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  • Lisa McMichael

Turning Fear Into Strength During COVID-19

February 2020 was the first time I heard the word “Corronavirus.” When news began breaking about the virus, the cases were still just occurring in Wuhan, China, and little was known about this unseen intruder that made people sick and was deadly to the vulnerable.


Dealing with a pandemic for which we have no prior experience, economic uncertainty, social isolation, illness, and mounting death tolls have created a disruption in life as we know it. My life has been greatly altered by this global pandemic; everyone’s life has changed. Our social exchanges, how we work, play, and connect has all been altered.


How do we cope with great change and, more importantly, the UNKNOWN and UNCERTAINTY this virus has brought to our world? A key is developing and maintaining our resources to help us recognize and meet new challenges by strengthening our inner resiliency.

Resiliency


What is the meaning of resiliency? Resiliency is the ability to take your deepest fears and turn them into your greatest strengths. Resiliency isn’t about feeling strong, having it “all together" or being impervious to the difficulties of life. Rather it is the ability to transmute tragedy and difficulties into compassion for ourselves and others. It is the ability to have the courage to recognize our own needs, wounded-ness, or grief and intentionally develop resources that enhance our capacity to effectively cope with what life brings us. Resiliency can be likened to a rubber band. We can be stretched -- sometimes to capacity -- but we have the ability to face the challenges by maintaining our equilibrium and staying centered.

Developing our resiliency is about expanding our ability to face life’s challenges and not only survive them but also incorporate what we have learned into the fabric of our lives. The flip side of any challenge is a strengthened capacity to more fully understand the suffering of others, respect our own courage when we are afraid, and develop a profound understanding of the unbounded depths of the human soul to survive and thrive.


Victor Frankl (psychiatrist, Auschwitz survivor, and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”) coined the term “tragic optimism,” defined as the ability to retain a sense of purpose despite life’s tragedies:


How … can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects? After all, saying 'yes' to life in spite of everything … presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation.  (Lecture presented at the Third World Congress of Logotherapy, Regensburg, West Germany, June 1983)

Promoting Resiliency


The following are strategies for increasing our inner reserves which we draw upon as needed. The more you deposit into your "resiliency account," the more withdrawals you can make in times of need.

  1. Social Distance but Stay Socially Connected. Physical distancing is now the norm to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but the need to socially connect is greater than ever. We are social animals and we need each other. Alternative ways to connect are by phone, Facetime/Zoom, and meeting outdoors properly distanced. This can be a perfect time to reconnect with old friends and strengthen current ties.

  2. Nurture Yourself with Nature. Humans have had an intimate dependency on nature for 2 million years. Being in nature reduces our stress, lowers our blood pressure, calms our nervous system, and increases our cognitive functioning. Walk in your neighborhood, hike at your local park, or sit under a tree. You will feel rejuvenated and refreshed with the added benefit of bolstering your immune system.

  3. Limit Social Media. It can be easy to consume too much news and social media. Ask yourself how you feel after you spend time on Facebook or Twitter, or read/watch the news. If you are becoming emotionally upset, frustrated, or experiencing any negative feelings, consider scaling back. A constant diet of these negative emotions can have a profound effect on your physical health. You want to be informed but not at the expense of your physical and emotional health.

  4. Self-Care. Practicing self-care techniques maximizes our immune system, which helps our body more effectively deal with viruses and bacterial exposure. Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar and processed foods. Eat vegetables, fruits, and healthy proteins. Supplements such as vitamin D, C, and B vitamins are typically consumed to support the immune system. Additionally, get restorative sleep (if you have ongoing sleep issues, consult with a health practitioner until resolved), reduce stress as much as possible, and take time for things you enjoy. Exercise on a regular basis; the best exercise is the one you do. You don’t need a gym membership and lengthy time commitment. Walk outside after work for 10 minutes, or find a 5-10 minute exercise you enjoy on YouTube. Even the simplest exercise when done daily will yield results over time.

  5. Accept that it is a CRAZY TIME. If you are feeling unhinged, stressed or unsure -- whatever you are feeling -- know that you are not alone. Not only has Covid-19 upended our lives, but the world seems to be trying to birth new awareness for social change. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others as well as the disproportional effect of the pandemic on people of color have intensified calls for social change. We are being called to examine our personal biases and privilege and to gain an awareness of institutionalized marginalization of our most vulnerable. We are also facing a divisive election year with the politicizing of all of these issues.

With so many issues coinciding, the stress is palpable, and resources tapped. It is normal to feel the weight of the situation, the anxiety of the unknown, or losses related Covid-19. The key is to allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, for as long as you need to. This means touching into the feelings, but not drowning in them. Once you recognize your emotional needs, turn to resourcing.


F.E.A.T. - A Resource


Resources are tools in our resiliency bag; more tools equal more adaptability and choices. Resources can be internal or external, drawing what we need from our environment (external) or creating or enhancing our inner capacities (internal). I will outline an internal resource that I call F.E.A.T. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. You are going to imagine a pleasant memory, lighting up the positive neuro-networks as you ponder the memory and release the feel good neurotransmitters of seratonin and GABA. As this memory intensifies, find a place on your body to “tap in” the memory by tapping one side of your body and then the other. My favorite is the butterfly hug, involving crossing your arms and placing one open hand on each side of your chest (one hand will be over the heart and the other hand on the other side of your chest). As you begin to experience the emotions of the pleasant memory, start slowly tapping your hands on your chest, alternating hands.


F – FIND the memory of an experience which brings a sense of pleasure or accomplishment. The memory should be pristine in that it is not tied to anything unpleasant. Examples of a formative memory may include a time you felt strong in body, mind, or soul; a spiritual experience, being nurtured or nurturing another person or your pet; or special moments with friends or family.

 

E- EXPAND the feeling of the memory. Notice the memory anew as if you were experiencing it again. Perhaps certain details become more vivid. Sink into the sensations of the memory – sights, sounds, smell, tactile. Expand your breathing, pulling in fresh energy and exhaling out what you choose to release.


 

A – ABSORB the expanded feeling. Imagine every cell filling with a glowing, healing light reflecting the happiness and appreciation you feel for having this memory in your heart. Amplify the feeling until you can feel it from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes.



 

T- TIE TOGETHER. Connect this experience to other positive experiences and create a collection of uplifting and empowering events that you can recall whenever you need to bolster yourself during difficult times. Call this your Well of Strength. The more time you spend re-visiting your Well, the easier it will become to re-activate those feelings and maintain your equilibrium.


I suggest practicing F.E.A.T. for a few minutes at least once a day, Repeated practice strengthens positive neuropathways, kind of like exercising strengthens a muscle.


The word "feat" is defined as an achievement that requires great courage, skill, or strength. When you intentionally create more resiliency, you are gaining skill and strength to use in difficult circumstances.


Use F.E.A.T. when you feel defeated, isolated or hopeless. Notice the activities that deplete you, and engage in more activities that increase your resiliency. During these times, we need all of our resources! And when this time passes, you will be stronger and more resilient than you have ever before. And that's something to celebrate!

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