Building Our Resilience During Adversity

By Kenneth J. Gill, Ph.D
Chairperson, Professor, Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions

It’s now a cliché to say these are unprecedented times in our nation, but it is not an overstatement. We are facing a pandemic, the likes of which has not been seen in the US in 100 years, and, simultaneously, a level of civil unrest we have not seen in more than 50 years.

It is expected, indeed normal to feel fearful, anxious, more vulnerable, and perhaps sadder than usual under these circumstances. The news, even when good (e.g., that thanks to our collective actions the virus’s spread is becoming contained in our area), is followed by deeply troubling news of extreme injustice and wrongful deaths. Peaceful protests intended to lay bare these injustices are being overshadowed by rampant criminal actions. No way around it, it is all genuinely troubling, one may even be enraged by these events.

Here are some ideas for coping:

• Identify and acknowledge your own thoughts and feelings, and how these shape each other. It will help you control both.
• Accept the legitimacy of these thoughts and feelings. Virtually everyone paying attention to events now is upset, it is an expected response. Being very sad is not the same as being depressed.
• On a personal level, try to take the long view – people are feeling a whole range of emotions observing events outside themselves. What matters is what you do in the long run about these feelings that have been aroused.
• On a societal level, also take the long view, as Martin Luther King stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The images we are seeing are every upsetting, but some people have taken encouragement from the fact, that in many places, the crowds of protesters are clearly from many races and economic backgrounds, a sign of the growing acknowledgement that the need for change is becoming more broadly understood. Right here in New Jersey, the police chief in Camden carried a banner leading a peaceful protest there. It will be increasingly difficult for the average person to ignore the identified injustices.

Among the best advice that can be offered is to not suffer in silence, use your inter-connection with others as a support even if physical distancing is still in place, use distance socializing. If necessary, be selective with who you might discuss these things. Don’t overload on the news media all day, keep it limited. Engage in your favorite diversions. And if you need help, there is no shame in seeking it.

For Rutgers students, and all employees seeking help 1-800-327-3678. Also, anyone can reach out to the Rutgers call center, 1 (800) 969-5300. The Mental Health Association in New Jersey also offers referrals to services 1-866-202-HELP(4357).