Wellness Wednesday: Building strength from the inside

December 2, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources, ,

Oftentimes, we are aware or able to anticipate major events and situations in our lives. This year, that predictability was lost. The uncertainty regarding COVID-19 — and when it will “end” — has caused much stress to just about everyone in the world. 

For many people, the last year has felt overwhelming, and they may be experiencing unfamiliar levels of distress or fatigue. Our minds and bodies can experience a range of responses brought on by the stress and trauma of 2020. Some people are experiencing growth, while others are experiencing loss and still more are simply maintaining. No matter where you are on the coping scale, be honest and be patient with yourself. It is important that we all learn ways to cope with uncertainty and understand the strength and resilience within.

Grounded hope is an idea created by journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz that helps people realize their resilience when faced with challenges. Part of grounded hope is having a realistic understanding of oneself and the difficulties of a situation. Through self-reflection and supportive conversations with others, we can better understand the reality of a challenging situation and rise to meet those challenges.

Recognize where you are

Where should you start when it comes to facing adversity?

“Before you can begin to move in a different direction, you must first realize where you are without self-criticism,” said Kirk Brower, M.D., chief wellness officer at Michigan Medicine. “This can be difficult to reflect, see, and accept your current state, but doing so will help you begin to move forward.”

Crisis and change can disrupt typical routines and make it harder to meet important needs for self-care, connection, purpose and predictability. Self-reflection is a powerful tool for listening to your needs and connecting to resources. It may be extremely difficult to take time for reflection, identify painful feelings and understand how you handle stress. Reflecting and seeing where you are is an important part of identifying strategies that can support your essential needs.

“So much has happened and changed this year that we are just trying to find ways to cope with it all,” said Brower.

For many, traditional coping strategies may not be working, so it’s important to add new ones to your toolkit.

Here are some of the most common coping strategies: 

Problem-focused coping: Here we focus on problems that we can solve or influence, and distinguish them from problems we have no control of. In solving problems, we can benefit from accurate, helpful information. It’s important to ask ourselves if the information we are attending to is helping us or causing distress. Too much exposure to misleading information can hurt us. Weighing the pros and cons of the information we are digesting and finding trusted sources are beneficial.

When problems are complex and can’t easily be fixed, it’s natural to feel frustrated, discouraged or helpless. One question that we can all ask ourselves is: “What can I do?” It’s easy to focus on all of the things that we can’t do — things that have been changed or that aren’t possible right now. And while of course we don’t like those changes, we can still refocus on what is possible. This mindset can allow many people to tap into their problem-solving skills and take steps toward what is under their control or influence. Problem-solving skills can assist with meeting needs around safety, predictability and purpose.

Emotion-focused coping: With many businesses closed and staying at home recommended, those who often find distractions as a way to cope are now feeling more isolated. Mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques are becoming worn out. Going outside for a walk, participating in an outdoor activity and connecting with nature is still recommended, even as the weather grows colder.

The goal with emotion-focused coping is to improve a moment by reducing distress, even for a brief time. Mindfulness skills, self-compassion practices and healthy distraction techniques (for example, going for a walk or focusing on a pleasant image or sound) can give us a break from intense, painful feelings.

Social support coping: For those who lean on family and friends during difficult times, COVID-19 restrictions often prevent you from seeking comfort and support. While video conferencing may not feel the same, at least it’s a way to still be seen and heard by loved ones. 

Look for opportunities to build closeness and community. Make social connection part of a routine — it’s all part of keeping relationships and ourselves healthy.

What can you do now? 

Once you recognize where you are, you can then find ways to push through. As many people are stretched thin, there is still a little left within you to adapt to change. 

Retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, lists a few tips on isolation after spending a year in space. Some of those tips include:

  • Follow a schedule or routine: This will help with idle time and build motivation to get things done. 
  • Pace yourself: With many people blending work and home life, you must set time aside to do fun activities. 
  • Go outside: There is no substitute for a connection with nature.
  • Find a hobby: If you have some free time or maybe you want to find a family hobby, this is a great way to bring fun into your home. Whether it’s cooking, painting, learning a new game or instrument, finding something else to do outside of work will help with the effects of isolation. 

This is the other part of grounded hope. Hopefulness comes with coping and finding ways to take care of ourselves. We all can hope for a better future by putting into action small steps that help ourselves and the people around us.  

Resources

Michigan Medicine faculty and staff are invited to join the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience for a two-part group series that will teach skills for coping in challenging times. Using research-based principles and practices, you will learn strategies to recognize and respond to stress and painful emotions, and practice skills to boost your resilience. 

The Zoom sessions are offered on a variety of dates, starting Dec. 8. For more information and registration, click here.

For questions, please contact: counseling@med.umich.edu.

Kelcey Stratton of the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience was a guest on The Wrap employee podcast to discuss how to protect your mental health during the holiday season. Check out the video of her chat below or find an audio-only version by clicking here.

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