Skip to main content

Resilience in the Face of COVID-19

By Kate Hobbs Knutson, MD, MPH | April 14, 2020 | 6 min read | Healthy Lifestyle

Have you ever noticed that some people go through tragic experiences, and they end up stronger, sometimes even seeming unfazed? Others have the same or similar experiences, and they remain devastated for far longer, struggling to recover.

One factor contributing to these differences is resilience. In psychology, resilience is the process of adapting to adversity, tragedy or trauma. It’s the ability to cope with stress or threats to ourselves or the people we care about. Resilience helps us bounce back from failure and disappointment, and keeps us from feeling burned out.

Our capacity for resilience is based on many things – including our past experiences, support systems, and likely genetics. The important thing is that resilience is malleable. There are concrete steps we can take to help cope during this overwhelming crisis of COVID-19. Resilience is important at all times, and especially now.


Specific information is available to answer your questions about behavioral health and COVID-19 in general. This page also has a directory of behavioral health providers delivering services via telehealth and those who are accepting new patients. This list grows daily, and you can self-refer to these providers (your usual cost-sharing still applies). Additionally, Eleanor Health has expanded capacity to treat substance use disorders virtually, including free public online support groups; and if have behavioral health benefits through MDLive or Teladoc, you can access those services without a co-pay during this time.


Resilience During a Pandemic

Our state, our nation, and the entire world eventually will recover from COVID-19. Collectively, we will learn a lot from this crisis – in fact, we already are learning – and we’ll use that new knowledge to more effectively cope with the next crisis. We may even be able to apply our learnings to prevent the next pandemic.

That sort of recovery is still on the horizon, though. What about right now? Every day is stressful, presenting new anxieties as we hear reports about the spread of the illness, overwhelmed doctors and health systems, and the struggles of our economy. These days, it’s awfully difficult to get out of bed and attend to work, our families, and even ourselves.

Sometimes our emotions can sway between extremes, from denying the seriousness of our situation to giving up all hope. In between, there is a psychological sweet spot where we address the real dangers that require action, while also allowing ourselves to feel the fear and sadness that may seem unending.

We can even allow ourselves a break – intentionally doing things that bring joy and comfort – to help build our reserves so that we remain effective for longer. Sometimes it is hard to imagine stopping to enjoy something pleasurable at a time like this, but it can mean the difference between remaining resilient versus shifting into exhaustion and despair.

Humans have an emotional memory. And for better or worse, negative experiences tend to stay vivid in our memories while positive experiences are more fleeting. In some ways, this protects us, keeping us from repeating mistakes that hurt us or others. At the same time, though, holding onto negative emotional memories can make it harder to move forward.

The trick is to keep what we’ve learned from bad situations and work to release the pain of the experiences. That’s not the same thing as pretending a traumatic experience never happened. We can’t erase painful memories, but we can process them and put them in perspective.


Every day is essentially a long list of choices. When the alarm clock goes off, do we roll over and go back to sleep, or do we climb out of bed and get in the shower? Do we eat breakfast or skip it? Do we dread the 8am meeting or approach it as an opportunity to connect with colleagues and try to work collaboratively?

At each point along the decision chain, we can decide how to react. When that 8am meeting doesn’t go as planned, will it ruin the rest of our day? Or will we make adjustments to our plans and move forward?  For the most part, we can choose whether we allow daily frustrations to affect our overall well-being.

During the current crisis – and the magnitude of changes that we experience on a daily basis – I try to remain focused on taking things one day at a time. I’ve noticed that each day I set an intention for how things will go, and I’m usually sent off-course by a new requirement that I hadn’t anticipated, or devastating news about our country and world.

At each moment, however, we have a choice for how to respond. We can give ourselves space to feel the pain and vulnerability that are ever-present these days, and to allow ourselves to cry and feel down. Usually when we stop fighting these feelings and just experience them, they pass more quickly than anticipated. This step is critical for getting ourselves back to the place where we have the energy to step up and do what we can to support those impacted by COVID-19, including ourselves, our families, and friends.

Accepting Uncertainty

One of the most stressful things about the COVID-19 outbreak is the general uncertainty is has brought. Are my loved ones OK? When will our lives go back to normal? Will the economy recover?

Let’s face it: a lot of these uncertainties are out of our control. This can be hard to accept. We want to feel in control of our lives. We take pride in being accountable, making plans and then following through on them. And now a lot of that autonomy has been placed on hold. That’s a helpless feeling.

It is important to accept that we are going to feel vulnerable for a while. To help, we can put energy into the things that we do control – like remaining at home, washing our hands, and similar actions to limit the spread of the virus. Virtually connecting with our social supports and spiritual communities also can help us feel stronger in the face of uncertainty. These efforts to build resilience allow us to surf atop the giant waves of doubt rather than being swept away by them.

Mindfulness is another practice that can help build resilience and even treat depression. Through mindfulness, we learn to experience events and our feelings without becoming overly attached or absorbed. This helps many people get to that sweet spot of feeling the challenging emotions while maintaining effectiveness in the face of hardship. There are many resources on the web to help you learn to practice mindfulness. With more time at home, this may be an ideal opportunity to give mindfulness a try.


To summon our powers of resilience, it’s a good idea to focus on what’s going well in our lives. Every day, there are things to be grateful about. In fact, there’s a “Three Good Things” exercise that can help us focus on the positive. By writing down three good things that happened each day, we magnify what’s positive in our lives. We reinforce those emotional memories instead of dwelling on the bummers that come our way.

This time of physical distancing has some benefits. For those of us with supportive families, we are home with them, with few distractions, and this is a rare gift. After years of unnecessary delay, within health care and many businesses, we are being forced to embrace virtual connectedness, and this trend is unlikely to reverse. My 97-year-old grandmother sets a great example: she has taken this opportunity to learn how to play chess, and she is teaching others in her assisted living home, so they can enjoy passing the time together.

Now, will producing a catalogue of positivity make COVID-19 go away? Will it make things losing income or savings less painful? No, it won’t. But it will provide meaningful context for all that happens in a given day. Identifying what we’re thankful for can help us remain afloat during dire times.


Understandably, for many of us, resilience may be challenged at time like this.  And it is difficult to find support when we are isolated by ourselves at home. It is important to seek professional help when you need it – and some warning signs are here.

Blue Cross NC is making it easier for our members to connect with health care providers while adhering to social distancing recommendations. During the COVID-19 crisis, we’re covering telephone consultations the same as in-person visits. This goes for mental health and substance use services, too.

Stronger, Wiser, Resilient

We’re living in a stressful time. It’s unhealthy to pretend that we’re not troubled by a global pandemic and its impact on our lives. But we can address this effectively, and in many cases we are. Resilience is crucial to coming out of this stronger and wiser than before.

Painful experiences are a part of our identity. While we may dwell on these experiences for some time, eventually we can aim to accept them, learn from them, and even be proud of how we processed them.

For more information about COVID-19 and how Blue Cross NC is helping members and health care providers address the virus, visit our website.