It’s a terrifying time in our world right now. No one is quite sure how the Covid-19 crisis will play out, and that can be extremely anxiety-provoking. How do we continue on with hope and build resilience in times like these?
I know, personally, I have had the weird experience of feeling dissociated constantly. I won’t know what day it is— I have a perturbed sense of time. I can recall last week turning to my fiancé awe-stricken that we had only been sitting on the couch for 45 mins and not 2 hrs like I thought. We are all struggling right now, some of us more than others.
I have been lucky not to have any direct family members or myself come down with symptoms (knock on wood), but not everyone has been so lucky. My fiancé is back to working a full-time schedule this week, which worries me, and plans for licensing/ program exams and my last internship semester in the Fall are all up in the air. I’m sure I’m not the only one with occasional stress hives and weird dreams— oof.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, right? I know it might sound cheesy, but I truly believe we come out at the other end of struggle and trauma with strength and increasingly developed resiliency skills— if we can move through our pain in a healthy way and find meaning in the madness.
One of my favorite books is “Man’s Search for Meaning”, by Viktor Frankl (1946). In it, he details his horrendous experience in Nazi-controlled concentration camps during the Holocaust in the early-to-mid 1940s. Since I’ve read this book, it has held a special place in my heart and put my own struggles into perspective. Now, I’m not one that believes in “pain-comparisons”— “Get over it. Your situation isn’t as bad as someone else’s.” I don’t think this is helpful or a good use of anyone’s time.
The major reason Frankl’s book speaks to me on such a deep level is that it reminds me that people survive terrible things and that maybe I can too. In moments of great pain and suffering, it is hard to visualize ever making it through, nevertheless finding meaning in this experience someday.
Depression and Anxiety are great at tricking us into believing things will stay terrible forever. We have to fight against their control to see the truth. Life sucks sometimes. It really does, and we can feel helpless to do anything about ours or other’s situations, especially right now. However, how could we experience joy without sadness, relief without pain, light without dark?
The short answer? I don’t believe we can. Second-wave Positive Psychologists like Itai Ivtxan, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon, and Piers Worth believe that we can’t ever truly escape pain in life, even if we generally have a life worth living. They even go as far as to conjecture that life’s meaning is not to avoid unhappiness but to learn how to move through it and come out again on the other side.
But how do you build resiliency and maintain hope of ever getting to the other side of your pain? How do you sit around and feel helpless to change your external environment for months on end and not burn out on these?
Sit with that emotion, or emotions, with an understanding that it is removed from and not a part of you. Your emotions do not define you, they do not control you. They are nothing but electrical messages from your brain. Sometimes this dis-identifying with our emotions makes it easier to manage them because we aren’t associating them with our sense of self anymore. It’s much easier to allow something when you don’t have the judgment that comes along when our emotions are “a part of us”.
“I shouldn’t feel that way.” “It’s bad to feel sad/angry/lonely/depressed.” “I feel upset about this—it’s probably because I’m weak-minded and that’s why no one likes me.”
You see how this spiral of self-hatred can start when we identify with everything we are feeling instead of telling our emotions that we’re the ones in charge, not them?
Stephen Hayes, the creator of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), has a fun technique he teaches in his 2016 Ted Talk, “Mental Brakes to Avoid Mental Breaks.” He says to take however you are feeling or whatever thought your brain is telling you and repeat it over and over again until it becomes a chorus of nonsense.
He gives the example of feeling bad about messing up on something and calling himself stupid internally. He then takes one word of the criticism, in this case, the word “stupid”, and repeats it until it no longer has an effect on how he feels. The entire audience does this with him and it really does feel nonsensical and silly at the end of the exercise!
The most captivating part of the video for me is what Hayes says right after— “At one level, they’re [your thoughts are] nothing more than sounds. You’re going to turn your life over to that? Really?”
The associations we develop between certain situations and our thoughts and beliefs are nothing more than that— an association. You can change associations with dedication and repetition.
You can watch Hayes’ entire talk here for a better understanding; it’s quite incredible and helpful, actually:
Life can suck, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad life. You can make mistakes, but that doesn’t make you a mistake. You’ve got this! You’ll get to the other side of this one day; but, until then, learn what you can, lean on your support system, and perhaps look into some mental health resources or therapy for yourself if you need a helping hand. <3
As always, if you need crisis resources, I’ve included them at the bottom as well.
We’ll get through this together. All my love,
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline @ 1-800-273-8255
The Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 741-741
The Trevor Project (LGBTQA+ specific hotline) @ 1-866-488-7386 or visit https://www.thetrevorproject.org.