15 Oct 2020

Practice Mindfulness and Build Personal Resilience in COVID Times

During the recent workshop for Limerick Mental Health Week, Ann Bracken and John Hickey gave some terrific advice when it comes to building personal resilience. They also gave some great tips on how you can build this up each day plus knowing what the difference is between anxiety and concern. Here are some of the key insights.

Three Things to Build Up Personal Resilience Each Day

Every day there’s a new update in relation to COVID (will there won’t there be another lockdown). All of this uncertainty also links to the fact that for some:

  • They are in closer proximity to their families than before
  • While for others they are on their own and in their own company

That is a real big change. So how do we manage that level of change and build up that window of tolerance? How do we identify when our emotional triggers are being triggered?

The whole idea is to build up resilience in the present. So ask yourself how do I build it up this week rather than looking further down the line. Future based thinking can lead to trouble. 

Here are a couple of useful things you can do each day to build your resilience:

  • Three-minute breath work check-in (here’s a useful video)
  • Create some mental space for yourself
  • Be present for yourself in the here and now

One of the biggest challenges is we often project far into the future or look back into the past. This means we are often carrying a lot of anxiety because we are not rooted in the here and now. 


Mindfulness is about learning how to stay present and allow these fears to come and go. It’s about learning:

“What do I need to control now and what I need to let go of”


It’s important to know what is outside of your control.

CBT and Mindfulness

How does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy help to build personal resilience? CBT essentially looks at the philosophers from ancient times and how they approached problems in life.

For example, Epictetus highlighted that:

“We are not disturbed by what happens to us, but by our thoughts of what happens to us”

Just think back to when the main topic of daily conversation was the weather, it’s not the case anymore. Also, COVID is a much more stressful topic than a bad weather day

How we hear that conversation and what we say to ourselves is often determined by the dialogue we have in our own minds. Do we tend to catastrophise it and think the very worst? The type of dialogue we use to interpret events is crucial. When we become conscious of this we become aware of what we can hold on to and what we can let go of. This alone can be a great starting point for many.

Practicing Mindfulness and Living in the Moment

With anxiety, it is often a focus on the future, not the present. Depression is a sense of hopelessness about the future or regret about past events. It can often mean that we are not present about what we’re doing. This is where mindfulness comes in and helps us to take in through our senses where we are in the present moment (do it the next time you’re on a walk). Be more present-focused. This releases ourselves from overthinking the future or past events. 

People with depression have a negative view of themselves and of the future. They’ll join the dots and multiply the negative experience. This can then deepen the depression. 

Managing Unhelpful Thinking

Become more aware of your internal dialogue – This alone can be a great starting point. Just realising this can have a huge impact. Whether it’s by having sticky notes on the fridge as a reminder, this can help you pause and notice what is going through your mind and the dialogue. Notice what kind of dialogue it is: 

  • Is it helpful
  • Is it supportive 
  • Is it true

Could we find an alternative (thought records, art, observation). Combine this with a change of internal dialogue (think how would you speak with a friend).

Many people also start off with work first thing in the morning – If you start with a helpful activity (begin your day with a walk/exercise some form of body movement). If you also do this out of your home you become externally stimulated. So begin your day with a body movement and paint the scene by being in the present. 

Anxiety vs Concern/Stress

Anxiety comes from a sense of threat/danger. It is an internal alarm system that is good to have. What is bad is if it’s faulty and goes off all the time. Anxiety is a normal response to an abnormal event. However, if it keeps being triggered all the time then it becomes an abnormal response to an abnormal event.   

So what does it look like? We overestimate the probability of the event occurring to us and underestimate how we can cope with the threat (think of the worst-case scenario). We are taken away from the present and try to future proof by overstrategising. We go into overthinking to make sure this threat doesn’t happen.

When this happens we:

  • Withdraw physically from the threat – With COVID can lead to agoraphobia  
  • Withdraw mentally from the threat – This doesn’t work and can result in us thinking more about it. Don’t think of the pink elephant!!
  • It’s important to accept the thoughts and noticing them and trying not to have them or engage too much with them. This is where the acceptance comes in.
  • People might try to ward off the threat with superstitious behaviour. Avoid certain colours etc
  • When things really deteriorate they tranquilise their feelings (alcohol/drugs)

Also with anxiety, they may need constant reassurance.

Concern has the same level of threat, but a person with concern has a more realistic probability of the threat occurring. They view it in a realistic fashion and also a realistic appraisal of how they can manage it. They don’t magnify the threat. The look at things from the point of view of:

“It is what it is”

They can therefore focus on the present. They take action of required and then let go rather than ruminating on it.

Want To Learn More?

Here are some of the key insights from Mondays talk. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we will be highlighting some of the key talking points from the workshop and how you can build up your personal resilience.

In the meantime be sure to check out the events that are taking place this week as part of Limerick Mental Health Week.