By Rachel Druckenmiller | Unmuted CEO
If you ask just about anyone how they’re feeling right now, you’ll probably end up with some version of the word “tired.”
But it’s more than just a lack-of-sleep-tired.
It’s a feeling of chronic exhaustion and fatigue at the soul level.
It’s been brought on by a prolonged period of uncertainty and our loss of whatever “normal” was since March. The combination of the global pandemic, the stress of working from home and managing childcare, homeschooling, travel restrictions, job losses, furloughs, and racial injustice and tension has left many people feeling exhausted – emotionally, mentally, physically and relationally.
The levels of anxiety and fear many people are feeling right now are unprecedented, and not knowing when things will stabilize exacerbates the situation and those feelings.
For the past four months, I’ve been facilitating trainings and workshops that have reached thousands of people to help them build hope and resilience in the midst of uncertainty, and I’m here to offer you some of that support today with this post.
You Are Not Alone
First and foremost, if you are feeling tired and burned out and overwhelmed, you are not alone.
I know what it feels like to completely burn out and be so sick and tired that sleep alone won’t fix it.
I know what it feels like to feel lonely and not accepted but be afraid to open up to anyone for fear of further rejection or judgment or being viewed as either inadequate or “too much” to handle.
I know what it’s like to launch a business the year of a global pandemic after 13 years of a stable paycheck and have 90% of my work canceled in a matter of days, wondering whether I’d be okay.
I know what it’s like to feel like you’re just getting back up again and building some momentum, only to (in my case, literally) get hit by a truck and end up with a fractured back less than two months into the pandemic.
I know what it’s like to feel hopeless, exhausted and alone.
So, if you feel any of those things for whatever reasons you feel them, know that you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you. You are having a human response to overwhelming uncertainty, grief and loss.
Note to Self
I also know what it feels like to rise up from adversity and end up stronger and wiser than before.
That’s why I’m writing today about resilience, a buzz word that has increased in popularity in the past four months, as more and more people are trying to figure out how to get more of it.
Resilience is a set of inner skills, strengths, positive emotions, and determination that we draw upon to bounce back and rise up from adversity and struggles. Resilience isn’t something you either have or don’t have; it’s a muscle you can strengthen through intentional action and mindset shifts.
Before we dig into what it takes to build resilience, check out the Note to Self below and read it aloud to yourself (maybe even print it out and put it at your desk!) as a reminder of two of the essential practices of resilience: self-compassion and grace.
Repeat it to yourself until you believe it. When you feel like you are the worst employee, boss, parents, spouse, partner, friend, or neighbor, pause, breathe, and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you have in that moment.
What else can you do, besides pausing, breathing and being kind to yourself, to become more resilient?
For one, you can take care of your body and mind and strengthen your physical and mental health as I’ve written about previously here. I’m not going to rehash that, but it’s worth a read if you want to build resilience holistically.
In her book, How Resilience Works, Diane Coutu writes that resilient people have three characteristics. I’ll be sharing my thoughts of two of them (#1 and #2 below) and adding two other insights I’ve learned along my resilience journey.
1) Accept What Is
So much pain and suffering come from resisting instead of accepting what is.
Resisting reality takes up a lot of our energy. Resisting what is looks like us dwelling on going “back to normal,” even though many aspects of what we used to deem normal might not have been ideal.
The reality is that we’re experiencing collective grief and trauma as a global community right now in response to the pandemic and its ripple effects, and we don’t have an end in sight.
Many of us are in denial, angry, or sad about whatever we have lost, unable to accept what has happened. Those are normal and natural elements of the grieving process. We have to give ourselves permission to grieve. But many of us spend so much energy tightening our grip on what was instead of releasing it that we don’t have any energy to move forward.
Acceptance doesn’t mean we don’t want things to change or wish things were different; we often do. It just means that we’re willing to face and accept reality as it is, preparing a plan of action rather than staying stuck in denial.
When we accept reality instead of resisting it, we free up our energy to respond, to think more clearly and to problem solve. We may not like how much life has changed and how rapidly it has happened, but resisting reality will keep us stuck and prevent us from learning, responding and growing.
Acceptance is also necessary for empathy to emerge. At its core, empathy is about accepting someone else, even if we don’t agree with them. Other people’s realities may not align with ours, but that is not cause for blaming, name-calling or shaming.
As long as we are stuck in anxiety, fear and anger, we can’t access the higher-level thinking and problem-solving parts of our brain. We can’t access our creativity or curiosity.
Resilience starts with accepting what is, even if we don’t like it or agree with it, so we can free up energy to respond.
I don’t like that I was hit by a car and have a fractured back that will take months to heal. I wish it had never happened, but staying stuck in wishing it away uses up a lot of energy and brain power, so I’m choosing to accept it and lean into #2…
2) Make Meaning of It
Humans are meaning-making machines. We want to make sense of what’s going on around us. When we can’t derive any meaning out of something happening in our lives or in the world around us, we despair, becoming hopeless and discouraged. That sadness is a natural part of grieving, which is something we need to do, but staying there forever will prevent us from rising up out of our struggle or adversity.
We have a choice to look at our situation and make meaning out of it. This won’t happen immediately. When something painful happens, we have to let ourselves be in that pain and grieve the loss.
At some point, we can begin to shift our focus and ask ourselves, “What is the gift or lesson in this?” or “What can I learn about myself, others or the world as a result of this situation?”
I remember lying on the gurney at the hospital after the car accident feeling sad, angry, lonely and hopeful. I thought about how I’d use what happened to talk about rising up when we get knocked down and imagined standing on a stage (whenever that’s allowed to happen again), singing Andra Day’s “Rise Up” as part of a keynote.
In that moment, my brain wanted to make meaning of what happened, even though it will be months before I can do what I imagined. Your brain wants to do the same thing, though our timelines to arrive at the meaning-making stage will likely vary.
Here’s how I’ve decided I want to respond when bad things happen:
Even though I didn’t choose it, I’m going to find a way to use it.
Thinking that way helps us making meaning out of what might otherwise be meaningless.
I think of all the people I’ve been able to reach doing my work virtually that I might never have known had the lockdowns not happened. I think of the gift it is that my accident happened when I was already stuck at home and didn’t have to travel, so I can still do my work. I think of how sharing what I’m learning here on LinkedIn and in podcast interviews has helped other people feel less alone during this time.
I’m choosing to find meaning in what happened because it gives me hope.
If you want to start making meaning of what’s happening in your life right now, try either or both of these reflection exercises:
- Think about a time in your life when a negative situation led to an unexpected positive outcome. What door closed, and what door opened? What was the gift or lesson in that experience? How have you used it for good?
- When you think about this unpredictable and unplanned season of uncertainty, what is at least one bright spot in it? What inner strengths or external resources have you drawn on that you can appreciate and celebrate?
Holding onto a deep belief that there is meaning in what happens in our lives helps us build resilience and persist in the face of adversity and setbacks.
3) Reset Your Mindset
What we focus on e x p a n d s.
If the first thing we do in the morning is check the news to see the latest death toll for COVID19 or hop onto a social media platform where people are shaming each other, we’re probably not going to have the best day.
Our brain already has a built-in negativity bias that makes us overly focus on negative experiences or potential threats, so we want to do what we can to retrain the brain.
We can start by grounding ourselves with a simple breathing practice that helps us tranquilize our nervous system that’s otherwise hopped up on fight-or-flight chemicals.
From there, we can choose to be selective sifters and not expose ourselves to media that gets us riled up. Remember, what we focus on expands, so if we’re overly focusing on everything that is wrong in the world or in other people or obsessing about how much more could go wrong, that is where our mind will take us.
If, on the other hand, we choose to shift our mindset by pausing to breathe, limiting our media exposure (type and number of times a day), focusing on the good news that is out there, drawing on our strengths and values, and intentionally dwelling on good things that happen, we can start to rewire our brains and become more resilient.
A week or two into COVID19, I started a practice of tracking “bright spots” or small wins in my day. I wrote down the bright spots in a journal at the end of each day, numbering my list from one to 10. Because my brain knew I was going to be accountable for that list each night, I became more attuned to noticing when good things happened during the day.
The consistency of that practice in the month leading up to my accident was one of the keys to beginning the emotional recovery process. I had retrained my brain to notice goodness even in the midst of difficulty.
You can do that, too.
Practice breathing to calm down your nervous system. Set limits around your media exposure. Start tracking bright spots. Offer yourself some compassion. Remind yourself of the strengths and values you are drawing on to get through this time.
Acknowledging what is good doesn’t negate what isn’t, but it does help us get through the challenging circumstances with more confidence, hope and peace.
4) Don’t Hesitate. Initiate.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and alone, our world gets smaller.
We think we are the only one feeling or experiencing any of those things, so we isolate or implode instead of reaching out to ask for help or open up about and share our struggles.
Many people are suffering in silence right now because they’re afraid that speaking up will make them next on the chopping block at work. We don’t get the help they need because we don’t ask for it, or we resist it instead of accepting it when someone offers.
The day after my accident, a woman named Lynn Argenbright reached out to me and offered to set up a meal train for me and my husband. My mobility was limited, I was in a lot of pain, and I was starting to physically and emotionally recover from the accident. My first thought was, “We don’t need people to make us meals or send us gift cards. We can afford to do it ourselves, and my husband can just do everything. Besides, I don’t want to be a burden.”
Can you think of a time someone offered to help you but you resisted or rejected it because you didn’t want to be a burden or a bother? It’s a fairly common experience.
Fortunately, my initial thought lasted about a minute before I texted her back to take her up on her offer. Having meals taken care of a few days a week was one of the greatest blessings of this season for us, especially during the first month of recovery.
One of the keys to resilience is recognizing our own limitations and reaching out for help or support when we need it. I learned this in my recovery from mono in 2017 and again this year. When our inner resources can’t meet the demands put upon us, it’s time to reach out to other people.
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor revealed something significant about the important of social connection and social support:
The people who survive stress the best are the ones who actually increase their social investments in the middle of stress, which is the opposite of what most of us do.
Think of something you are struggling with right now, whether it’s at work, at home or related to your health or wellbeing. Who is ONE person you can reach out to about that challenge, so that you don’t have to keep carrying it alone?
Now that you have their name in mind, don’t hesitate…initiate! Reach out to them and ask them if they can chat sometime soon. Taking that first step takes a tremendous amount of courage, but sharing your burden will make it so much easier to carry.
If someone comes to mind for you during the day (even if it feels totally random), don’t hesitate. Initiate. Reach out to them through a text, call, voice text, or email to check in on them and let them know they’re on your mind. You might be the lifeline they need in that moment.
When our inner resources are tapped out, reaching out to other people can help us build a foundation of support and resilience, so we can better navigate whatever adversity comes our way next.
Becoming more resilient happens as a result of drawing on our inner skills, strengths, values, determination and positive emotions like hope, gratitude and compassion. It’s a muscle we can strengthen and build.
Resilience grows when we accept rather than resist what is and choose to make meaning out of adversity.
Resilience is strengthened when we reset our mindset to focus on what is good and what is working, knowing that what we focus on expands.
Resilience is also about recognizing when we have reached our capacity and need support from others.
I hope that reading this today nudges you to show yourself a bit more compassion, to show others a bit more empathy and grace, to focus on bright spots and on what you can control, and to reach out for the support you need.
You are not alone, and you will get through this.
You are doing the best you can with what you have in this moment, and that is all you can expect of anyone, including you.
*If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the interactive resilience workshops I facilitate for organizations and associations, contact me here.