From the Medical Director: Resilience in the COVID-19 pandemic
By: Edwin Kim, MD, MRO
The global community is meeting milestones in the fight against COVID-19. I feel cautiously optimistic reading about new and updated national guidelines and encouraged by the steadily increasing number of vaccinations. Nevertheless, I remain cognizant of the effort that must continue to promote downward trends in the number of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths. Here, at the Foundation, staff recently passed the one-year mark of initiating work-from-home, and plan to continue providing PHP services virtually. We’re not yet in the clear, but this an important moment in our collective struggle for retrospection and reflection.
Retrospection is looking back or reviewing past events or situations especially in one’s own life1. This action is conducted at a particular point in time to survey what has happened. For instance, when taking inventory of this past year, take note of the events that occurred at home and in the workplace. Do you remember any trials and tribulations? Conversely, did you find new strengths? Lastly, were you blessed with pleasant or unexpected gifts along the way? You may be surprised to remember just how much you were required to adapt – as a parent, child, spouse, friend, neighbor, employee, employer, consumer, patient, and provider.
By surveying this past, you might begin to remember the magnitude of change that has occurred, and the adaptations that occurred along the way, after those initial moments of trepidation and uncertainty. In the process of describing the past 12 months, some individuals naturally shift their dialogue to exemplify how they adjusted and coped with personal challenges. One common theme was the use of technology to address the consequences of physical distancing: loneliness and isolation.
These solutions epitomize one’s resilience: the ability to psychologically cope with a crisis in a way that might mitigate potentially negative consequences. People are highlighting key components of resilience: connection, mental agility, optimism, strength of character, self-awareness, and self-regulation. The University of Pennsylvania Resilience Program defines these components or competencies succinctly.
Connection is the ability to build and maintain strong, trusting relationships. Mental agility is the ability to look at situations from multiple perspectives and to think creatively and flexibly. Optimism is the ability to notice and expect the positive, to focus on what you can control, and to take purposeful action. Strength of character is the ability to use one’s top strengths to engage authentically, overcome challenges, and create a life aligned with one’s values. Self-awareness is the ability to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and psychological reactions. Self-regulation is the ability to change one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physiology in the service of a desired outcome2.
As a final reflection, take this time to acknowledge that you are resilient. Then, identify the helpful responses to events in your own life that demonstrate the abilities of resilience mentioned above. If you’re like most, you’ve likely identified a few abilities that come easily and readily. You’ve also established the others that can be strengthened. Fortunately, the skills necessary to foster these competencies further can be achieved with intention and guidance – whether it’s through self-direction, engaging mutual help, or finding individual psychotherapy or counseling. This is one way to strengthen your ability to cope with uncertainties and potentially negative consequences as the pandemic continues.
1Retrospection Lexico Powered by Oxford Dictionary Accessed 2/17/21 https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/retrospection
2Penn Positive Psychology Center: Resilience Skill Set Accessed 2/17/21