Authored by By Stanley Ly, MA, LPC
As seriousness about the novel coronavirus pandemic seems to seep into the consciousness and unconsciousness of our lives, and less than 24-hours can be the difference between one way of living to another, many of us are experiencing a variety of difficult to feel emotions now. Today, more than ever during these trying times, we need to commit to the practice of mental and emotional resilience in order to effectively navigate unpredictable challenges with grace and strength.
To be resilient is to feel strength in the face of difficult terrain and unexpected, and oftentimes frightening, challenges. Resilience is expressed through functional rebounding. We might consider that the antagonist to resilience to be fragility or rigidity, or in other words, the inability to cope with changes in an effective manner. To that end, I would contend that the key feature of resilience is choice. It has always been important, but today more than ever, it is crucial that we remember our ability to make choices amidst what might feel chaotic. To do so, allows us to take steps forward, even when we’re not completely sure where the next step takes us.
Standing Upright in the Changing Winds
Some of us may be experiencing anxiety due to the uncertainty of the situation; anger in search of someone or something to blame; sadness due to feelings of isolation; guilt related to concerns about irresponsibility; hopelessness because of the weight of the times; worry about a lack of preparedness and supplies; and grief due to the loss of a loved one, or loss of our regular lives.
These are incredibly normal feelings during an extraordinarily unusual and difficult time. We as humans tend to find comfort and safety in routine. However, for most of us, our jobs and typical operations have changed significantly. And to make matters worse, many of our stress-regulating activities, like exercising at the gym, socializing over a meal, meeting at a movie theater, or watching sports, have been suspended for an uncertain period of time. These challenges task us as individuals and as a community to be more resilient than ever.
So how can we do this? Psychologist Jelena Kecmanovic suggests 4 evidence-based approaches to bolster your mental resilience:
1. Choose to Accept Negative Emotions
Research has shown us that acknowledging emotions, thoughts, and sensations actually reduce the amount of time those emotions stay bothering you. This is directly tied into what we know about the benefits of mindfulness, which can be defined as nonjudgmental awareness.
Notice your emotions (e.g. “I have sadness, anger, boredom”), the state of your thoughts (e.g. “My thoughts are ruminating, occupied with thoughts of panic”), and the quality of your sensations (e.g. “There is tightness in my gut, my shoulders are hunched forward”). Notice how we can describe without judgment. Then breathe and watch as your body, emotions, and thoughts begin to change, like how wind moves a shadow-casting cloud over time. Focus on allowing negative emotions to come and go in order to make room for meaningful activities and connections in your life right now.
2. Choose to Create New Routines
As was aforementioned, we find comfort and stability in routines. It is important right now that we establish structure, predictability, and a sense of purpose in our new routines, and that we help our children and vulnerable elders do the same. Think back to grade-school biology and recall that structure determines function. Be flexible and adaptive while maintaining structure.
A surefire combatant to panic and anxiety or depression is competency and connection to something larger than yourself. Take this time to engage in meaningful activities that can enrich your sense of worth and creativity. Learn to meditate, practice yoga at home, learn new recipes or teach your children how to cook, create art, take on projects that you want to do (versus need to do), find ways to volunteer and support others right now, pick up that guitar in the corner gathering dust.
You do not need to play ignorant to the hardships in the world right now; rather, I am suggesting that to self-indulge in suffering is non-productive and needlessly cruel. One way that we can all contribute to the global healing is by taking personal responsibility of our physical health and mental health, thus reducing the collective panic and stress. We can start by making sure we still wake up, eat, move our bodies, and sleep at regular times.
3. Choose to Reinvent Self-Care
Undoubtedly how we practice self-care has needed to adapt with safety recommendations. But just because many of your day-to-day or weekend activities have been paused does not mean that their effectiveness has paused, or that your community is no longer important.
Reach out to your family, your friends, and your community via video chat platforms. Sans a complete ban on outdoor time, find ways to spend time in nature, doing your best to avoid commonly congregated areas. There may be more beauty in your backyard, garden, porch, or from an open window than you’ve given credit for in the past. Do not give up on your exercise—you need it now; there is an internet-full of easy-to-follow guides available free online, and I’m sure a group of friends or strangers who value holding each other accountable to be active. Be creative about how you stay connected—virtual dinner with your favorite dinner mates perhaps. Keep doing what you know works for you by adapting, and use this time to launch healthy-living routines.
4. Choose to Reflect, Relate, and Reframe
Social distancing impresses upon us time a winter-like period of slowness, which invites opportunity for reflection. For example, take a snowy weekend in Colorado and consider four different perspectives: one spends their time writing a letter of gratitude (Reflect), another uses their time to be cozy with their family at home (Relate), another goes skiing or takes their kids sledding (Reframe), but another spends their time resentful and bitter that traffic is moving slower than typical. What choices can you make to transform this period of time into psychological growth?
Find ways to choose to connect with those whom you love and whom inspire you, especially elder friends and relatives. Choose to take on challenges that motivate you to use your beautiful and brilliant mind. And, always, make the choice to be brave and compassionate, remembering that bravery is as much about taking up the metaphoric sword, as it is about telling someone (or yourself) that you love them dearly.
In conclusion, remember that in dark times we as a community have always been able to find the light. We will get through this. How we choose to remain resilient individually, which subsequently will affect our communities and homes, will determine how we get through this together. Together, we can do this with kindness in our hearts, fairness towards one another, respect for humanity, overflowing compassion, and courage. Always courage. As my favorite sports journalist, Roger Bennett, writes, “Our goal in life right now is to appreciate the time we have with loved ones, friends, and strangers, all of whom reflect the beautiful nature of humanity, imperfect as it may be.”
About the Author
Stanley Ly, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Faulty and Staff Assistance Program. In 2014, he provided psychological first aid to individuals affected by the floods in Boulder County in 2013. Since 2007, he has worked with sexual assault crisis hotlines, hospitals, and jails providing counseling and psychological support for individuals experiencing psychiatric crises.