December 30: Promoting Resilience in Uncertain Times
Over the past few days as I have been contemplating what to write in an end-of-year message, I have been struck by the strange combination of disbelief and déjà vu that many people are experiencing at this point in the pandemic. The sense of frustration, disappointment, and depletion that has been a constant for many people since March 2020 has been compounded by anxiety about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and incredulity that we are faced with more uncertainty and pandemic-related stress. As a friend said to me recently, “I feel as though my brain may explode.”
I truly wish that I had a simple strategy or plan that I could share that would diminish the difficulty inherent in being a parent during these challenging times. Absent a simple fix, I want to share a few reminders about how to promote resilience and flexible thinking in the midst of ongoing stress and uncertainty:
Whenever possible, try to focus on the here and now rather than thinking ahead and worrying about what may happen in the future.
o “I’m not sure about our plans for next weekend. This morning I’m excited to build a pillow fort.”
o “I know you’re wondering if we’ll be able to go away for the long weekend. I won’t have an answer about that for a while. Let’s plan a delicious dinner for tonight so we can look forward to that.”
If you notice that you are fortune telling (trying to predict the future), remember this simple exercise for re-focusing your attention on the present:
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
and take 1 slow, deep breath
If you find yourself panicking and/or catastrophizing, consider developing a calming script to help yourself and your family through a difficult moment. For example:
o “Right now, at this moment, my family is safe.”
o “I’m going to focus on the things I can control like wearing masks and avoiding crowds. I’ll try to let go of the parts that I can’t control.”
o Keep in mind one of my favorite ways to support children who are coping with challenging moments: “Two things are true. This is really hard, and you’re a kid who can do hard things.”
Humor can be a great antidote to stress. During the pandemic when so many of us are feeling deeply depleted, you may find it helpful to be intentional about infusing humor into your parenting. A couple of times a week set an intention of doing one silly thing with your family. Depending on the age(s) of your child(ren), perhaps your children put on bathing suits and play with shaving cream in the bathtub, you all wear silly hats to dinner, or everyone shares a favorite meme or cartoon with a family group chat.
As always, when we talk about coping with stress remember to do a check-in about physical and mental health basics:
o Often sleep patterns shift during the holidays. Make a plan to get sleep habits back on track in the New Year (for both you and your children). I recommend trying to shift back to your regular ‘school night bedtime’ at least 2-3 days before your child goes back to school.
o Spend a few minutes thinking about basic nutrition and the goal of presenting your children with a variety of healthy food options.
o Make sure that both children and adults in your family are getting regular exercise.
o On these colder, shorter winter days, prioritize spending time outdoors whenever possible.
Finally, as you and your family prepare to welcome the New Year, I want to refer you to a post from last yeardescribing my tradition of creating a New Year’s Eve survey for my family and our closest family friends. If you decide to try your hand at creating a survey, I would love to hear how it goes.
Best wishes for a healthy, peaceful, and happy New Year.