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Behavioral Health Q & A Column – May 2020 Resilience through Relationships in COVID19

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations

Welcome to the newest edition of the Behavioral Health Q&A Column! VPPPA has partnered with experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly Q&A article addressing questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your questions about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues and more. We will be posting a new column on the third Thursday of each month. To submit your own question for the experts click here. 

What is resilience?
Resilience is thought of as both a process and as an internal resource to draw upon in challenging times.Resilience is the ability to cope and adapt in the face of adversity. It is reflected in how we approach challenges and setbacks. And particularly relevant now, finding strength in the midst of a crisis is really what resilience is all about. It’s not an all or none, have it or don’t have it type of phenomenon.  Resilience can grow; and skills which build resilience can be learned.
Angela Duckworth talks about resilience as a part of “grit”, the persistent focus and pursuit of goals despite obstacles. Social connections play an important role in building our resilience and grit factors. In living through this pandemic, it is not only what we are going through, it is with whom we are going through it.  For many of us, we are doing are best to cope with the impact of COVID19 with family, friends, coworkers. Some of whom we are used to seeing daily, others we rarely speak with but have recently reconnected.  For some, living alone brings a new challenge and the opportunity to connect with people via technology. Regardless of how we are finding and maintaining social connects, they are invaluable to our wellbeing.
Most research shows that resilience is a mix of innate, biological and environmental factors which offers the chance to strengthen our abilities. However, being resilient does not mean you have to be strong all of the time. In fact, being vulnerable – showing our weakness when we are tired, stressed, etc. – can in fact strengthen us because it allows us to connect more honestly with others.  In the 1980s the Stone Center at Wellesley College began looking at the power of relationships and found that working through an impasse, such as conflicts, in a relationship strengthened the relational bond, increased a sense of empowerment and decreased shame. 

How can I become more resilient?
Spending two months or more sheltering in place is stressful for individuals and families. Parents may feel the added pressure of needing to appear totally in charge and fine even as they struggle with their own anxiety and pressures.  During these times, we may act in ways we’re not proud of or make mistakes as we experience the same worries as those we need to protect.  How to deal with this?  Well, for one thing, remember that it is human to make mistakes, especially in times of prolonged crisis. How can we respond in ways that will help us, and build resiliency in others and in our relationships? 
First, it’s important to own our mistakes; say sorry, even if it’s to your young child or sometimes moody sometimes lovable teenager!  Taking responsibility when we know we’ve erred shows both our vulnerability and strength.
Also, as the saying goes, it’s ok to let them see you sweat. In times of crisis, as we are living through now, it would be unusual not to be stressed at times. Take breaks for yourself when needed, and know that stress can vary from time alone, playing with kids, talking with a friend, or listening to music. Encourage your workmates, your employees, your family and friends to take care of themselves as well. We all benefit when those around us feel resilient and healthy.
How can I teach my kids to be resilient?
Helping children to become more resilient has been a prominent topic for many years. If you are a parent, modeling the behaviors you hope to encourage in them, including the ways you cope with difficulties, is the first step to helping them build resilience. Allowing children to make their own mistakes and fail at their efforts also develops their skills to rebound from disappointment and frustration, helping them to get back on their feet. While it can be hard to witness such struggles, the convenient thing about quarantine is that you are always close by to reassure and encourage them to try again.
What should I do if I think I need help coping with stress?
Finally, economic and other pressures related to the current pandemic can have a more drastic effect on some. If you’re reacting to stress in ways that worry you – whether it’s unhealthy substance use, anger outbursts, or feeling out of control in harmful ways – it’s important to reach out. There are many hotlines and call centers available to provide support specifically for this pandemic.  Here are some available resources:

  • National Disaster Helpline: Call 1-900-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak to a caring counselor regarding emotional distress related to COVID-19
  • Crisis Text Line: Text ACT to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Counselor.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

COVID19 is taking a toll on all of us. It may also be building strengths in you, or revealing capabilities you didn’t know existed, or even potentially took for granted. Reaching out for help, in any number of ways, takes tremendous courage and shows responsibility to yourself and others. As we slowly return to more familiar life routines, you may be surprised by the ways your resiliency has anchored you, and how it will continue to show up.

About the author: 
Lisa Desai is a licensed psychologist and behavioral health professional with 20 years of clinical, management, and consulting experience. Through her work at MindWise Innovations, she helps companies prioritize effective and sustainable behavioral health strategies through the business development, design and implementation, and evaluation of mental health and substance misuse programs. Lisa lives in the Boston area with her husband, two daughters, and beloved black lab. She is of South Asian descent, speaks Gujarati, and enjoys all things social.