Your 5-step resilience toolkit

“Exercise is one of the best, most natural ways to reduce stress levels.”

Getting vaccinated is your strongest weapon against COVID-19, but it’s not only the jab’s resilience you’ll need to fight this global pandemic. Here are five key everyday areas to focus on that’ll help you adapt and bounce back in a fundamentally disrupted world. 

1. Move more

If youre feeling tired, emotional or even resentful, you are not alone, says Carin Liebenberg, a physiotherapist at Mediclinic Potchefstroom. “It’s a frightening time, facing the uncertainty associated with this global pandemic. So it would be normal to be stressed, anxious and, at times, depressed.

“Exercise is one of the best, most natural ways to reduce stress levels. It reduces your body’s levels of the stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the production of endorphins: chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and elevate your mood.”

So how do you fit exercise into your busy schedule? Liebenberg says it’s simpler than it seems. The general recommended guideline is that you participate in light- to moderate-intensity exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week.

“Unfortunately, this is not always possible,” says Liebenberg. “My motto is that anything is better than nothing.” 

Something to try: Dancing. “Dancing is a great overall exercise. It works on most of the big muscle groups and is good aerobic exercise. To work out a dance routine could be fun and interactive, and learning these routines helps distract individuals from the bad news around them.”

This, and any kind of exercise, will have an immediate effect on your health, says Liebenberg. It releases endorphins, strengthens your heart and lungs and boosts your immune system.

2. Eat well

When, how and what you eat are all part of an ingrained daily routine that you’ve become used to over the years. The COVID-19 outbreak and the heightened stress of guarding against getting infected has changed that, though. 

Your diet can help, says Megan Rabie, a dietician at Mediclinic Potchefstroom, and no, we’re not talking about ice cream. “In a time where heightened stress is a part of our daily lives, it’s essential to support and protect your body,” she says. “Stress wreaks havoc on the body and your immune system – and the food that we eat affects not only our physical but mental health as well.” 

The solution is simpler than it may seem: feed your immune system. “The immune system is the body’s natural defence system against foreign invaders. A healthy balanced diet is essential in maintaining a healthy immune system. Nutrition plays a key role in this – it can either feed disease or fight it.”

And you don’t have to make dramatic changes either. Stay away from junk, and stick to food groups that grow in the natural world. 

Rabie recommends staying away from sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats. Instead, construct a diet containing optimal quantities of a variety of nutrient-dense foods. “Lean protein, unrefined whole carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruit, vegetables and water are important for protection against disease and providing sustained energy and minimising inflammation.”

3. Reach out

Building a social support structure will build you up during times of stress and give you the strength to carry on, says Prof. Eddie Wolff, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Sandton. It also lowers the chance of developing mental health difficulties – such as anxiety or depression.

“Under normal conditions, belonging to clubs, hobby groups and active social groups such as book clubs, provides significant social support,” says Prof. Wolff. “However, given the significant negative effects in the form of social isolation during this pandemic phase, we need to increase our efforts to reach out to our partners, colleagues and friends.”

Charon Streit, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley and Mediclinic Gariep, adds that interactions with others help you to improve your resilience. “Expressing your feelings, even though this cannot change the reality, helps to relieve tension,” she explains. Positive feedback and understanding from supportive colleagues helps you gain perspective.”So reach out, regularly and often. Stick to social routines where possible, via video chat or at a safe social distance. “Giving support and being there for another person is altruistic,” Streit says. “It gives purpose and meaning to your life.”

4. Work better

These may be uncertain, stressful times, but staying calm and focused while performing your professional duties makes you more productive and gives you clear direction when navigating difficult situations.

“Staying level-headed under pressure is essential,” says Ronel Groenewald, a psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley and Gariep. “The decisions you make in moments of crisis and stress are critical, so you can’t allow your emotions to influence the process unnecessarily. You need precise, effective, and intelligent action.”

Trying to address everything that demands your attention will leave you feeling fractured and ineffectual. Instead, take a step back and ask yourself:

  1. What’s most important here? Why?
  2. What’s unimportant or irrelevant?
  3. Where should I start in order to handle this pressure?

“Prioritising things helps you focus on the key factors at any given time,” says Groenewald. ”If you take the time to zero in on the most crucial tasks, you’ll achieve a sense of control. Feeling empowered makes you feel more confident and calm about your next move.”

5. Parent like a pro

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has caused major shifts in mindset all over the world. Companies have had to reconsider their stance on staff working from home, for example, and many people have had to adjust to a new life, juggling emails and phone calls with housekeeping and homework.

This is just as much of an adjustment for your children, if not more so, reminds Dr Raksha Takoordeen, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg. “We’re living in uncharted territory and talking to kids about the issues related to COVID-19 and the lockdown can be very tricky.”

Her secret to success? Honesty. “Children are very simple beings. The best way to deal with this is to be as honest as possible and explain to them exactly what’s going on. But try to do it on an age- or developmentally appropriate level.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all method, business-as-usual approach to parenting at a time like this. Acknowledge and accept that things will change, and when they do, adapt with a spirit of openness and positivity. 

“Be honest when you don’t know, and positive about the fact you’re finding new solutions together. For example, you don’t know when life will return to normal, so say so – but remind them regularly that all our efforts are for their safety and protection.”

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