How Can We Build Resilience in the Time of COVID-19?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

IMPAQ President Dr. Adaeze Enekwechi reflects on what we can all do to build resilience as we face this unprecedented moment in our personal and professional lives.

I gained a special appreciation for how quickly infectious diseases can spread globally while serving as a senior member of the Obama Administration during the Ebola and Zika crises. In January of this year, when COVID-19 was sweeping across China, I personally felt compelled to wear a mask for the first time on a flight from California. This predated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), but it was a precaution I chose to take. My experience has made it clear that infectious diseases do not know country borders. 

As I write this, the mortality from COVID-19 in the United States has risen to more than 3,000 people. Projections for future deaths range from 100,000 to 200,000 in the coming weeks, depending on the models you reference. It is heartbreaking to contemplate the sheer loss of life that we may face as a nation. We hear discussions about the choice between the economy or public health. I believe we need to safeguard the public’s health, because without it, there will not be an economy. 
As President of IMPAQ, I have thought deeply about what my colleagues and I can do to weather this storm together—how we can support one another and take care of ourselves in order to show up and serve those who rely on us both personally and professionally.  
I would like to share some things that are helping me build my own resilience during this challenging time, and that I am encouraging our team members at IMPAQ to do as well. 

1. Be kind to others

During a recent all-staff meeting where all 400 of our IMPAQ team members gathered on Zoom, I asked staff to walk away with one important message: be kind to one another during this time. 
The need to be more forgiving, to be understanding, to allow a bit of latitude if staff are joined on a virtual team meeting by little children or excited pets, has never been greater. As professionals, we are all working to deliver the same level of excellence as we did before this pandemic. At IMPAQ, our work in promoting health and wellbeing—especially among marginalized communities— is and will continue to be vital. 
Yet maintaining “business as usual” in this new environment looks different for everyone. Whether it is shifting work hours to manage personal responsibilities or collaborating in new ways with colleagues, we have an opportunity to support one another with grace and kindness as we figure out how to be most productive as a team. 

2. Be kind to ourselves

As our airline attendants always remind us, we need to put our own oxygen mask on before we can help others. For me, this means building in small breaks throughout the workday to drink water, take walks, stop and think for a minute, or reconnect with a colleague on a personal level.
Moving our bodies to relax our minds
As if we knew we would be in the house for many months, my family recently got a corgi puppy. Our new ritual of walking the dog in the morning and evening for a couple of miles is nothing short of therapeutic. Puppy or not, simply building in time to exercise every single day can give our minds a break and give our bodies what is essentially the antidote to stress: movement. 
Reframing our expectations
For many of us, working at home with children who are out of school has not been easy. The first few weeks, I did my very best to keep my two children engaged with our self-created plan to work on mathematics, science, and other subjects. But as my work schedule intensified, I could not keep up with their work or hover over their shoulders during the day. I felt they were not taking their “continue as if you’re in school” order seriously. More than once, they were both playing games or arguing. My frustration grew, along with my guilt. I wanted to post a #homeschoolfail, but I decided to take my own advice and be kind to myself. The goal of becoming an excellent homeschool mom—while also serving my company and our clients—was not going to happen in a week. My new goal became being grateful that we could all work and learn safely in our home together, however that looks on a day-to-day basis.
Combatting social isolation and focusing on mental health 
Staying mentally healthy and connected to others is vital for us to continue to function as individuals, professionals, and care takers. I recently consulted with our human capital department to ensure that IMPAQ staff have access to mental health services to cope with the news, or the experience many of us are about to face or are facing already. I encourage our staff to reach out to one other, and yes, to use our corporate Zoom account to connect with their families and friends to provide reassurance. Social connectedness will be an essential part of our toolkit for getting through this together.

3. Shift our perspectives through gratitude

My children and I spend our time in our home working, studying, or chatting in relative comfort. We have food, water, sanitation, Wi-Fi, and an abundance of life’s conveniences. When we are not indoors, we have a safe neighborhood where we can walk and play while appropriately distancing ourselves from others. Meanwhile, many fellow Americans face unemployment, food insecurity, and a host of other COVID-19-related challenges that have a disproportionate impact on low-income and marginalized communities
Globally, densely populated areas like India, Kenya, and South Africa offer minimal opportunities for social distancing. These environments have left many people further exposed, with potentially devastating consequences. 
Therefore, I would add gratitude to the list in my toolkit for building resilience during times of crisis. I admit—I have had to address my own fears and uncertainties about my family and loved ones, and gratitude does not always come easily in those moments. Yet I have learned that practicing gratitude helps me handle the situation from a position of strength rather than deficit. 

4. Be part of the solution 

My feelings on the situation faced by our front line health care workers have turned from shock to horror. It is devastating that they do not have the protective gear they need. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to stay home, we need to do our part. By reducing the spread of the virus, we give health care workers a fighting chance to do their jobs and save lives. 

How we weather this storm will be the beginning of our next chapter  

While it is difficult to see now, this pandemic will eventually subside and we will start a new chapter in our lives and businesses. When that day comes, I hope we will all face the future with hope, while maintaining a “new normal” that builds on many of the strategies that aided us through this crisis. By being kind to others and ourselves, practicing gratitude, and becoming more resilient as individuals and teams, we will be well prepared to face the challenges of the future.