At the beginning of the pandemic, I was ready to crawl out of my own skin.
I’m the type who dreads the upheaval of a snow day— I get super rage-y when time I’d planned to write or work on a house project evaporates, and instead I’m refereeing arguments between my kids, fetching snacks and policing screen time.
But lately, even with winter looming, the pandemic worsening, and political tension the likes of which I’ve never experienced before… I actually feel pretty good.
I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think it’s partly about resilience—our ability to adapt when life gets hard.
I think we sometimes imagine resilience is a characteristic we’re either born with or not, like blue eyes, double-jointed knuckles or the ability to wiggle our ears.
But resilience is actually a mental muscle. We have the capacity to flex and shape our resilience, to increase it. In her TED talk, Lucy Hone, a resiliency researcher, says, “Resilience isn’t some fixed trait. It’s not elusive that some people have and some people haven’t. It actually requires very ordinary processes and just the willingness to give them a go.”
So how exactly do we become more resilient?
What changed for me between the beginning of the pandemic and now? Some of it has to do with tips we’ve all heard a zillion times, like exercising to boost your mood, finding ways to stay connected, and making space for pleasure.
But a major ingredient of resilience that we talk about less often is learning to shift our attention away from things that cause distress, like doomscrolling, and onto what’s going well. As Hone says, “Resilient people are really good at choosing carefully where they select their attention.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, I channeled all of my attention into what was going poorly, which felt like pretty much everything: the general stress and worry of living through a global pandemic, my failure to successfully manage my kids’ remote learning, the lack of childcare, and all the time I was no longer able to write.
Nearly eight months later, and I’m learning how to slide my attention away from my perceived failures and onto the good moments—did I laugh with my kids today? Did I show them love? Did I show myself love? Are our basic needs getting met? Am I finding time to do work that’s meaningful? If so, that’s probably good enough.
Shifting our attention is like doing resilience push-ups. At first, it feels really hard and weird. Our brains cramp. We might think: the world is a dumpster fire—how can I ignore all that and gaze at the stars? But the more we practice, the more space there is for both those things to be true. Maybe the world is a dumpster fire, but does that make the sky any less stunning?
We’re living through unbelievably challenging times right now—and with a little intention and attention, we can train ourselves to adapt.
Lynn Shattuck grew up in an Alaskan rainforest and now lives in Maine. Her work has appeared in Elephant Journal, Al Jazeera and Mind Body Green, among other outlets. Lynn is currently writing a memoir about grief and loss. To learn more about her, visit her website, The Light Will Find You.