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Times of Reasonable Irrationality and Ways to Strengthen Your Resilience Capacity



I feel more and more indecisive, as I go through my bookshelf. For days, I have been searching for a book that is short and straightforward, but at the same time informative and preferably a page-turner. With each book I pick up, I find myself reading, telling myself that I'm going to stick with it, and then after reading a few pages, I put it back on the shelf. As this was not enough, without any further luck, I also went through my friend’s bookcase. I still did not know whether I wanted to read a story, a reference book or a short scientific journal. Finally, I decided not to read or do anything at all, maybe that was all I needed from the beginning.


We may find ourselves in situations where we are startled to choose what we want to eat from a long listed menu or a place to sit at a big restaurant. It may seem as that there is nothing to eat in the pages of a long menu and nowhere to sit in a room full of empty tables. However, when faced with just two meals to order, three books to read, making a decision becomes easier. We sometimes find ourselves having to make so many decisions during the day that it makes us feel tired. 


For the last couple of days, I feel a lot more indecisive, and I sense that the people around me are somehow “different” as well. Thinking that we got used to the “new normal” since the pandemic started, I came to realise that all the stress, anxiety, indecisiveness, anger we feel and the inability to stay focused as a community are also side effects of the “new normal”. We all got exhausted, and in need to rest and recharge more than usual in the past weeks. However, we also have to limit our activities that help us rest or socialize to certain places, at a certain time and with certain people. Even if we find the courage to go out, we eventually face the subconscious guilt of leaving our homes. It seems that we are far away from going back to normal, stuck somewhere between comfort and disturbance, as if something was missing or insufficient. 


We might feel anxious or depressed of losing our routines and habits. Having to stay away from social relationships, not being able to go to work or school, not being able to meet friends or even exercising might have left us drained out of energy. Nevertheless, why do we feel this way particularly now? After all, during the lockdown we were perfectly in control of our lives; working from home, baking bread and talking for hours online with our friends. Why do we feel unable to cope with it anymore while everything is gradually returning to normal? 


There might be two reasons behind it. The first one is post-traumatic stress disorder usually shows symptoms after weeks, even months after the event took place. The second and more common reason is, as Prof. Ann Masten, a Psychologist at Minnesota University, calls, “surge capacity”. According to Prof. Masten, this briefly means that we depleted our capacity to cope with adversity because of the inability to recharge our mental and physical resources over the past months.


Our internal resources or surge capacity consists of mental and physical resources helping us to cope with acute stress situations such as earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. However, in situations like a pandemic, which last for a long period of time and where you cannot see the effects directly, people experience indirect life changes. This depletion of our resilience capacity is only fostered by the fear of losing our jobs, experiencing pay-cuts, and the fear of another lockdown. 


The ideal situation to cope with the long-lasting uncertainty of pandemic adversity would be to continuously adapt our coping mechanisms to the situations. In reality, re-using our coping mechanism for a long period of time and always being alerted leaves us with no time to recharge ourselves. This especially is difficult if our daily work entails use of high cognitive functioning as a routine. After all, we need to use the same coping capacity for our work, social and private lives, which may lead to feelings of cumulative tiredness or fatigue. 


Simultaneously, not being able to make clear plans during the day and living through a continuous unknown solely increase such adverse feelings. While resilience capacity or internal resources are recharged by socialising, meeting with friends, pursuing some hobbies and going on vacations; our current situation doesn't leave much room for planning these activities in advance. Even when meeting up with people, at some point the subject of the conversation always comes to the pandemic where we spend hours of our precious time talking about its negativity and how it has been changing our lives. This may result in more thinking about the virus and increasing level of anxiety or fear. 


Human beings are social creatures who are in need of having a constant interaction and communication with their surrounding environment. Being isolated and separated for long periods from their social circles increases feelings of loneliness and depression. In our current situation, even if we are in contact with people around us, this happens more rapidly in a digital setting , or we limit the amount of people we see and the places we go to a safe few. Overall, it is not surprising to see that anxiety and negative feelings climbed after the quarantine. 


On the other hand, the Covid-19 pandemic also served as a magnifying glass; it highlighted the good and the bad at the same time. For instance; during the lockdown, many of us got closer to their family and friends and cherished the time spent with them even more. Things we took for granted before such as a walk in the park with our dog, meeting for a cup of coffee with friends or watching a movie with our family have become more precious and enjoyable experiences. 


The Grant study conducted by Harvard University since 1938 is a research study focusing on happiness. According to this study, the happiest and healthiest people are those who have close connections. This shows that having deep and meaningful social connections, friends and family we can rely on around us is key to strengthen our resilience capacity and internal resources.

 

Additional ways to enhance resilience capacity to cope with adversity are;

  • Accepting change and the unknown: Instead of resisting or submitting to change, we can choose to accept and adapt to it. Hence, activities like eating out, going to concerts or exercising at the gym can now be substituted by other less risky events. 

  • The virtue of doing nothing: Sometimes when we find ourselves indecisive or exhausted, just letting things go and doing nothing, resting might be the most efficient way. Moving away from what we have to do for a few hours or days might provide us with a clearer perspective at the end. Especially in times of uncertainty, we need to accept that we cannot always show our full potential.

  • Continuing with things that make us happy and possessing new hobbies: Even if we cannot pursue some of the hobbies that make us happy and help us to recharge, we can, however, adapt them to the current situation. Going out for a dinner once a week can now be substituted by learning how to cook our favourite meals at home. This will help to gain another routine without breaking away from old habits. An alternative is to acquire new hobbies and learn new things.  

  • Deep and meaningful relationships: As mentioned in Harvard University’s Grant Study, social support is the key to a happy and healthy life. We especially need more support in times of negativity, the study shows that people with close friendships and deep connections who are able to ask for help and talk about their problems actually coped with the situation better and showed an increased level of resilience when faced with adversity because they felt the support from others. 


We are using the same resilience capacity in our work and social life for months without any chance of recharging. Most of us are still trying hard to stay rational and to make logical decisions. However, considering the uncertainty and irrationality in the current situation we are living, we cannot always expect to be rational decision makers. We might need to remind ourselves that, for a certain period of time it might be more than okay to act reasonably irrational. Being in a game where the rules change on a daily basis, it is not the person but rather the situation that might be abnormal.



Photo Credit: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/maths-fee-cut-australia-doesnt-add


References:

https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25663/social-isolation-and-loneliness-in-older-adults-opportunities-for-the

https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/