Staying Grounded, Connected, and Directed through Disruption

First, I want to say that this is a hot topic. I often find that I can alienate an audience by the use of the wrong word. Because this area is of such importance and so personal, it is easy to offend if using a term that can potentially have negative connotations for a certain tradition. No matter what word you use to describe the nature of your beliefs—sacred, religion, faith, spirituality, truth, etc.—please know, I am referring to that aspect of life which informs your sense of meaning and perhaps serves as a foundation and guide for your life.

Whatever this is for you, it has the potential to be an important resource in these trying times. I have heard from many that they are grateful for their faith because it has been a source of hope. I have heard from others that it’s been an important time to re-evaluate priorities and life goals. Regardless of where you are this week of quarantine, I want to point out three important ways that spirituality can serve as a resource for thriving, and direct you to additional blogs that address these concepts more in depth.

Essential to thriving is being adaptive and navigating a good fit with one’s environment.

Just like a plant thrives by continuously growing towards the sun despite obstacles, thriving compels our own adaptive growth towards our greatest aims in life. Thriving well amidst obstacles and with vitality requires staying grounded, connected, and directed.

Stay Grounded

Like a plant, we need to be rooted in good soil. Stay grounded in your physical body, feelings, and ideals and values. Pay attention to what brings you joy in these trying moments, and pursue more of that. Science shows that positive emotions relax our brains and motivate us to be more kind, be more creative, and take positive action1.

Opposite to the invigorating effect of positive emotions, anxiety and fear can hijack these vital processes2-3. As Dr. Richard Davidson says, just as we exercise our bodies, we must exercise our brains. His research has demonstrated how meditation is effective to promote attention, focus, resilience, and purpose.

Furthermore, psychological science demonstrates how individuals with clarity about their beliefs and values and whose actions align with their priorities, report higher levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction. The coronavirus pandemic affords an opportunity to reconsider your most deeply held beliefs and how aligned these are with your activities and obligations. Take measures to be aware of your body, feelings, and beliefs through quiet meditation, mindful breathing, prayers, journaling and/or reflection.

Stay Connected

For many trees and plants, intertwined root systems keep them stable even in stormy weather. In these stormy days of social distancing, you still need people close—emotionally if not physically. Our planetary pause creates space to take stock of how we spend our relational energy. In a day when people report higher levels of loneliness than ever before, we need to re-evaluate our social connections and what is meant by our “friends4.” Research demonstrates that high numbers of social media friends or followers do not result in feeling known or loved.

Rather than accumulating connections, deepen the important ones. Get closer to the people who count most in your life. You can still leverage technology while keeping your required physical distance5. Check in with those you love but who cannot be near. Social distancing is going to be the new normal for a while. Make an effort to be connected in meaningful and routine ways with those that are closest to you. Reach out with a phone call to those who might be lonely, like an elder mentor or acquaintance. Keep or start meeting regularly with a trusted group through a virtual platform.

While sheltered-in-place with your family6, be mindful that agitation will run high between spouses, parents, and children. Talk openly about your difficulties, fears, faith, and hopes7.

Stay connected to your deepest convictions. Do not allow panic, shopping (even for toilet paper), cooking, or social media get in the way of your spiritual needs. We will each experience spirituality in different ways during this crisis. Some will rely more on God or their understanding of a higher power. Others will feel confused, despondent, and even angry. Take hope knowing that you are a part of something bigger than any of your emotions—whether good or bad8.

Stay Directed

Just as a plant relentlessly grows towards the sun, thriving entails keeping oriented towards your purpose. Stay directed towards your beliefs and ideals as your source of hope, strength, and meaning. Take time to reflect on the story of your life in the broader context of this world. What is your role in your local community and the global world? Who have you been and who are you in the process of still becoming? 

Dr. William Damon at Stanford University and Dr. Kendall Bronk at Claremont Graduate School have demonstrated how youth and adults who have purpose9—defined as an enduring and achievable goal that is meaningful to the self and contributes to the greater good—report higher levels of life satisfaction, job/school performance, and other positive outcomes.

One thing that has become apparent in the pandemic is that we are all in this together. Based on psychological science, I recommend that you reflect on three things regarding your purpose: your uniqueness, the needs of the broader world that you can contribute to, and how you are called to become more like Christ. Even during quarantine, ask how can your skills and passions be used for a greater purpose in the world? How are you helping others beyond your household? Who can you reach out to and encourage or help? Those who thrive cultivate an ability to stay aware and attuned to themselves and the world around them. Those who thrive are able to align their values and goals with the well-being of others. They are able to live out their convictions, assessing and adjusting when necessary.

Disruption brings disorientation, and we need to ensure that we stay grounded, connected, and directed—with and for ourselves, others, and our higher purpose.

Thriving doesn’t simply push away the difficult challenges, but embraces them with conviction.


1. Check out Dr. Susan Mangan’s post on cultivating awe as a source of inspiration in these moments of strain and perspiration:

2. Dr. Joey Fung’s post explains how mindfulness and breath exercises can interrupt anxiety’s detrimental effects:

3. In my previous post, I share some grounding apps on contemplative practices:

4. Twenge, J. M. (2017). iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–asnd Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. New York: Simon and Schuster.

5. Check out my article, Telos, Technology, and Thriving  in FULLER Magazine:

6. Check out Dr. Stephanie Trudeau’s post on how to orient your family towards growth while in isolation:

7. Check out Terry and Sharon Hargraves candid and refreshing video on the pitfalls and opportunities for relationships in this time:

8. See Dr. Stephanie Trudeau’s post on how spirituality and faith can help us make sense of loss, panic, and pandemics:

9. Damon, W.  (2008). Path to purpose: How young people find their calling in life. New York, NY: Free Press.

About the Author

Pamela Ebstyne King

Pamela Ebstyne King

Pamela Ebstyne King is the executive director of the Thrive Center and serves as the Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science at Fuller Theological Seminary. Her primary academic interests are applied research at the intersection of human thriving and spiritual development. Dr. King's work combines theology, empirical research, and community engagement to further understand what contexts and settings enable all people to thrive.

1 Comment

  1. Sheila K Bost on May 7, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    Great article Pam.

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