A top local CEO recently told me, “I’m learning how to lead through a crisis, and it’s tough. I’m not sure how to be strong when I don’t feel strong.”

Developing resilience is a lifelong journey, often honed during periods of crisis. That sounds daunting, but there’s good news for leaders who are learning how to deal with uncertainty and disruption during the pandemic. A recent Psychology Today article, “Resilience in a pandemic: Lessons on fighting the pandemic from military psychology,” asserts that the skills needed to remain resilient and to demonstrate personal growth in the face of adversity are learnable. 

What is resilience? According to Work, Health, Life, an employee and family assistance program, resilience is “the ability to effectively cope with, recover from or adapt to challenging life situations.” I have managed crisis and adversity in my career and in my personal life and have worked hard to develop positive behaviors to develop resilience and to lead through tough times. Here are six ideas that have worked for me:

  1. First, practice self-care. Really. You cannot lead others if you are not in good shape. Years ago when people told me to take better care of myself, I tuned them out. The concept of self-care sounded self-centered and was, frankly, hard to do. Yet, experts say that during a crisis it is even more important than usual to take good care of yourself and it is critical for leaders. Eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, practicing spirituality or mindfulness and cutting down on intoxicants or stimulants are common-sense ways to practice self-care. Eventually I developed healthy habits. And guess what? Self-care makes a difference.

  2. Turn to your support system. You need to be strong for your team, but what about you? Isolation can compound stress, depression and anxiety. An April article, “Cultivating Deliberate Resilience During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic” in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says, “We need physical distancing but not social distancing. We should … reach out and make connections.” Turn to people who care about you, peers, mentors or professional counselors who can provide the company, encouragement and support you need to stay strong. 

  3. Gain strength from past challenges. “By seeing yourself as a survivor you can boost your confidence, help you accept the situation and focus on circumstances that you can control,” says Work, Health, Life. If you are feeling ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic, make a list of all the challenges you have already overcome. As life goes on, the more confident I am that I can handle whatever comes my way – because I have prevailed before in work and in life.

  4. Develop realistic goals and take decisive action. My mom used to tell me if I was overwhelmed to clean off my desk. That advice simply meant creating a reasonable goal to get “unstuck.” If you have achievable short-term goals, you can focus on specific tasks that will enable you to move forward. Making sure your team has “quick wins” can help them – and you – develop your confidence and strengthen your resilience.

  5. Give yourself a break. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is find a moment to clear your head – a pause from Zoom, a walk or nap, time off, or a few minutes away from your kids. Walking my dog daily has been key to my sanity even before the pandemic – I get fresh air, connect with nature, avoid screens and reset my resilience. 

  6. Help someone else. No matter how tough it is for you, there is always someone else struggling. Being there for others directly and supporting local businesses or nonprofits can help you and your team have a sense of purpose. 

We will be dealing with the pandemic for some time. “Researchers agree that resilience can be strengthened with practice,” says the JAMA article. Keep practicing those skills. There will be highs and lows. It’s OK to have bad days. You can’t control the pandemic, but you can hone your resilience – a skill that will serve you well as a leader now and in the future.