Written by Sarah Buban, LMHC, SUDP
Before we knew what hit us, we all ended up in the same boat. In this boat, the waves are carrying us to places of uncertainty. Everyone’s story is different about how coronavirus has affected their lives with one similar theme--everyone is affected. We are collectively experiencing increased levels of stress as our lives have been greatly disrupted and replaced with not knowing when the familiar will return. Yet, I’ve seen beauty too. Just yesterday I was walking my dog in our neighborhood and I saw neighbors introducing themselves to each other for the first time (at a safe 6+ feet apart). I’ve seen people on neighborhood apps donating toilet paper to one another or offering to go to the grocery store. I’ve seen people learning to ask for their needs and I’ve seen others showing respect for personal and emotional boundaries. Above all, I’ve seen resiliency and self-reflection in unprecedented ways. This topic of resilience is what I’d like to focus on. Being resilient is the ability to function in a healthy manner when faced with risk or stress. Building resilience helps us to reduce vulnerability to decreased mental health. How does one build resilience? These are some key ways:
Take care of your physical health. Drink the recommended amount of water for your age and body weight to stay hydrated. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and limit processed foods, added sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Exercise regularly. Get the recommended amount of sleep for your age.
Make self-care a priority. Self-care is any activity that we do to take care of our emotional, spiritual, mental or physical health. Self-care is not one-size-fits-all.
Maintain and enhance your social connections. Choose quality over quantity. Focus on respecting your boundaries and others’ boundaries. Put your energy into positive relationships and distance yourself from toxic ones. Make connections and ask for support if and when you need it.
Find balance in your life domains. This can be internal (mind, heart, health) or external (work, school, social, family, fun). Acknowledge and examine where you have balance and where you may be imbalanced. Set goals and tasks to achieve balance and reflect.
Manage stress well. Choose healthier coping strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, yoga, exercise, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, vitamins/supplements, social support, problem solving techniques, talk about your problem or get professional help. Avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as drugs/alcohol, overeating, procrastination, sleeping too much or too little or social withdrawal.
Challenge irrational thoughts/beliefs. Sometimes our thoughts/beliefs can be black or white, all or nothing, outdated and lack evidence. Learn to challenge irrational thoughts by putting them on trial (What is the evidence for this thought? Against it?) or using socratic questions (Is my thought based on facts or feelings? What would someone else think of my situation?)
Think about what you can do, not what you cannot. The Serenity Prayer of twelve step support groups states: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
Learn to embrace change and maintain a hopeful outlook. If we can learn to go with the flow and recognize that the only thing constant is change, we can learn to work with change instead of against it and maybe even begin to view it as an opportunity for growth.
Give back. The benefits of volunteering are enormous. It can increase social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. It is proven to counteract stress, anxiety, anger; combats depression and low self-confidence; and gives a sense of purpose.