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Coping in uncertain times | Building personal resilience

As countries around the world take extraordinary steps to fight against COVID-19, including New Zealand, there’s no denying that we are in a period of uncertainty.

So if at times you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, it’s important to keep in mind that this is only a natural reaction to unprecedented change – and there are ways to help regain your balance.

Here are four things you can do, according to experts.

Be mindful

Mindfulness – you may have heard this term before. As psychologist Beverly Engel explains on Psychology Today, mindfulness is about taming negative feelings and thoughts, by being in the present.

“We need to use our conscious awareness and direct our attention to observe and only observe,” Engel says. “So mindfulness entails observing what is going on in our field of awareness just as it is – right here, right now.”

As difficult as it may seem, acceptance is a key element of mindfulness, as it allows us to give up a negative situation without judgment, and embrace the positive change that may come with it. If you like to feel more connected to yourself, one easy exercise – according to Dr Engel – is to sit comfortably for a few minutes with your eyes closed, and try to be aware of any physical sensations happening in your body. Simply feel them and then gently let them go.

Be self-compassionate

Just like mindfulness, self-compassion entails practising acceptance. But this time, instead of focusing on external events, it’s aimed at accepting your own emotional responses.

“If we are to be self-compassionate, we need to offer ourselves the recognition, validation and support we would offer a loved one or a dear friend who is suffering,” Engel says.

A good way to start is to recognise that your experience is part of the common human experience. What the COVID-19 outbreak is showing us is that people from different cultures, in different parts of the world, are going through the same experience as one, and are likely to feel similar emotions as you do.

Once again, there are exercises you can try to combine mindfulness and self-compassion. For example, Engel suggests “grounding” (the practice of shifting attention away from negative feelings towards the external world, and then back to your body) as a way to stay calm under pressure.

Sometimes, Engel says, soothing yourself can also help, like gently stroking your arm or giving yourself a warm hug. And most importantly, make sure you stop judging or fighting difficult emotions head-on.

“The healthier way to deal with these difficult emotions it to ‘hold’ them in an open, aware, self-compassionate way,” Engel says.

Keep moving

When self-isolating (or any time you have to spend long periods at home), it can be tempting to stay in bed or on the couch most of the day. And especially if you’re used to walking to work or hitting the gym regularly, you may feel that you now have fewer opportunities to remain active.

However, exercising is a great way to release tension and stress, and keep the spirits up during these trying times.

According to The Conversation NZ, adults are recommended to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, as well as muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week.

Of course, these are just general guidelines – even 30 minutes is better than none.

The article recommends things like:

  • — Taking regular breaks (every 20 to 30 minutes) from sitting in front of your computer, and (if possible) going on a short walk to get some fresh air
  • — Using your own bodyweight with press-ups, sit-ups and planks (for a couple of sessions per week)
  • — Dancing in the house to your favourite music, as a proven way to protect your heart and boost your mental health
  • — Bonding with your kids or pets through active play.

Feeling out of inspiration? Why not ask your friends and family how they manage to stay active – they may have some good tips to share.

Stay connected with others

As the NZ Ministry of Health points out on their page about COVID-19 and mental wellbeing, “Staying connected to others is so important for our wellbeing and helps to make us feel safer, less stressed and less anxious. We can support each other to get through this.”

‘Be kind’ is also one of the principles of ‘Unite against COVID-19’ (, the information resource created by the Government to keep New Zealanders informed and prepared. From checking in on older relatives, friends and neighbours over the phone, to dropping essential supplies to vulnerable people at home (of course safely and following Government guidelines), there’s a lot we can individually do for our communities.

Some helpful resources

In times like these, putting our physical and mental health first becomes even more important: it’s about creating new routines and training our resilience. You may find that, by applying some simple rules or trying quick exercises on a regular basis, you feel stronger and happier.

Here are some more resources to check out:


Disclaimer: Please note that the content provided in this article is intended as an overview and as general information only. While care is taken to ensure accuracy and reliability, the information provided is subject to continuous change and may not reflect current development or address your situation. Before making any decisions based on the information provided in this article, please use your discretion and seek independent guidance.

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