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10/Feb/2022

It’s hard to believe that we’ll soon be into our 3rd year of this pandemic 😷. We’ve made sourdough bread, gotten ‘used’ to masks, embraced jigsaws and telehealth, changed the way we work, go to school and socialise. We’ve missed out on many important events – big and small – as our world changed so dramatically.

It’s been really hard, and it’s taken a toll on our physical, mental and emotional health.

One aspect of ourselves that has suffered is our resilience. Resilience is our ability to cope and adapt to changes and challenges that the world throws at us. As this pandemic continues, we’re constantly tired, anxious, and stressed, with no end in sight. And this is really testing our resilience. Add to this a chronic, painful musculoskeletal condition, and everything seems amplified 😫.

For example, this morning, I was driving to the chemist to buy more masks. Someone cut me off in traffic. In the past, I would’ve muttered to myself and continued on my way. But today, I flashed my lights, tooted my horn and yelled. I yelled! Madness 😣. And at that moment, I realised that the only person negatively impacted by the situation was me. The other driver was long gone, but I could feel my heart pumping and the adrenaline coursing through my veins. It’s clear that my resilience is at an all-time low at the moment. I’ve known this for some time but haven’t done anything about it. But it’s now time.

So if you’re like me and know that your resilience isn’t what it used to be, and that you’re not handling stress and challenges as well as you once did, what can you do about it? How can you rebuild your resilience in a world that’s still so topsy-turvy, and you have no idea what’s around the corner?

Accept that you’ll have to face change, stress and challenges. Our lives are messy. And nothing is ever smooth sailing. However, by accepting that change is always happening – both good and bad – you can mentally prepare yourself for it. You can learn from how you’ve reacted in the past and how situations have affected you. You can use this information to prepare for future events and challenges. But the first step is to accept that things will happen. Change is constant. You can choose to deal with it in a positive, proactive way, or you can choose to let it negatively affect you. Acceptance isn’t always easy and will take time and reflection, but it is possible. And if you need help, it’s available. Read our article on support for mental and emotional wellbeing for more info about the types of professionals who can help you.

Make time for your people and your relationships. It’s tempting when you’re feeling low, in pain or like you just can’t take any more drama, to disconnect from others. However, when you’re on your own, it’s easy for your mind to get stuck on a merry-go-round of negative thoughts. They go round and round as you think about different ways you could have handled past events or as you worry about the unknown future. Staying in touch with the people who care for you can distract you from this rumination and help you focus on what’s actually happening in the world around you. They can also be a supportive ear and listen as you explain what’s affecting you and how you’re dealing (or not) with these things. They can also be a valuable source of advice if you choose to ask for it.

Write it down. Putting pen to paper and writing down the things that are causing you stress, or to feel anxious or powerless, is a useful strategy to help you see the nuances of the problem. Take the time to think about all sides of the issue and how it affects you. You can then process it more clearly, allowing you to do some critical thinking and problem-solving. Read this article, ‘5 ways journaling can build your resilience’ for more info about journaling.

Keep up your self-care. Again, it’s easy to let things slide when we’re not feeling on top of things. You may stop exercising, go to bed later or sleep in more often, eat comfort foods that give you a quick rush but don’t give you the nutrition you need, or rely on alcohol and other drugs to pick you up. But these behaviours will negatively affect your physical and mental health if you don’t get on top of them. So it’s important that you make a conscious commitment to continue your self-care, especially because your resilience is low. Because self-care practices such as sticking to a daily routine, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting good quality sleep and getting out into nature, will make you feel healthier and more able to cope with life’s challenges. They’ll also help you deal with pain and other symptoms of your musculoskeletal condition.

Focus on what you can control, no matter how small. You can’t control what’s happening with the pandemic, apart from following the health advice you receive from the government and your healthcare team. This lack of control can sometimes make you feel powerless. But you can control things closer to you, like how often you access social media or how much ‘doomscrolling’ you’re doing. You can choose to give your mental health a break from negative news and socials. You’re giving yourself power – over your actions and the effect they have on you – which will help build your resilience.

Think about how you can positively deal with challenges you’re currently dealing with. For example, if you’re working from home and feel isolated from your colleagues and the world in general, how can you manage this? Or, if you’re feeling financial stress because you’re not getting as much work as you once did, what options are available to help you? By problem-solving and coming up with a range of potential solutions, you can start to feel more in control. And if it all seems to overwhelming, you can always break big challenges down into smaller actions. If we look at the financial stress example, the first step might be to read our information on financial support. The next step might be to list who you need to contact to get help – e.g. your bank, utility companies etc. The third step might be to contact them, and so on. The point is, by breaking it down, and moving through a series of steps, you’re dealing with whatever issue or obstacle is causing you stress. You’re taking control of the situation.

Think of the things that make you happy or grateful. Every day, before getting out of bed or before you go to sleep, think of three things that make you feel happy or grateful. It can be anything you like – the sound of your child laughing, the sight of dogs playing in the park, the scent of freshly mown lawn, the warmth of your partner’s hand as you go for an evening stroll etc. Taking time to think of these things will make you feel more optimistic because there’s so much good around us. We just have to take the time to be aware of it.

Learn from the past. What things have helped you through a hard time in the past? Can you use that strategy/behaviour/resource now? It’s important to remember that you’ve gotten through tough times before, and you will again. It can just be a little hard to see that when you’re still going through it. But as they say, this too shall pass.

Get help. Sometimes you can try really hard, but you just can’t seem to get on top of things by yourself. That’s ok. We’re living through very difficult times, and we all need help from time to time. Talk to trusted family or friends about how you’re feeling. They can help you work through many of the above strategies if you’re struggling. Or it may be time to speak with a mental health professional to get some support that’s specifically tailored to you and your own specific circumstances.

We’ve all been rocked by these extraordinary times, and many of us are finding it difficult to find our footing again. We feel out of control and powerless by so much of what’s going on around us. However, by building our resilience, we’re more able to cope with these challenges and feelings and bounce back more quickly. It takes time and commitment to build your resilience, but it can be done. One step at a time.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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05/Aug/2021

Humans have evolved to be an incredibly social species. That’s why our connections are so important to us – with family, friends, work colleagues, teammates, walking buddies, fellow book clubbers and staff at the local coffee shop. They all play a role in shaping who we are and how we get on in the world.

So when we can’t see these people in person due to lockdowns, restrictions, quarantine and the general chaos of COVID, it’s really hard on us.

The last 16 months have been so wearing – both physically and emotionally. We’re living with heightened feelings of anxiety and stress – what will the case numbers be today, when will I be able to visit loved ones, how long will we be homeschooling, when will life go back to ‘normal’??

Unfortunately, there aren’t any simple answers for any of these questions – especially the last one.

But there’s a simple thing you can do to combat the loneliness, lethargy, emotional fatigue and general feeling of ‘meh’ that COVID is causing us to feel. And that’s staying in touch with your peeps and extended community.

How to stay connected when you have to stay apart

First, we should never forget that restrictions and social distancing measures are all about physical distance. We need to remain separate from others so that the virus can’t spread. But that doesn’t mean we have to be socially separated or isolated.

Even before the pandemic, we used technology to remain connected. COVID has just put that on the fast track, and we’ve become familiar with video chats, long phone calls, and messaging.

So what else can you do to ensure you remain connected with the people and places important to you?

Check in. And no, there’s no QR code involved in this one ?! Take time daily to check in with yourself. How are you doing? If you’re feeling anxious or lonely, or overwhelmed, reach out to others for support. If you’re feeling fatigued or in pain, what can you do to deal with this? Taking a few moments to check in with yourself each day helps you deal with any issues before they become significant problems.

Take time to connect with those in your own home – your partner, kids, parents, siblings, housemates, pets, plants??. How’s everyone doing? Share your experiences and feelings about the day. And if you want to go beyond the small talk, try these ‘36 questions for increasing closeness’ from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley (USA).

Phone a friend. Make a regular time to call/video chat with those important to you. And make that day/time sacred – nothing (other than an emergency) should get in the way of this contact.

Get everyone involved. Call your nearest and dearest for a group chat and…watch movies, listen to music, make dinner, enjoy happy hour, fold the washing, discuss a book, play online games. You can still do things together even if you can’t be together.

Get out and walk. Exercise is essential for our physical and mental health, so get out and breathe in the fresh air. Take the family for a stroll, or meet up with a friend in the park. If you can’t walk with your usual crew, link your fitness apps and compare how many steps you’ve done for a little friendly competition ?. Go on a scavenger hunt. Or send pics to your network of the things you see on your walk. Walking isn’t just a good form of exercise – it can become an adventure, or a mindfulness exercise, or a chance to see other people in the flesh (and safely distanced).

Connect with your neighbours. Have a chat over the fence as you do your gardening or peg out the laundry. Or sit in your separate yards/driveways/balconies and just natter the afternoon away. Take note of any neighbours who live on their own and reach out to them. See if they need any assistance, groceries, someone to take the bins out, or most important of all, simple human interaction. It’s what we all need to get through this.

Immerse yourself. There are lots of online support/hobby/social/exercise groups that you can access from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can learn new things and meet new people without stepping out your door. And the beauty of online groups is they don’t even have to be in the same city, country or continent! Befriend Inc has created a handy guide to help you find and attend social groups online.

Send a care package. To someone you care about, or someone you know is having a difficult time. Send books, jigsaws, flowers, yummy food, a handwritten note. Anything that lets them know you’re thinking of them. It’ll be a lovely surprise and a boost for them, and for yourself. “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way” – Mary Anne Radmacher.

Give thanks. Even though we’re tired, frustrated, anxious and sick of the stupid virus, there are still things to be thankful for. Taking time to reflect on these things helps us feel more positive and more fulfilled. Find out how you can become more grateful in your everyday life.

Volunteer your time and skills – from home. Volunteer work can be rewarding for yourself and your community. And there’s a lot of volunteer work that can be done online or remotely. So think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit GoVolunteer and search the database for volunteering opportunities.

Learn something new. There are so many organisations providing online learning courses, and many of them are free or low-cost. Just search online using your favourite search engine, and explore what’s available. Also, check out Laneway Learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses), TAFEs, colleges and community houses. You’ll come out of this pandemic with so much knowledge you’ll wow everyone at your next trivia night ?. And you’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people. Win-win!

Worship. Attending churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship with our family and friends isn’t an option for many people at the moment. The good news is that a lot of them are now online. Contact your place of worship or search online to see what events are being streamed and when. Gather with your extended family and friends virtually after worship to celebrate together.

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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