Benton, Ph.D., Director of the USC Family Caregiver Support Center, University of Southern California, states "It's not that we don't have stress in our's this active, mindful process of enduring and coping."

"Resilient people are like trees bending in the wind. They bounce back," says Steven M. Southwick, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.

Although some people tend to be more resilient than others, like almost any behavior, resilience can be learned.  Research shows that resilient people share some common qualities:

They are optimistic - people who have a sunny outlook do better at managing crises.  Don't fret if you lack a glass-half-full point of view. Experts say negative thinking is just a bad habit. The first step is to observe the spin you put on your own experiences. When you catch yourself thinking negatively, challenge yourself to frame the situation in more positive terms.

They're playful - "Resilient people enjoy themselves like children do," says Al Siebert, Ph.D., author of The Resiliency Advantage. "They wonder about things, experiment and laugh."

They pick their battles - "Resilient people tend to focus on things over which they have some influence and not spend time on things they can't control," says Robert Brooks, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Wallow in anger or fear, or move on? It's up to you.

They stay healthy - A good diet and regular physical activity provide crucial buffers against stress. "Exercise literally helps to repair neurons in brain areas that are particularly susceptible to stress," says Southwick.

They stay connected - just because we are socially distancing does not mean that we should stay distant socially. Stay connected to the people that you care about.

They find the silver lining - "Resilient people convert misfortune into good luck and gain strength from adversity," says Siebert. They see negative events as an opportunity to better themselves or become better people. Southwick says the phenomenon is known as post-traumatic growth syndrome.



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