Resilience in Times of Uncertainty
By Ann Adams
As we near the end of 2020, we find our world vastly changed from how the year began. If someone had told me that most Americans would be walking around wearing face masks in public and that we would be keeping the elderly in locked-down facilities while schools were closed, I would have scoffed at them for having read too many science fiction books or being deluded with conspiracy theories.
And yet, for better or for worse, this scenario has played out in a variety of ways around the world as individuals and families struggle to figure out what they need to do to be safe and move forward in these uncertain times. The Holistic Management community has been affected both positively and negatively as some people face decreased business and others have found ways to thrive in the current market.
But, as COVID responses and fallout continue, I have seen more fear, anxiety, and depression being articulated by individuals. I am not the only one witnessing such feelings emerging. The internet is filled with statistics about the increase in people experiencing greater challenges with keeping themselves and their families feeling grounded and positive.
Psychologist Dr. Ana Nogales wrote in her article “The Stages of Coping With the COVID-10 Pandemic” on the Psychology Today website, that most people will go through the following stages as they deal with COVID and the uncertainty that comes from any massive systemic societal change.
Anxiety/Depression—fueled even more by uncertainty
I can certainly attest to having gone through these steps, and I also believe that having my holistic goal has helped me find the “middle ground” that feels right to me as the media shares the extremes of people choosing to remain self-quarantined to those who feel they do not need to wear masks. As a family, we have looked at our desired outcome and our unique risks and opportunities. We have then defined our family policies about when we will and won’t wear masks, who we will let in our house and with what precautions, etc.
We are trying to adapt to these new rules to be able to engage and connect with our family (which includes grandchildren and a 95-year-old mother) and our community while being responsible citizens within the context of new state regulations. We also recognize our good fortune of living out in the country with the freedom such a lifestyle affords us while surrounded by nature and flexible work schedules.
But part of our efforts to stay grounded includes recognizing that 2020 and all its challenges are a once-in-a-lifetime experience (at least that is certainly my hope). While my mother’s generation lived through two world wars and the Spanish flu, many of us have not had to adapt to this kind of global challenge before.
In talking to numerous friends and family members, and taking the pulse of my own energy levels, I am aware of a certain fatigue. Given that I don’t have school-aged children at home who need homeschooling during work hours like many young parents in the U.S., I can only imagine what other people’s fatigue levels might be.
I think there are a lot of people who are beating themselves up for feeling like they can’t keep going. But, I think we need to look at the toll that occurs after the collapse of most of our systems that have broken down or had to be significantly altered over the last six months (i.e., religious institutions, schools, community support networks, etc.). We have used up our “surge capacity” to make that transition.
The idea of “surge capacity” is articulated in the article “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ is Depleted—It’s Why You Feel Awful” on the website Elemental. They define “surge capacity” as “a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.” However, as stressful situations continue to draw on, this ongoing great uncertainty can lead to chronic stress and burnout.
To combat this stress and burnout, we have to acknowledge that we are facing a time of great uncertainty and we are still figuring out how to adapt to this new reality. While there are numerous people predicting how long COVID will be a global risk, no one really knows. Likewise, as the personal response to various policies and regulations developed to address COVID seems to generate more social conflict, we begin to fight each other rather than fighting a common enemy. This fuels further uncertainty and creates ambiguous loss—a loss that is unclear and doesn’t have a resolution. Moreover, we have multiple losses—of trust, freedom, rituals, and ways of life, so we grieve these multiple losses (or react to them with some emotion like anger or fear).
So how do we take care of ourselves in these uncertain times? Michael Maddaus writes of developing a resilience bank account. We create this resilience first by recognizing that we don’t know when this time of uncertainty will end. We need to take time for self-care, which includes building and maintaining relationships, now. In particular, we may need to build new relationships to help us with these new times. Many farmers and ranchers are building cooperatives or new retail markets to replace their restaurant markets that have dried up. Likewise, they are building new enterprises to address new needs or interests as people begin to realize the importance of a local food system and the agriculture producers who want to feed their communities.
But if you are not in the action or adaptation stages noted above and are experiencing the stages of anxiety, depression, anger, and burnout, berating yourself for not being a better, stronger, more capable person is not going to help. So many people are struggling right now. Now is the time for compassion—for self and others. It is through identifying what we are feeling and getting the help we need that we can build our resilience bank account and have the resilience in our land, businesses, and families to then are able to reach out a hand to another when they need it—creating healthy land and thriving communities even in times of uncertainty.
HMI Professional Certified Educator, As Education Director for HMI, Ann Adams has designed and implemented training programs for both trainers and practitioners. She regularly teaches classes (onsite and distance learning) and offers consulting services in Holistic Management for family farms and ranches with a particular focus on goal-setting facilitation and financial planning and small acreage grazing. Trained as a mediator for the Albuquerque Metropolitan Court System, Ann also has experience with other conflict resolution processes that she brings to her facilitation. She has also been a Certified Educator for Holistic Management International since 1998 and has written countless articles, helped develop agriculture-based software for financial and grazing planning, and written a training handbook, At Home with Holistic Management: Creating a Life of Meaning, published in 1999. She owns a small farm in the Manzano Mountains, southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico where she raises goats and chickens.