In the final week of 2020, we have an opportunity to reflect on what this year has meant for us and how it changed us. We have all been impacted by this pandemic, some of us more than others.
Research has studied the effect of large-scale traumas and disasters on communities. Not only has this pandemic caused mental health challenges for many of us, but we have also been given the opportunity to practice and develop our resilience. Some people think of resilience as a trait of someone who is born with hardiness or an outcome such as the presence of post-traumatic stress or growth.
Resilience is neither lucky nor passive and can be strengthened with practice. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. When we get far enough past adversity to look back with perspective, we can consider its effects on our lives and identities, reflect on the skills we developed, the actions we took, the lessons we learned, and the reasons we kept going. Asking ourselves “what do I do when times get hard?” reminds us of our personal skills and characteristics that we can use. The question “Who helps me when times get hard and who can I help?” address our social supports and sense of connection.
Finally, asking ourselves “Who do I want to be when this is over and what will it have meant for me?” helps us to focus on a sense of meaning and purpose. The COVID pandemic is far from over with vaccines providing us a bright light at the end of this tunnel.
Until then, we need to be deliberate about navigating the middle of the resilience process, the part between getting through and looking back. We will do this by harnessing resources that work for us based on our individual and community needs. Think of resilience like a seesaw or balance scale where negative experiences tip the scale towards negative outcomes, positive experiences towards positive outcomes, and shifting the fulcrum so that the scale can handle more negative experiences without leading to negative outcomes.
Here are three simple steps to help navigate and manage building anxiety in ourselves, our families, and our loved ones:
Begin by discussing that anxiety is a normal survival mechanism and is an integrated part of our bodies. It’s important to communicate that different people have unique sources of anxiety and experience different symptoms when facing something that makes us anxious. The things that inspire anxiety, as well as our individual symptoms and their severity, vary based on our unique physiologies and life experiences. What may be an incapacitating source of stress for one person might not affect someone else at all, and two people who experience anxiety over a similar topic may demonstrate completely different symptoms. Recognize that no matter what causes our anxiety or its effects on our bodies, these experiences are normal.
Observe and Strategize
Now that you’re aware of the sources and symptoms of anxiety in ourselves and those we care for it’s easier to spot them when they appear. Be on the lookout for known anxiety triggers and the symptoms that may indicate a rising concern. When triggers or symptoms are identified, the in-the-moment strategies can help restore calm.
These tactics are also useful for moments when symptoms increase to higher levels. When we’re in the grips of anxiety our mental processes can change dramatically. During these moments the part of our brain that processes emotions, the amygdala, is hyperactive, flooding the body with endorphins and overriding the cerebrum, the thinking part of the brain. In these moments it’s important we give permission to ourselves and those we love to not make big decisions or hold highly logical conversations until calm has returned. Doing otherwise will likely only make the experience worse. The best thing we can do in these moments is to attempt to restore tranquility to the mind and body.
Validate, Encourage, And Implement
Anxiety is uncomfortable but isn’t always avoidable. In some instances, the circumstances that trigger anxiety may also represent opportunities for growth or enhanced resilience, such as a public speaking opportunity or the start of a new job. The third step in effectively navigating anxiety is finding the balance between acknowledging and validating feelings and fears and encouraging healthy behaviors to face these triggers in a positive way.
Be patient, particularly with children. Anxiety responses are powerful and can take time and practice to improve.
If these tactics fail to offer relief or if symptoms are severely impairing or persist for weeks, it’s appropriate to consider professional support. Help is available via the resources below.
Behavioral Health Support:
Contact your primary care provider or pediatrician for information related to behavioral health support, including psychiatric and counseling services.
Urgent support available in your moment of need:
- The COVID-19 Emotional Health Relief Line 1-833-442-2211
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
You can also visit the Intermountain Healthcare website for additional information.
This article contains sponsored content.