“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” – Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s KeeperTweet
To say 2020 has been a challenging year would be an understatement. This year has been marked by change, isolation, economic uncertainty, and many new frustrations. Mental health ramifications are likely to be felt for years to come. As our world continues to change, it will be our emotional resilience that helps us to sustain, grow, and eventually thrive as a person through these stressors.
The Chinese symbol for crisis is made up of the two symbols for danger and opportunity. As our world continues under pressure, some businesses thrive like Amazon and Home Depot, and some companies struggle like Chuck E Cheese and GNC. Unlike big business, people can adapt, learn, and change much faster. Tumultuous events can be learning experiences that provide us motivation instead of debilitation.
Building emotional resilience develops good self-care habits, especially in the realms of sleep, diet, and exercise. There is an old saying that says, “you are what you eat,” which is more accurate than most imagine. Our diets can increase energy or the opposite, contribute to fatigue. Exercise can build stamina, and adequate sleep allows our mind to recover from a stressful day. Also, don’t be forced into over-working yourself. Take breaks, prioritize, delegate, and remember to set limits. A healthy you is a more effective you. Battle against negative self-talk, which erodes self-esteem. Appreciate yourself and provide self-forgiveness for not having the foresight to know now what is evident in hindsight.
Limit your hostility. Negative emotions typically attach themselves to our memory more firmly than positive events. Therefore, the anger we harbor toward others is self-destructive. Instead, look at how you can be more generous and charitable. This giving doesn’t need to be monetary. We recall experiences more than writing a check.
While we often aim for perfection, expectations should be set to good, not great. We don’t need to be model citizens or be right 100% of the time. Humans have limitations. You can’t be “on” all the time. Apologize and move forward.
You have the power to alter your perception. While we can’t change the events around us, we can change how we view those events. Utilizing our knowledge and rational thinking can help halt our worries. Life isn’t all-or-nothing. There are thousands of possibilities each day, and you have a role in how your day will be realized. The quality of our thoughts directly correlates with the quality of our lives.
The term “social distance” is very frustrating for many mental health professionals. In a time of stress, it is normal and appropriate to reach out to family and friends. You should continue to connect with others and stay social. A better term would have been “physical distance.” While you may not be able to keep in close proximity to loved ones, you should certainly keep in touch, whether by phone, email, video conference, or any other appropriate social manner.
Recite the Serenity Prayer. It is commonly quoted as G-d grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. There is only so much that we can control. Focus on where you can make a difference. Don’t dwell on the problem, when you can chip away at finding the solution.
Practice spirituality. It doesn’t have to include anything specifically religious, as practicing something you don’t believe will not be advantageous. A lot of the benefit from studies on religion in overcoming tragedy cites a like-minded community as being protective. Your specific beliefs and those of your support system can help your mind process and explain the tragedy.
Mindfulness is a wonderfully relaxing tool. It teaches us to live in the moment by appreciating
everything around us. Our five senses are often ignored. Tap into them. What do you smell, see, and hear around you? Enhance your sense of smell by lighting a relaxing candle. Find excitement and humor in the small things around you. When we are in a hurry or stressed, we forget to stop and smell the flowers.
By utilizing these strategies to adapt to the current and any future crisis, you will enhance your emotional resilience. Your ability to manage change and appropriately adapt will become easier. These tips are not overnight cures. Practice and implementation are vital to processing your emotions.
Jared Heathman, MD
Founder at Your Family Psychiatrist