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How to Be Present for the Long Haul

As the pandemic continues to challenge us, here are three ways to build and sustain your emotional endurance.

How to build emotional endurance
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As the six-month mark of the coronavirus pandemic approaches in September, many of us are recognizing the truth in the saying, “it’s not a sprint—it’s a marathon.” 

Not all of us are cut out for marathons, though. What we do have, thankfully, is the opportunity to cultivate emotional endurance, to stick to our values and positive outlook even in this long-term challenge. As 19th century psychologist William James said, “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” 

Your “second wind” is when you discover that emotional endurance is something you already have and can build and sustain as you grow. Here’s how:

1)  Know When Your Endurance Is Waning

When the gas tank runs low in your car, a little warning light comes on. Your emotional “tank” is the same—there are specific signs your body and mind give to let you know that you’re depleted and in need of a refresh. 

Your sleep might be disturbed, your appetite might be off, you might find yourself ruminating on worried thoughts. When you recognize these signals, acknowledge the challenges in front of you, step away to recover and know that you can come back to whatever temporarily overloaded you.

2)  Focus on the Next Right Thing

In the marathon analogy, this could mean keeping your attention on the hill you’re climbing at the moment rather than worrying about how you will handle that last sweaty mile. In the time of pandemic, it means recognizing and accepting that we don’t see the whole route laid out on a map. 

When I’m having a hard time, I like to think, “OK, what am I doing now, and what will I do next?” It’s a helpful way to stay present in this moment, and to make a reality-based plan for what to do next. That way you don’t get caught up in distant hypotheticals that may or may not ever happen.

3)  Be Flexible

The nice thing about not having a road map for a challenging time in history is that you can make your own. And you can change that route when it becomes necessary to do so.

Enduring does not mean being trapped in one way of thinking, working or relating. It does mean investing time and energy in approaches that serve your thoughts, work and relationships, even if those approaches are new to you. 

What emotional endurance skills do you notice in yourself?

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