What a strange, exhausting, frightening month it has been. Our rhythms of life have been fully interrupted; a day in the life of quarantine can move from panic to boredom, contentment to grief, anxiety to depression, and yes, joy to gratitude… only to rinse and repeat the following day.
Turn on the TV, and announcers speak in dulcet, calm tones of “unprecedented times” and “uncertain days”, where graphics of sneeze velocity are the norm and the hopes of an ambiguous curve being flattened become daily talking points. “Oh wait, it’s not flat enough!”, they exclaim. We have learned new medical acronyms and been told our solemn duty is to stay home and wait out the storm brewing in hospital beds and tented facilities. We worry for friends and grandparents at high risk while prioritizing our Netflix queue. We bake bread and count toilet paper rolls. “Happy” hour means sitting in yoga pants in front of a screen talking to friends while congratulating ourselves for making the effort, but then simultaneously dreading yet another conversation about COVID life.
The question I have been asking lately is how do we build our capacity for resilience in the midst of all of this nothingness and… everythingness? We often define resilience as the ability to “bounce back” and recover from the challenges and hurts of life, perhaps even using the problem as a facilitator for growth. Resiliency can take a few forms, some better than others: Monday I felt like a tennis ball, springing around, happy and joyful with plans of productivity and value. Tuesday was a weighted bowling ball, zero bounce, thud and roll. Ugh. Wednesday, I was a balloon floating around listlessly waiting for the ground to smack and pop. Thursday was, well, you get the idea. And with that, I kept asking, “how can I level up my ability to bounce back when every day feels so heavy?”
Thankfully, based on the resilience research of loads of smart people, we have some answers.
- Name it to tame it.
As we recognize the challenges of this time and describe what we’re feeling, our brain self-soothes, slows down, and takes note. Have I ever felt this way (bored, frustrated, worried, sad) before? How did I handle it in the past? This situation may be new, but the feeling isn’t.
- Avoid seeing a crisis as an insurmountable problem.
There are resources around you, ask for help. If the climb is getting close to feeling like Mt. Everest rather than a rolling hill, I need someone to help me figure out a step by step process to the problem, assisting from one base camp to the next. We all need Sherpas in our life. Who is yours? (P.S. Counselors are pretty great Sherpas.)
- Competence and micro-movements toward a goal.
Notice I didn’t say ACHIEVE your goal. Posture is everything. Brain science has learned that if we try to be the best or perfect, the synapses misfire, and very little gets accomplished other than heightened emotions. If the goal is built primarily on a should or a must, then the brain doesn’t get a pleasure boost, it just feels more stress. And then… hello Hulu. Why yes, I would love to re-watch all of 30 Rock in a single day, thankyouverymuch. But if we actively choose our version of a good enough step for that goal today, our prefrontal cortex gets happy and snappy, helping us pay attention and feel more in control.
Our bodies physically crave facial/body cues and touch, releasing oodles of oxytocin and happy natural drugs to re-center us and keep us going. If that doesn’t happen enough, the body physically feels pain. If you live alone or have limited options, take full advantage of this time to grow a friendship over videochats, perhaps helping someone else in the process too. And nope, sorry, they’ve studied the brain as we text, and there are zero emotional/physical benefits to connection via text. What is your version of “good enough” when it comes to reaching out? Where can you stretch yourself just a bit more?
- Accept (and take time to grieve) that change is a part of living.
Growing a resilient spirit is recognizing that so much of life is full of emergencies and alarm bells, drop-off cliffs and hospital waiting rooms. We are always on the precipice of change. It’s what we hold close to our hearts during that time that makes all the difference. Find a moment to create something out of nothing, to send a card to someone you love, to breathe some sunshine into your pores, to dance in your living room, and keep on trekking.
If you look at the list of recommendations, you may notice that building a capacity for resilience and being able to absorb the impact of this life is the opposite of isolation and distance. We can look at this time as house arrest and a paycheck nightmare and keep on thudding down the bowling alley. Or you can wake up tomorrow, once again wonder aloud what day it is, and pay attention to the world that is yours to stretch and bounce toward today.
If your elastic has snapped and you’re uncertain if a “bounce back” is even possible, a GR Therapy Group clinician is ready to figure it out with you, so contact us anytime for online counseling.