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How ‘Sisu’ Can Bring Calm in the COVID-19 Storm

Reading time | 5 mins

A few years ago, I went to Finland, right up near the Arctic Circle. Everything about it was impressive, from the nature to the people and the culture. It was only for a few days in November, when the dark polar nights were too long and the days too short, but despite this those few days have made a huge difference to my life.

One thing that really caught my attention was how calm the Finnish people are. It seemed like they are completely content with themselves and the world they live in, something that was very foreign to me at the time.

My trip came just after a relapse from my MS, and I didn’t trust myself or my abilities. Finland represented an opportunity to leave my life behind for a few days and find a new perspective. And I did – in the little-known Finnish concept of Sisu.

What is Sisu?

For those that haven’t come across it before, Sisu is a characteristic of the Finnish culture. There isn’t a direct English translation for it, but it talks to the way Finns live, think and succeed. It’s about accepting things as they are and working through uncomfortable times with stoic determination. It’s about inner strength. Often used synonyms include hardiness, courage, bravery, tenacity, willpower and resilience.

How we can all adopt the Sisu mindset

The practices of Sisu offer many learnings that we can adopt in our everyday lives. For those of us living with a chronic disease it can offer a mindset that helps deal with the uncertainty and unavoidable change that we have to cope with on a regular basis. But it can also help all of us, whether living with a long-term illness or not, cope with the current COVID-19 situation.

The last few months have changed the very way in which we live, from restricted movement to increased hygiene concerns and complete isolation for many. It’s not been easy, and the ongoing uncertainty can be overwhelming, leading to heightened anxiety. Sisu can give you the tools to help you cope.

Although at times it may feel easier to give up and give into these feelings, Sisu teaches the power of perseverance. It encourages a shift in mindset, one that brings the power back to the individual, showing us things can change if we just make the decision to change it.

How Sisu has helped me

Since my trip to Finland I have used the concept of Sisu to help me cope with my MS. Living with MS can be stressful in itself, but throw a global pandemic into the mix? Let’s just say stress and MS do not combine well.

Defining my needs

Firstly, Sisu has taught me to sit down, take a deep breath and evaluate a situation when things become overwhelming. I was recently looking for a new physiotherapist and felt stressed about undertaking this daunting task. Instead of worrying about it, I decided to create a list of my requirements so that I could explain my needs clearly. This changed my perspective on the situation and allowed me the space to think about exactly what it was that I needed, and how I should move forward.

I find that this kind of thinking creates a more positive “can do” mindset, which enables me to see a path through a challenge.

Taking things step by step

Some problems need to be solved quickly, and Sisu teaches me that by taking things step by step I can move forward swiftly, without becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of a task. I have learnt that this process is entirely personal and differs for every individual. 

My personal challenge during the last few months was a professional one. From one day to the next, work events got cancelled and I had to stop travelling. We had to reorganise our schedules and find remote ways of working together. We started by setting up a digital working environment, but this wasn’t easy, especially as it had to happen so quickly.

I talked with my team to find useful tools for working remotely and we set times for regular meetings. I then started to reorganise my own working day to fit in with this new schedule. I sat down, created a to-do list, found the priorities and started to work through them step by step.

This process helped me to adapt to this new way of working in a very short time, without feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Seeing the positives

For me, it’s all about seeing the good things in life despite how “bad” things might seem. Seeing a difficult situation as an opportunity for change allows me to live a better, more fulfilled life despite my MS. I trust myself more than I have before which has reduced my anxiety around all aspects of my life. It allows me to overcome challenges, be more relaxed and kinder to myself, and it also stops me from slipping into depression.

Sisu has also helped me deal with the current pandemic. I have started to appreciate the small things, like being able to go online or into my own little garden. It’s about seeing the opportunities in the situation, rather than the obstacles. 

In the lockdown phase of the pandemic, the world became slower and silent. I started to enjoy this because we could hear the birds singing, nature came to the forefront and I enjoyed seeing all the trees and flowers growing again. It also made me appreciate the skills that I have, like doing DIY or cooking a nice meal. Being able to cook dinner for myself and my husband was a real joy.

The takeaway

Sisu is a philosophy, a mindset that can help make life a little easier. It is by no means a cure for a disease, but it can teach us how to manage the challenges we face throughout our life. It focuses on being thankful for the things that we have and making the most of our situation. It’s about finding joy in the small things. In times like these we could all do with a little bit of Sisu.  

NPS-IE-NP-00156 November 2020