Proven strategies for developing resilience in the face of hardship.
By Amber Cadick
My best birthday present this year came with a Band-Aid. I chose to receive my second dose of the COVID vaccine at 7 a.m. on my birthday. While it is not a conventional present, as a frontline health care worker, the peace of mind that comes with getting vaccinated is great.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone into isolation and resulted in a profound sense of fear in many. The mere tickle in the back of the throat or drippy nose can make the mind jump to the conclusion that one has caught the ‘VID! Complicating all of this, some traditional forms of coping and creating resilience can result in increased risk of exposure to COVID. No more is it safe to meet up in person with friends for a social gathering or get a hug.
Here are some strategies I have used to keep myself safe and sane:
Identify the positives, no matter how small: Take time to acknowledge when something positive happens. It may be a beautiful sunrise, a warm greeting from a coworker, or taking a sip of your favorite coffee. Give this acknowledgment strength by writing it down in a journal or vocalizing it to someone.
Allow time for reflection and comparison: Think about how the pandemic has impacted your life. Think about your ancestors who overcame hardship. Call upon stories of survival from the Great Depression, the plagues, or other historic periods of struggle. The one thing we have in common as a member of the human race is, we are fighters. Our ancestors have overcome famine, floods, pestilence, and war. If they can do that, we can make it through this pandemic. My son is already planning on using this experience as motivation for his future children. He said, “I’m going to tell my children, ‘I grew up during a pandemic, now do your chores.’”
Hunker down: Use this time to make memories with those in your home. Take up a new hobby and do it together. Try out new recipes, bake bread, put together a large puzzle. Make a fort with your children and play hide and go seek. How often do grownups really get the opportunity to play? Take the time typically spent traveling or going to out-of-the-home commitments and relax.
Sweat it out: Exercise is key to supporting mental health and does not require a gym membership. Taking a daily walk, running, bodyweight movements, and yoga are all ways to increase your heart rate and improve your mood. There are several free exercise apps and videos online that can easily be accessed from home. Working out in 10-to-15-minute chunks for a total of at least 30 minutes a day for three days a week can have as much benefit on mental health as taking an antidepressant. When you exercise your brain releases endorphins which decreases pain and improves mood.
Practice forest bathing: Shinrin (forest)-yoku (bath) is a common therapeutic intervention developed in Japan. To do this, find a natural setting. It could be a city park, trail, beach, lake, or traditional wooded area. Unplug. Put away all screens and outside influences during this time. Take in the natural environment through all five senses. Look around and observe the nature surrounding you. Listen to the sounds of birds, wind rustling through the leaves, and the water in the creek. Breath in and identify the smell of the grass, the trees, and the air. Taste the air on your tongue. Feel the grass with your toes. Take time to rub a leaf between your fingers. By just taking 20 minutes to bathe in the forest you can decrease the stress hormone (cortisol) production, your heart rate and blood pressure and increase overall sense of wellbeing.
Listen: Music can soothe the savage beast and an anxious mind. Play songs tied to happy memories when you are feeling low or performing mundane tasks. Listening to music can decrease the stress hormone cortisol and increase endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which are all tied to improved mood. In fact, listening to music can have similar benefits for mental health as exercising. Make a two-for-one and bust a move while singing your favorite song.
Plan for the future: Take this time to research and plan on your bucket list. Map out what is important and what you hope to do when the world opens up again. If it is a trip, watch videos and read travel guides about that location. Start researching cost and open a post-COVID savings account so you are ready to go when restrictions are lifted.
Take the shot: Seriously, get vaccinated when you are eligible. While there has been controversy over the vaccine in the political and social media realm, science backs that the vaccines developed for COVID are safe and have minimal side effects. Vaccines are the most studied and researched medical intervention available. Getting vaccinated is the only sure-fire way to have some hope to end this pandemic. There are several accounts of people having a great sense of relief after receiving their second shot. Getting vaccinated is a step toward normalcy.
All things end and the COVID pandemic will one day be a memory. Be sure to live each day to the fullest.
Dr. Cadick received her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Indiana State University. She currently serves as the Behavioral Science Faculty for the Union Hospital Family Medicine Residency in Terre Haute, Indiana. Prior to this position she was the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Psychologist and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Psychologist for the Indiana VA Health Care System. Her interests include Health Promotion/Disease Prevention, Motivational Interviewing, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic Disease Management, Patient-Centered Care, Weight loss/Weight Management, Lean Systems, and the impact of Social Class and Culture on the Health Care Experience.