Resilience and Life with Uncertainty

Julie Christie, the author of the recently published title “Promoting Resilience in Dementia Care” has applied resilience to the current climate and shared the things we can do to make ourselves feel more connected to each other, more positive and more in control during this uncertain time.

Julie Christie

Resilience is often thought of as something that you either have or don’t. More of a personal quality than a process. However, it is a process – something we can develop, and so resilience can be a practical thing that many people can use to take positive steps in difficult times. The current pandemic is the biggest challenge many of us have faced in that, it is global and has resulted in drastic societal changes and isolation from our places of work, family and friends. Our sense of spontaneity, ‘I’ll just pop to the shops’ or ‘Drop in for a coffee with dad’ has gone at least for 2020. Confidence in decision-makers, fears about the economy and the impact on personal finances raises political uncertainty. Time and structure, which are great regulators for us, reminders that things have a recognised rhythm, and that tomorrow brings a new familiar day, have been interrupted. Events feel too quick in some respects, the world rapidly changing around us and strangely, at the same time, the sense that this situation is slow and prolonged with no immediate end in sight.

Risk, Worry and Trust

It is both the pandemic and our response which causes uncertainty on many levels with worries about health, welfare and the future. The effects are long lasting as post pandemic recovery will also mean changes to our daily lives. Our worries are both concrete and vague ‘Will my job be okay?’ or ‘What is going to happen?’. Each of us are different and can tolerate different levels of ambiguity. After all, nothing in life has ever been certain. People do not generally like continual changes or uncertainty. We establish patterns and habits to create some certainty about what is to happen in our lives. This is exacerbated when we feel a sense of threat to ourselves and the people we care about. Essentially this is all focused on the question ’Will I be okay?’. Not knowing the answer is what upsets our equilibrium. Resilience, however, is where we experience adversity and uncertainty, and find new ways of coping to reduce the negative impact on ourselves and our lives. Let me say though that anxiety in difficult times is a perfectly normal response, but resilience offers practical steps to reduce this unease, and in its place, promote a sense of wellbeing. Living with ambiguity and stress can have an emotional labour on us, so anything we can do to reduce this is worthwhile. This can be thought of as the balance between ‘risk and worry’ and ‘risk and trust’ (Alaszewski and Coxon, 2009)(1) with resilience being the mechanism that can help us move between these two spaces.

Learning about resilience from people with dementia

In order to learn about resilience and life with uncertainty I have referred to the ways in which people respond to living with dementia. This work is the focus of my book Promoting Resilience in Dementia Care. Dementia causes both small, everyday changes and moments of uncertainty to large existential questions, and imbalance in a person’s life ‘Am I still me?’. I found that there are three foundations to everyday resilience. I call these:

  • Meaning Making
  • A sense of mastery and control
  • Connectedness to self and others

The wonderful opportunity this presents is that we can all now learn from people with dementia on how to live with the current situation. In order to focus ask yourself the following questions(2):

“Setting aside the things I don’t know about this situation, what are the things I do know for sure? What can I do, based on that?” (MEANING MAKING)

“What kind of attitude do I want to have about this situation? Given that, what choices do I want to make?” (MASTERY AND CONTROL)

“Who are the helpers? And who can I help?” (CONNECTEDNESS)

“What feels familiar to me in this, given my knowledge and past experiences? And what does that tell me I could do now?” (MY RESOURCES)

“What can I learn from this? What will I do differently as a result?” (MY ACTIONS)                                                                                                                         

Asking and answering these questions is resilience in action. I have provided some tips below.

  • Meaning Making

-This current situation will pass.
-Use a single reliable source of information to keep up to date with the latest news.
-Make opportunities to talk to friends and colleagues about the things that you are worried about.
-You can write worries down and put them to one side. You do not need to carry them with you.
-Look for the helpers. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or struggle to make sense of bad news items, look for people who are making things better.

  • Sense of Mastery and Control

-Know the symptoms.
-Follow the guidance.
-Ask questions.
-Be prepared- practical things like planning food shopping and making sure you have medications.

  • Connectedness

-Employ physical distancing not social distancing. Stay connected to people that matter to you. Use social media, the phone- whatever works best for you.
-Who is there for you at work, at home, in your community? We can create a visual asset or ecomap of the local community which highlights the formal and informal resources in our networks and neighbourhoods.
-Try and establish a routine that works for you where possible.

  • Resources

-Ask ‘How can I feel more like myself during this time?’
-What are the things that make you feel good everyday? How can you still find time for this? This might be hearing a favourite song or seeing a picture that makes you smile. It’s okay to make time for silly or fun things.
-What skills, experiences, personal qualities, resources do you have that you can use now?

  • Actions

-Ask ‘What will I do?’ and then make a plan that works for you.

Giving back to people living with Dementia

People living with dementia have been isolated and separated from family in many cases over this period, both at home and in their own homes. We don’t yet know what distress has been caused through physical and emotional distancing, not to mention the experience of bereavement and ill health for many. As we recover from this current situation, I would like to see a fresh approach to care and support for older people and people with dementia that recognises what people have to offer, and how we can use resilience to help people with dementia live better lives. Thinking about care and support, alongside neighbourliness and community has never been more important, after all, we have all had a taste of what life is like in isolation. Resilience can help us to do this. So, let’s build this into the recovery that we want for ourselves and the people we care for.

Written by Julie Christie
Twitter: @juliechristie1

If you want to learn more about resilience, in particular Promoting Resilience in Dementia Care, than you can order your copy of Julie Christie’s book, here.

(1)  Alaszewski, A and Coxon, K. 2009. Uncertainty in everyday Life: Risk, worry and trust. Editorial. Health, Risk and Society 11 (3): 201-207.
(2) Adapted from Caroline Webb (2019) []

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