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What keeps us going in a pandemic

Around mid-April, when coronavirus had started wreaking havoc across the country, Priya Nagwani received back-to-back bad news: a close family member had tested positive and her Delhi employer, a medical equipment trading company, gave her the pink slip. Nagwani lost confidence almost immediately. Constant news about the rising number of cases and deaths, increasing unemployment rates and not being able to step outside her house made things worse.

“I became depressed,” confesses Nagwani. After enough support from family and friends, she decided to change things around. She started applying for jobs, and updated her LinkedIn profile, actively looking for a new position. “I had to fight back,” she says. “We all know that we have to get used to the pandemic, so I need to deal with the situation with resilience.” Nagwani is still looking for a job.

This pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone. And in difficult times like these, it’s human nature to stress about the future and, in some cases, lose hope. “This hampers our ability to think positively, overanalyse situations, all of which makes our brain lethargic,” explains Ekta Soni, senior consultant (psychiatrist and psychotherapist) at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals. That’s where the quality of resilience—the ability to bounce back from setbacks, recover from difficulties and a sense of toughness of character—helps. “Resilience is our ability to endure and withstand difficult circumstances and spring back from the situation and with hope,” she says.

It’s the way you see

The first step to being resilient is to accept your current situation and find the right way to charter through future challenges.

The pandemic might be uncertain and unpredictable, but constant change is part of every year. “When you see larger patterns of things from recessions to regime changes, social unrest, cultural upheavals, the current situation becomes like one of the rest,” says assistant professor Jayaram S. Uparna, who works at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore in the human resource management department. Your personal perspective to things is everything. “If you have survived the others before, you will survive this too. The show goes on, the spotlight has just shifted a bit,” explains Uparna.

Getting this perspective is an important step to building resilience and finding a form of psychological immunity so you can take external jolts and return back to a stable state. “Resilience is a shock-absorber of sorts,” he says. “It gives you confidence that you can weather any changes.”

Uparna suggests taking your mind off unproductive thinking and anxiety and getting into a meaningful involvement while you wait for a job or a new opportunity. Take up a hobby, do some social work, engage your mind. Take small steps, tick things off your to-do list and get your “control” back. “This gives us a sense of purpose and helps regain self-confidence and worth.”

Go ahead, talk

Another important way to cultivate resilience is by surrounding yourself with friends, family and community. To understand that you are not alone in this.

Talking to your family and friends definitely helps, insists Nagwani.“Don’t make yourself feel alone in the bad situation you are in,” she adds.

If loved ones are not enough, don’t hesitate to approach a therapist, says Piyush Kumar, the Delhi-based CEO and founder of Rooter, an online sports and gaming community platform.

In May, Kumar opted for therapy when he realized his stress levels had increased in the past few months because of work. “Ever since the pandemic hit, I was filled with anxiety,” says Kumar. His startup had just tied up for the 2020 Indian Premier League, but the virus outbreak had changed everything. He had to rework his business model, ensure his employees were comfortable in remote-work setups and streamline new processes. The shift took a toll on his mental health. “A lot of founders go through serious stress, and taking therapy gives you resilience to deal with tough times,” he says, adding that you should not wait for problems to knock on your door to take mental health seriously.

Community to the rescue

In a tough situation, every little bit that you do helps, believes Rajat Agarwal, who works as a growth specialist in an IT company in the national capital. Four months ago, he noticed his LinkedIn feed was flooded with posts from people losing their jobs. At the same time, his company was hiring. He decided to start a group using Google Forms to make a list of people looking for jobs. The free group, Free Job Forum, connected people like Nagwani to recruiters.

“No matter what colleagues say, there is a dearth of quality talent across companies,” insists Agarwal, adding that while some companies will go bust, some others will recruit. The forum Agarwal runs with his colleagues has 10,000 candidate entries and 450-plus recruiters as of now.

It seems that as times go tough, there is an societal urge to keep competition away and help each other. According to statistics shared by LinkedIn India, there has been a 55% year-on-year increase in conversations as people reconnect, share, advice, especially on hashtags like #HelpingHands and #OfferingHelp, where people are coaching, connecting and mentoring for free.

“In the past four months we have seen remarkable resilience in members,” says Srividya Gopani, director (brand and consumer marketing), Asia-Pacific and China, LinkedIn. “They have come together to seek guidance, offer support and help others. It is inspiring to see the community come together to give and get help.”

The current times will remain unforeseen and difficult. Resilience is the only way that will help you stay strong, overcome hardships and create opportunities for yourself, says mental health expert Soni. “Resilient people are inherently optimistic and try to look at the positive aspect of any situation. Accept, keep learning and give yourself goals to work towards,” she says.

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