Resiliency and COVID-19


John Gallup, Local 1747 Kent, has served as a WSCFF Trustee since 2003, was recently appointed to the WSCFF Health & Safety Committee as the Behavioral Health representative, and has served as President and Vice President for City of Sea Tac Fire Fighters.  Here, he shares strategies and resources for resiliency.

The first COVID-19 death was reported in Washington on February 28 and the WSCFF, IAFF and local leaders immediately took action to protect our members in this fight.  Now we are almost two months into what is sure to be a long battle.  At this point, some of us may find stress levels rising and capacity to cope falling.  Some might believe they are coping well, though friends and family members might offer a different perspective.  Either way, learning new tools, reviving old strategies, and looking at resiliency can help all of us.  Someday the pandemic will be over and resiliency will help us pick up where we were, learn from what we went through and achieve even greater success.

The following is a summary taken from a blog called, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” by Eric Barker.  The blog uses science-based answers and expert insight to address life’s issues.  It’s been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine and Time Magazine.

How to be resilient during difficult times COVID edition:

We need to stay strong for the fight ahead, for ourselves and for our loved ones.

How do we maintain the mental toughness to keep going when times get difficult? Luckily, we have access to better data than previous generations did. So, what can disaster survivors, academic research, and elite military operators teach us about staying personally strong in the face of our own pandemic?

Let’s get to it…

  • Positive self-talk: When you talk to you make sure you are nice to you. We all spend a lot of time thinking about what we say to others. To stay strong during this challenging time, give a little more thought to what you say to yourself. And make it positive.  It’s estimated you say 300 to 1000 words to yourself per minute.  Those words need to be positive.
  • Physical fitness: Stress your body a little bit every day and it will handle the big stresses to come that much better.  Something that people underestimate is that staying healthy physically also helps keep you healthy mentally.
  • Make it a game: Obstacles in life make us want to quit. Meanwhile games drive us to keep playing until we win. So, make life a game.  Stop seeing the challenges you’re facing as inconveniences and see them as challenges to be overcome in a video game. You’re not a fool stuck at home; you’re braving the wilds of a post-apocalyptic landscape in order to acquire vital provisions.
    • What’s one of the things people who live through disaster scenarios have in common? They make survival a game.
    • Happiness expert Shawn Achor said the best way to deal with stress is to see problems as challenges, not threats.
  • Humor: You would think Navy SEALs, Rangers and Special Forces would be all serious and stoic like heroes in action movies. Well, they definitely know how to be serious when needed but it shocked me when time and time again in separate interviews, I heard them all say the same un-serious thing helped them cope with the toughest times imaginable: laughter.

If a laugh a day can get soldiers through Ranger School; it’ll get you through quarantine.  Substantial evidence exists for the effectiveness of humor as a coping mechanism.

And the last one was Embracing Meaning via community. Let’s start there. You might think people who survive disasters do it by putting themselves first…

And you’d be wrong. When Laurence Gonzales compiled the research on those who get through life threatening situations what he found was the exact opposite.

Those who help others were more likely to survive.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

Helping someone else is the best way to ensure your own survival. It takes you out of yourself. It helps you to rise above your fears. Now you’re a rescuer, not a victim. And seeing how your leadership and skill buoy others up gives you more focus and energy to persevere. The cycle reinforces itself: You buoy them up, and their response buoys you up. Many people who survive alone report that they were doing it for someone else (a wife, boyfriend, mother, son) back home.We’re all in this together.

“Social distancing” is a poorly worded term. Physical distancing is much better and is important right now to prevent the spread of the virus.

But to survive after, we need to stay as socially close as possible.

Additional Resources:

IAFF Recovery Center Blog

The Dangers of the Superhero Image

You and Your Family:  Mental Health and Well Being

Face Covid, by Dr. Russ Harris

Developing Emotional Immunity Infographic

Developing Emotional Immunity Webinar