managing emotions around COVID-19: use this 7-step model for resiliency

* Editor’s note: Please watch our webinar, ‘HR leadership during a crisis: How to remain personally resilient to lead your organization,’ on demand here.

We are living in unprecedented times. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the news about COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), the continual changes to our daily lives, worries about the safety of our families and friends, questions about how to best lead the people we manage at work, and the fear of being laid off or furloughed, whether it will temporary or perhaps permanent.

We are all experiencing a collective sense that we are not in control of our lives. As a certified executive coach with a doctorate in clinical psychology, I specialize in resilience, conflict resolution and conscious communication. I am here to tell you that while you may not be able to control everything that is happening around you, you are in charge of how you choose to respond and you can take measures that will enable you to be resilient through these difficult times.

what exactly is resilience?

Resilience is a skill that can be developed and honed. Like a muscle, the more we develop it, the stronger it gets. Often, we simply survive a trauma or difficult experience. By developing our resilience muscle, we can not only survive, but also thrive.

Bouncing back from life's traumas and curve balls can be difficult if not downright debilitating. Have you ever watched someone overcome a setback that you thought would bring you down for the count if it happened to you? Have you ever wondered what it is that enables some people to bounce back from life's setbacks, large or small, and get on with their lives in a way that is meaningful and purposeful and allows for growth, change and resilience?

Let’s explore what resilience is and what it is not. Many people hear the word resilience and think that it means we must be tough or strong, that we must have an attitude of ‘just barrel through it’ or ‘nothing will affect me.’

This is not resilience.

So, what is?

Resilience is the ability to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off by remaining flexible in the face of change or difficulty. Resilience is remaining calm under pressure, and the demands of life, work or any transition that requires a new way of being in the world such as a divorce, job loss, a changing corporate environment, death or illness.

It isn't that nothing affects us, but rather, we are able to handle the stress or move in a new way of being after a setback or change in the usual order of things. It's about the ability to adapt.

We all have different ways of dealing with stressors and reacting to them. What may work for us at one time, may not work in a different situation. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a person who sees a stressor or change as a negative and insurmountable problem or a challenging situation that requires a new way of thinking or being?
  • Do you focus on the problem or the solution?
  • Do you let fear make your choices for you?

While there are many factors that come in to play when answering these questions, such as how a person is raised, genetics, environment and even personal factors, there are some common threads that can help everyone develop and exercise their resilience muscles.

Related content: leading through crisis – 8 tips for navigating turbulent times.

steps toward resilience

To start with, it can be helpful to take an honest look at fear. This will help to understand what it takes to be resilient and how to overcome fears both in the moment and long-term. Taking responsibility for the things that we can control and letting go of those that we can’t, even in the grip of fear, builds resilience. 

Worrying about what the future holds is one of the most common fears. Often, we anticipate the worst, but most of us know that living life in a state of fear is not productive and no way to live.

There are a few strategies to help you overcome fear and build resilience.

1. Make a list of possibilities – When you're approaching an unknown situation, it helps to make a list of all the possible outcomes. Be guided by facts, not fear, when making this list. None of us have a crystal ball and the outcomes are never guaranteed, but when we feel like we have a little understanding about the future it can help to ease our fears.

2. Take charge of your thoughts – Make an active effort to clear your mind. One of the reasons you feel fear is that you're worried that something bad is going to happen. This could be because of a situation from your past that you've projected into the future. You need to take these thoughts off the table and approach your fears with a clear head.

We can’t control things that happen to us, but we can control how we let them affect us. Making a list of your fears is sometimes helpful. Writing your fears down will help you to see them in more analytical terms, rather than emotional ones, and can help you to react to situations in a more thoughtful manner.

3. Visualize positive outcomes  – It sounds easy, but it may be difficult to put into practice. Strive to visualize everything turning out positively. If you concentrate more on the positive aspect, you can actually turn your fear into excitement and action.

You’ve probably heard of people who get stage fright and instead of allowing the fear to overtake them, they turn it into excitement and energy.

4. Breathe – Fear has a real purpose in appropriate situations. The experience of fear makes your heart rate rise and you're better able to escape threatening situations. However, fear is only useful in situations where it can actually save your life. Other fears serve no real purpose except to hold us back and create more trauma. If you need guidance with how to establish mindfulness, there are a number of programs online or apps you can download onto your phone.

Being conscious of and learning to control your breathings can calm you and keep you in control.

5. Seek outside support – It helps to talk through your problems with someone close to you. Sometimes it helps to discuss your fears with someone who has experienced a similar situation. Just knowing you're not alone can ease your fear, even if the person doesn't have any especially helpful advice to give. Find support with friends, family, church or even a support group.

6. Take small steps – If you're afraid of the unknown in a general sense, starting small will help reduce your fear. Instead of tackling a seemingly huge insurmountable task, just try doing something small first. Break out of your comfort zone for a little bit and try something new you've never tried before.

This will also serve to build your confidence and alleviate fears in the future. You will develop an attitude of ’I can do this’ rather than ‘I can’t do this.’

7. Control only what you can – The future, and even the present, can be frightening when we think we must control every aspect of it. While there are certain actions you can take to maintain some kind of control, there are many things you have no control over. When you accept that current and future circumstances will be what they will be, regardless of how you feel, it may not seem quite as scary.

Related content: why the best leaders use empathy.

the present is what matters

When your thoughts get caught up in the future, whether it's the near future or the distant future, it clouds your current situation. If you're especially fearful, take a step back and focus on what is going on in the present moment that you are in charge of.

Present thinking automatically allows you to take things one step at a time. Focus on the task at hand,  positive things to look forward to, and actions that you can take that give you a sense of agency. Brush other worries away and live in the here and now. Focus on today.

This isn't to say you should never think about the future. When you think about the future, do it with a clear head and positive thoughts and without letting the fears overrun reality.

Adopting an attitude of ‘this too shall pass’, along with following these strategies, can alleviate the fear of the unknown and bring you a life full of resilience for the future instead of fear. It can make a huge difference in life and at work and be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and others around you, especially in times of uncertainty. 


submitted by

michele d’amico

24 March 2020

speak to an expert.

unleash worklife possibilities for your organization and employees.

contact us