Reach out to build resilience

Illustration by Elisabeth Schettle
Illustration by Elisabeth Schettle

By Peter Redmond and Eric Cipriano

Healthy human relationships are some of our most valuable resources. Social support from family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors is essential to maintaining a healthy daily lifestyle. These vital connections provide meaning and purpose and can improve health and well-being. Most importantly, these relationships help us through times of stress, crisis, and uncertainty.  

  As the coronavirus spreads across the globe and in our communities, many of us are hearing and using a new term—social distancing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining physical distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible. Congregate settings are crowded public places where close contact with others may occur, such as shopping centers, movie theaters, and stadiums.  

  But social distancing does not have to mean social isolation—especially when striving to maintain resilience. Social isolation can breed anxiety, fear, avoidance, and miscommunication—in an individual’s self and within communities. These new rules are requiring adjustments to childcare and eldercare practices, and challenge everyone’s ability to stay connected when schools, sporting events, and places of worship shut down. Yet it is crucially important to stay connected to family, friends, colleagues, and community.  

 Following key principles of personal, team, and community resilience can help to better navigate the challenges ahead—and stay connected. First, it’s important to stay positive. Negativity, panic, and fear only undermine the team and result in irrational actions. Seek out positive people who will help you weather the storm. Next, take care of yourself. Work to maintain your routines and keystone habits of regular exercise, quality sleep, and healthy eating. Focus on strengthening one of those bedrock habits to feel stronger and improve your immune system. It is also important to use active problem-solving. Focus on facts and science to understand the reality of the situation, including the disease and how it is transmitted. Use and get comfortable with the various existing telework tools as the Department of State evaluates innovative ways for employees to accomplish their missions remotely.

One of the most important key principles is to continue to communicate, especially with work colleagues. Share what you know and do it regularly. Timely sharing of new information goes a long way in building trust and transparency. Open communication lets you know where the organization is headed. Healthy communication also includes the ability to say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out.”

After reaching out to colleagues and friends during the day, find some time to unwind. Take a break from the news and social media, and set aside time for unplugged activities.  

Everyone has an incredible ability to adapt to stress and overcome uncertainty in times of crisis—but it is best when people can do it together. 

Peter Redmond is the director of the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience at the Foreign Service Institute. Eric Cipriano is a resilience instructor/trainer at the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience at the Foreign Service Institute.