Just as we need to build up our antibodies to illness, we need to build up our resiliency antibodies for mental wellness. With all the additional pressures of living during a pandemic, it’s important to add new coping skills to our tool kit. Many of the skills we developed over our life time are not enough for this additional pressure or can’t be used during this time due to safety.
Feeling overwhelmed, sad, anxious, fatigued, hopeless, confused, guilty, muscle tension, disconnection, insensitive are all normal responses to what the world has gone through in the past few years.
So what do we do to prevent ourselves from getting stuck in negativity? We build up – and build new- resiliency.
Recognize that you have been resilient before and ask yourself:
How did I do that?
What are my strengths?
What have I done before that’s worked?
Identify three of your strengths and then take the time to reflect on how you used your strengths today. Give yourself credit for putting your strengths into action.
Identify one strength of the people around you. What do you like about your coworker, partner, child, supervisor? How does their strength support you?
If you find yourself checking Facebook/Twitter/Instagram 100 times a day, or reading every single news article, or watching the news at every opportunity, then you might be ruminating too much. When you can’t stop thinking about something try these tips:
Snap out of it: put down your phone, turn off the TV, redirect your attention
Identify the thought and then analyze it
Schedule time to ruminate and when that time is up, move on
Laugh at it
Imagine the worst and best scenario. Thinking about the best outcome can balance out the negative
Act to solve the problem. Figure out something to do to be a part of the solution and then do it.
Find someone to talk to
Stay in the present moment. What is happening right now?
Even though social distancing is literally keeping us apart, it’s more important than ever to keep our relationships with others healthy and strong. Write down the list of the people in your circle. A single person cannot fill all these roles which is why we all need several people we can call friends.
Who brings you joy?
Who keeps you centered?
Who holds you accountable?
Which relationships affect your self-care?
Which relationships do I need to change?
Healthy humor can reframe a problem as a challenge rather than as a catastrophe. Humor can:
Shift our focus
Provide us with a break from negativity
Create connections with others
Laughter not only changes our thinking; it changes us physically as well. It increases our tolerance to discomfort, decreases blood sugar levels, and improves job performance. When two people laugh together it synchronizes the brains together emotionally attuning to each other. There is also evidence that laughter can increase endorphins and serotonin in your brain making you less depressed.
Have you ever laughed just so you wouldn’t cry? That’s a great way to cope with a difficult situation. Turn the negative into a positive.
What makes you laugh? What makes you laugh so hard you cry? Make sure to get your daily dose.
Combatting feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and disconnection becomes a lot easier when we know what our triggers are. What are those things that make you feel this way? Why do they make you feel this way and what can you do about it?
We have all triggers and baggage. What are yours? Take a minute and make a list. Here are some common ones to get you started:
Negative childhood events
Ask yourself, why have these things stuck with me? What feelings am I holding on to that are being transferred to the new situation?
And then recognizing your resiliency. Remind yourself that you survived that situation! Although it was tough, you made it through. Celebrate that accomplishment and your ability to get through this situation, too.
The founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Marsha Linehan PhD, suggests that there are only 4 solutions to every problem.
1. Solve the Problem
2. Change your perception of the problem
3. Radically Accept the Situation
4. Stay Miserable
To tackle solving a problem, first ask yourself if it is solvable. Is it in your control to solve the problem? Some problems we have control over and some we don’t. For example, no one person can solve the pandemic. But each of us can do our part. We can wear a mask, get vaccinated, and socially distance.
How do we solve problems? Here are some problem-solving techniques.
Identify the problem
Brainstorm a list of possible solutions
Determine the pros and cons
Ask for advice
Try a possible solution
Evaluate the results
Decide and do
But whatif this isn’t a problem you can solve? What do you do then? Not every problem is in our control, or we may not have the skills or resources to fix the problem. But we can always change our perception. Try looking at the problem from another person’s perspective. The new perspective may give you new solutions or change the problem completely. We can also view the situation as an opportunity to grow.
If you feel like you need to radically accept the situation, know that being able and willing to accept a situation as it is can bring us some piece of mind. Try saying to yourself, “I’m in this is situation. I don’t approve of it. I don’t think it’s ok, but it is what it is and I can’t change it.” Radical acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. It’s important to note that radical acceptance is not saying that what is happening is good, but simply stating that it’s happening, and I can’t change it.
If you aren’t ready to take action, change your perspective or accept what cannot be changed, then you will likely continue to feel miserable. Try to process your feelings and accept support from your network of friends or a professional counselor or pastor.
To be mindful is to be objectively aware of what’s going on around and inside of you. Observing and labeling feelings and reactions without judgement and with intention is mindfulness. Mindfulness comes out of Eastern religious teachings originally to help with chronic pain. It has become common practice in Western psychology.
The purpose of mindfulness is to cultivate awareness and acceptance. One focuses attention on the inner thoughts and feelings bringing awareness to those thoughts and feelings. It focuses on the present moment instead of the past or future. For example, one might focus awareness on feelings of anger. “When I feel anger, my stomach gets tight. My chest tightens. My eyes begin to burn.” Once we have awareness of these feelings we focus on acceptance. We observe and accept that anger. “I am not bad for feeling anger. Anger is a natural emotion that everyone feels. It’s acceptable to feel anger when I observe injustice.”
Mindfulness is a simple concept that requires practice to perfect. Many resources for mindfulness can be found online. Apps can be particularly useful to practice mindfulness on the go. Mindfulness has shown to decrease anxiety, cope with uncomfortable emotions, break bad habits, and improve relationships. Mindfulness can be used anywhere at any time to refocus and recharge.
Often times we put everyone else's needs before our own. It can feel selfish to put yourself and what you need before anyone else. Unfortunately, this leads to burnout, exhaustion, stress and fatigue. The oxygen mask principle applies: Put your oxygen mask on before putting it on others. You can't help others if you can't breathe. What's your oxygen mask?
Take this quick quiz to see where you may be able to improve your self care.
Sleep: Are you prioritizing getting enough good, quality sleep?
Nutrition: Eating processed, high fat foods in high quantities can actually zap your energy instead of giving energy. Drinking too much alcohol can decrease the serotonin in your brain, causing depressed moods.
Exercise: Do you take time to take care of your body? Even a 20-minute walk can have physical and mental health benefits.
Relaxation: How do you relax? Watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game with family, or meditating, are all great ways to relax.
Spirituality: What's your meaning? People can find this in a lot of different places, but churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or spiritual centers are a great place to start. Even if you aren't religious, you can find meaning in a lot of different ways. Volunteer, donate to a cause, or fight for a cause that is important to you.
Self-compassion is the act of giving ourselves empathy and compassion when we fail, feel inadequate, or simply need a break. It is often easy to give empathy to others, but can be difficult to extend it to ourselves. We often can see ourselves as the ones who always must be strong, perfect, and energetic. As we are human beings, we also suffer, fail, and feel inadequate at times. To ignore those feelings or to self-criticize for having those feelings, we do ourselves a great disservice. If we cannot be empathetic and compassionate to ourselves, it unlikely that we are being truly empathetic and compassionate to others. If we see occasional weakness, imperfection, occasional failings as unacceptable in ourselves, we also see it as unacceptable in others to some extent. If we can't see these occasional failings as part of the human experience, we cannot be truly empathetic and compassionate.
5 ways to practice self-compassion
1. Consider how we would treat a friend who was dealing with the same issue. Would we tell them that they aren't good enough?
2. Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is not self-pity. We are not saying "poor me" but recognizing that life is hard for everyone, ourselves included. We are only human.
3. Say nice things about yourself. "I am doing my best." "I am kind." "I am working hard." "I accept myself."
4. Separate the incident from who you are. So, you didn't get the job you wanted. That doesn't mean that you are a worthless person with no skills. It means that in this situation, it wasn't right. No one gets every job that they apply for or desire.
5. See the suffering, failing, inadequacy as a growth opportunity. What can this teach me? How can I grow and change from this feedback that will make me better able to handle the situation in the future? If we focus on self-compassion, we are more likely to make amends and not repeat the mistake.
Copy provided by Amy Monteith MS LPCC-S LICDC-CS