How to Find Emotional Strength & Resilience During COVID-19: Advice from Elizabeth Gilbert, Jack Kornfield, Susan David & Other Experts

There are many roads through the coro­n­avirus cri­sis. One is denial, which only makes things worse. Anoth­er is ser­vice and self-sac­ri­fice, a choice we hon­or in the med­ical pro­fes­sion­als putting their lives at risk every day. For most of us, how­ev­er, the best course of action is non-action—staying home and iso­lat­ing our­selves from oth­ers. Days bleed into weeks, weeks into months. It can seem like life has come to a com­plete halt. It hasn’t, of course. All sorts of things are hap­pen­ing inside us. We don’t know how long this will last; cur­rent cours­es of action don’t bode well. What do we do with the fear, anger, lone­li­ness, grief, and buzzing, ever-present anx­i­ety?

Maybe the first thing to do is to accept that we have those feel­ings and feel them, instead of stuff­ing them down, cov­er­ing them up, or push­ing them onto some­one else. Then we can rec­og­nize we aren’t by any means alone. That’s eas­i­er said than done in quar­an­tine, but psy­chol­o­gists and inspi­ra­tional writ­ers and speak­ers like Eliz­a­beth Gilbert have come togeth­er under the aus­pices of the TED Con­nect series, host­ed by the head of TED Chris Ander­son, to help.

TED, known for show­cas­ing “thinkers and doers [giv­ing] the talk of their lives in 18 min­utes (or less),” has wise­ly rec­og­nized the need to dig much deep­er. Ander­son and head of cura­tion Helen Wal­ters’ con­ver­sa­tion with Gilbert, above, runs a lit­tle over an hour.

As for that cease­less anx­i­ety, Gilbert sug­gests we should all give our­selves “a mea­sure of mer­cy and com­pas­sion.” We might feel like we need per­mis­sion to do so in soci­eties that demand we con­stant­ly jus­ti­fy our exis­tence. But admit­ting vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is the begin­ning of strength. Then we find con­struc­tive ways for­ward. The kind of resilience we can build in iso­la­tion is the kind that can out­last a cri­sis. Still, it is hard won. As Ander­son says above, in addi­tion to the exter­nal bat­tle we must fight with the virus and our own gov­ern­ments, “there’s this oth­er bat­tle as well, that is prob­a­bly equal­ly as con­se­quen­tial. It’s a bat­tle that’s going on right inside our minds.”

Rather than killing time wait­ing fit­ful­ly for some accept­able form of nor­mal to return, we can build what psy­chol­o­gist Susan David calls “emo­tion­al courage.” In con­ver­sa­tion with TED’s Whit­ney Pen­ning­ton Rogers, above, David reveals that she her­self has good rea­son to fear: her hus­band is a physi­cian. She also under­stands the con­se­quences of a col­lec­tive denial of suf­fer­ing and death. “The cir­cum­stance that we are in now is not some­thing that we asked for, but life is call­ing on every sin­gle one of us to move into the place of wis­dom in our­selves… into the space of wis­dom and for­ti­tude, sol­i­dar­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ty, courage.” We move into that space by rec­og­niz­ing that “life’s beau­ty is insep­a­ra­ble from its fragili­ty.”

Themes of courage and con­nec­tion come up again and again in oth­er TED Con­nects inter­views, such as that above with Rab­bi Lord Jonathan Sacks and below with author Priya Park­er. Else­where on the inter­net, you’ll find sim­i­lar kinds of advice.

On the Tim Fer­ris show, you can hear inter­views with Jack Korn­field on find­ing peace in the pan­dem­ic, Esther Per­el on nav­i­gat­ing rela­tion­ships in quar­an­tine, and Ryan Hol­i­day on using Sto­icism to choose “alive time over dead time.”

Sto­icism has gath­ered a par­tic­u­lar­ly rich store of wis­dom about how to live in cri­sis. In his own med­i­ta­tion on iso­la­tion, Michel de Mon­taigne drew on the Sto­ics in advis­ing read­ers to “reserve a back­shop, whol­ly our own and entire­ly free, where­in to set­tle our true lib­er­ty, our prin­ci­ple soli­tude and retreat…. We have a mind pli­able in itself, that will be com­pa­ny; that has where­with­al to attack and to defend, to receive and to give: let us not then fear in this soli­tude to lan­guish under an uncom­fort­able vacu­ity.” In oth­er words, the road through iso­la­tion, though fraught with painful emo­tions and uncer­tain­ties, can be, if we choose, one of sig­nif­i­cant per­son­al and col­lec­tive growth.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Cours­es on the Coro­n­avirus: What You Need to Know About the Emerg­ing Pan­dem­ic

How Stress Can Change Your Brain: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Sto­icism, the Ancient Greek Phi­los­o­phy That Lets You Lead a Hap­py, Ful­fill­ing Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Dr T says:

    Eliz­a­beth Gilbert is an author and a celebri­ty with an arts degree. She is not an ‘expert’ in psy­chol­o­gy or stress, and with loads of mis­in­for­ma­tion ped­dling these days it’s prob­a­bly not help­ful to con­flate exper­tise with celebri­ty sta­tus, no?

  • Lonnie says:

    Dr. T,

    I agree. There is no such thing as jour­nal­ism any­more, just click-bait. Most of these so called “writ­ers” believe in quan­ti­ty, not qual­i­ty. Mon­ey is a pri­or­i­ty instead of crafts­man­ship.

  • David says:

    For me, Eliz­a­beth Gilbert is a breath of fresh air. Thank you for post­ing this inter­view.

  • Raimonds says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this.
    Kind Regards,

  • Lsa says:

    I could lis­ten to Jack Korn­field all day. Thank you for this.

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