Build resiliency during uncertain times

May 5, 2020

By Debbie Pennick
Assistant Director for the Center for Government Innovation


The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” In short, resilience is about “bouncing back” from difficulties. Many of us find our current teleworking situation a significant source of stress, so building resiliency now won't only help you cope but might empower you to grow and even improve the way you respond to stress in the future.

Although the definition of resilience is the same for everyone, there is no single recipe for how to go about building it in your own life. Building resiliency is really about finding what energizes and motivates you to deal with challenging times.

Work from a written recipe

Building resiliency requires knowing your limits and understanding your stressors, especially those that trigger extreme emotions. I love to bake, but a tasty, attractive outcome takes precise measuring and stepping through the recipe in a specific way. Similarly, many of us pride ourselves on being able to deal with anything that comes our way, but during times of stress and uncertainty, we should resolve that not everything that comes our way is worth our time and energy. Journal how you are feeling and ask yourself, what could I do differently to achieve a better outcome and write it down.

Don't bite off more than you can chew

Challenge and uncertainty affect us physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally. Just like you wouldn't take on a 12-course meal if you were a new cook, you shouldn't feel the need to take on multiple changes all at once. To begin practicing meditation, start a new diet, and reconnect with distant friends and relatives all at the same time likely would only add to your stress. Take it slowly and work toward small incremental changes that build your resilience over time.

There will be some flops

Building resilience is a journey, not a destination. You likely will encounter setbacks and obstacles that interfere with your progress, so give yourself room to make mistakes. And when you do make them, look for the humor in it. I remember how excited I was when my grandmother let me make the pancake batter for breakfast one morning. What I didn't know was that her sugar bowl next to the stove was filled with salt. You can imagine what happened. Yes, the pancakes were inedible, but we all laughed when the dog even turned up his nose when he fished one of those pancakes out of the garbage. Learn from your mistakes. Even when we perceive something as bad or painful, there is usually a lesson to learn if we will take the time to look for it.

Some ingredients can be substituted

We are trying to eat healthfully, and some of my favorite pasta dishes taste almost as good when I replace the pasta with cauliflower. Sometimes achieving the desired outcome can be as simple as changing your perspective. Just choosing to look at a challenge as an opportunity, or a problem as a puzzle, can change how you engage with the situation and provide a positive alternative. Try turning worry into problem solving. Focus on what you can control. Now more than ever, we need to accept that change is a part of life.

Share your cooking with others

Others around you are also working to improve their resiliency skills! Share your journey with those around you just like you would share that apple pie fresh out of the oven. The entire nation is responding to this pandemic, which means many others feel like you do. Connecting with people you trust and respect about how you are feeling can remind you that you're not alone during this difficult time. Also, remember to be that empathetic, compassionate, supportive person for others.

Don't be afraid to try new recipes

It's hard to stay positive when life is difficult, but optimism helps you look at a situation with a new perspective and can provide a new way of thinking about how to achieve things. Like trying a new recipe, stepping out and taking a chance might make you feel vulnerable, but think of the confidence you'll build when you accomplish something the originally seemed impossible. You can acknowledge the bad, but seeing the good will help you “bounce back” and build your resiliency.