Knowing, and living by, your values (those parts of life and yourself that make you feel like life is worth living), helps you to maximise your enjoyment and satisfaction when life runs as usual. But did you know that values are even more beneficial in times of crisis, when so many of your usual coping strategies might not be available to you?

First, let’s just get clear on what values are, so you know what I’m talking about! (for a more in-depth explanation, you can download the first chapter of my new book, The Slow Life Project, which explores these ideas in detail, here).

Values are:

Ways you can show up in the world that make you feel alive and like your best self when you act on them. They include words like courage, honesty, empathy, disciplined or energetic.

Your values represent your deepest and best parts of your self.

Values can be practised by almost anyone, anywhere, at any point in history.

Your values are the underlying reasons why you might enjoy a particular activity.

For example, if you like to play soccer, you might value: physical health, being part of a team, or achievement. Soccer might not always be accessible to you, but there are always going to be ways to focus on being as healthy as you can be (value: physical health), doing your best in the situation you find yourself in (value: achieving) and ways to be part of team (even if that’s virtually, or your “teammates” are your family during lockdown).

Values can be used whenever: in times of joy, in a crisis, when life is uncertain, and when you’re stuck between four walls.

Below are three ways knowing your values will help you cope with uncertainty and change.

Feel good about yourself even in the absence of socialising or positive feedback from work

A lot of people rely on either their work, or their social connections, as their primary source of self-esteem. Work pays you to turn up and be yourself and use your skills, implicitly sending the message that you’re valued, and friends are in our lives voluntarily – so there must be something about us that keeps them coming back!

But getting your sense of self and confidence from these external factors means that if work or socialising suddenly stops, you’ve just lost a source of self-esteem as well.

The solution? If you know the values you hold that allow you to enjoy your job, then you can demonstrate those qualities even without working. Good at learning? Start learning something else. Good at leading people? You just put your hand up for home schooling the kids (uh-oh!).

Knowing the qualities behind the reasons you’re successful allows you to keep feeling successful even when circumstances change.

The same goes for your friendships: knowing why people like you allows you to demonstrate those qualities in new ways. For example, instead of caring for your friends, you may start caring for your neighbours, or strangers. Instead of being the ‘funny one’ at Friday drinks, you’re now the one sending memes to lift everyone’s spirits.

Increased sense of control

Knowing your character based values will allow you to take control in the one area you almost always have control over – how you respond to the events which are unfolding. It’s how you respond to a crisis that determines if you are resilient or not. Do you crumble or do you find a way to keep going? If you know what your values are, then you just need to figure out how you can use those qualities in whatever situation you find yourself in, and you can then feel reassured that you’re doing the best you can, given the circumstances. 

Change causes us to feel uncertain that we’ll cope, your values become the reason you know you can cope.

Stealing from the work example above, if you’re the funny one, you can respond to change with humour, if you’re a good leader, then you’ll look to lead others through the crisis as your own personal coping strategy.

Setting new goals

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. It’s important to be able to pivot in times of crisis and change. But what you do with those lemons will be determined by your values. Sure, a creative foody type might make lemonade. But if you love caring for others, you might give the lemons away. The funny one might learn how to juggle them. And the health conscious guy in the corner is sucking the juice straight from the skin for a cheap vitamin boost.

Coping with a crisis is a personal event. There’s no one size fits all strategy and that’s why public health messages about keeping to a routine and exercise won’t be motivating to us all (routines work best if you value discipline, exercises matters most to those who value physical health – and that is not everyone).

The best coping strategies for you in a crisis are going to be related to the unique qualities that allow YOU to feel like you’re living a life full of meaning, satisfaction and joy. Instead of feeling like you ‘have to’ meditate, go for a walk or practise gratitude, look instead at what you love about yourself, and prioritise being that person within your current limitations.

Your values are the aspects of yourself that make you feel most alive and satisfied.  Maximising those qualities as a way of coping in a crisis is the best coping strategy of all.

More information about values is found in the first chapter of The Slow Life Project. Click here to get your copy.

Lana Hall

Author of The Slow Life Project. I am a woman on a mission to empower other women to live a meaningful, authentic and joyous life with full confidence.