Written by Moe Gelbart, Ph.D. - Director, Behavioral Health
As the holidays approach, we are numbed and fatigued over dealing with
the Covid-19 pandemic for over ten months now. With the future still unknown,
we are experiencing the highest rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal
thoughts, and substance abuse in our lifetimes. We have, however, learned
a great deal about ourselves, our families, friends, neighbors, healthcare
providers, and our essential workers. We can profit from our experiences
and in the coming year, we can thrive rather than survive.
Let’s look at some lessons learned:
We are stronger than we think we are. Resilience is defined as the ability to adapt well to adversity, tragedy,
trauma, threat, and significant sources of stress. The experience of going
through so much upheaval, change, illness, and more serves to remind us
that we can adapt and cope. Problems can oftentimes be turned into strengths
and opportunities, rather than liabilities. \In many instances, it is
a matter of changing our attitude and perception. As an example, rather
than becoming deflated by social isolation, we can respond and become
more adept at verbal and written communication to bridge the distance
gap. If we can’t go out to eat, we become more accomplished cooks.
As difficult as distance learning is for our children, it can create an
opportunity for our teachers to shine with their creativity, and so on.
Remember, necessity is the mother of invention.
We are capable of change. Many of us feel secure and comfortable with routines, with established
roles, and with familiarity. Our brains adhere to our structure and resist
change. However, resistance can stifle growth. The pandemic has changed
much of this. We all have new roles, which may include full time mom/dad;
teacher; caretaker; chef; housekeeper. As a result, we have acquired new
skills, have had the opportunity to spend more quality time with our children
than we ever imagined, more time with our partners and spouses, and have
had to become creative in how we spend and manage our time. Our time-
honed boundaries have changed. We have much less time apart, much less
independent time, much less time to transition from one role to the next,
as work and home begin to blur together. Most important, we have managed,
and need to embrace those changes and the capabilities we have shown.
Our attitudes and perceptions, and not necessarily our circumstances, determine
our well-being. More than ever, we have realized that we can choose how to perceive events
and stressors in our lives, and how we see them determines how we feel
and how we behave. When stress or trauma occurs, (and it is certainly
occurring throughout the pandemic), we can live in the present, control
the things we can control, and deal with what IS, rather than catastrophize
the what IF. We can work at continually seeing the glass as half full
rather than half empty and in doing so, rise above the stress. We can
recognize words matter, especially our inner narratives, and we can change
the narrative to have better results. Rather than have “social distancing”,
we can “physically distance” but remain socially close and
connected. Research shows change in wording has a positive impact on one’s
mood. Rather than thinking of mask wearing as an attack on our personal
freedom, we can perceive it as a caring and giving act to all those around
us. This skill of reframing our thinking goes a long way to improving
our emotional state.
We can strengthen our resilience. I defined resilience as the ability to adapt to adversity. The great thing
about resilience is it is a learned skill, an ability which can be continually
practiced and improved on, and one which we can teach and train our children
in. Those with improved resilience skills are more self-reliant, independent,
optimistic, self-confident, able to grow from their mistakes, are problem
solvers, and know not to seek perfection.
We can work on being happy. Up until about 25 years ago, the science of psychology was focused on helping
those who were mentally challenged to improve and become more functional.
In the last 25 years, the understanding of positive psychology has flourished,
designed to help well people feel even better and achieve more success
and happiness. Research indicates that happiness correlates with establishing
good relationships; with giving to others; with practicing and expressing
gratitude; with movement and exercise; and with developing meditative
and mindfulness routines. These are areas that can be developed and worked
on, and we can be intentional in our behaviors to continually climb the
ladder of happiness. It is a skill that rests with us, and not with external
or material things. The great news is that we can achieve this during
the pandemic, and continue long after. The results are significant and
We have to adjust to a new normal, and 2021 will bring more changes, no
doubt. Resilience is key, which brings me to one of my favorite sayings:
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.