Holly Richardson: Fostering resilience during a time of isolation

Tap, tap, tap. Is this thing on?

How are you doing? Like really? How’s the homeschooling going? How’s the everyone-is-home-all-day-everyday thing going? Do you have seniors missing graduation? Grandbabies missing hugs from grandma? It’s hard. I have a daughter who turns 16 on Sunday and to say she’s disappointed in the lack of festivities (read: hanging out with friends) would be an understatement.

If we had forgotten how rapidly life can change, well, a little virus has done a pretty good job of showing us how little control we have over so many parts of our lives. Work, school, home and church priorities and expectations have shifted. The return to a new normal will likely be slow, or at least slower than we would like and the economic stress keeps ratcheting up.

The question, then, is not, “How do I avoid this stress?” or pretending nothing has changed, but acknowledging what is and as “Now what?” Strengthening our resilience will make us more capable of facing crisis head on, quicker to adapt and recover.

Resilience is both an art and a science. It can be learned, practiced and modeled for others, including our children, our neighbors and our co-workers. Resilient people have the ability to pivot and adapt to change. They are empathetic. They can sit with pain — their own and others’ — and not be overwhelmed by it. They have the ability to look forward without downplaying today’s seriousness. They don’t give up.

The American Psychological Association lists four core components to resilience: connection, wellness, healthy thinking and meaning.

Connection is all about relationships. Who can you connect with that helps you feel seen and heard, even in — perhaps especially in — a time of social distancing? How can you foster deeper relationships when you can’t be together physically? This week, I found myself hand-writing notes to friends and sending care packages to my kids who live away from home, both new behaviors for me.

Focus on wellness: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Practice deep self-care, get enough sleep, stop eating junk food every day, journal, stay hydrated, practice mindfulness and meditation, pray — and decrease your news and social media consumption.

Healthy thinking is the ability to keep things in perspective. My daughter turning 16 in quarantine is pretty minor compared to her friend who couldn’t go to her own grandfather’s funeral. It’s accepting that change is part of life. Resilient people have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, meaning they know that no matter how bleak things are right now, circumstances will change.

Finding meaning or purpose in one’s life is the fourth core component. That can look like sewing face masks, or providing emotional support to grandparents or cooking for your quarantine-mates. It can mean being proactive in your self-discovery and growth, and also being gentle with yourself during these strange times. Viktor Frankl say that he who “knows the ‘why’ for his existence will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.”

There’s an old story about a farmer’s donkey that fell down a dry well, braying piteously at the bottom. The farmer, unable to figure out how to get the donkey out, decided to put the animal out of its misery by shoveling dirt into the well and filling it. However, to the farmer’s amazement, the donkey was able to step out of that full well because he did not let the dirt bury him. He was able to shake it off, step up. Shake it off, step up.

Resilience is not about avoiding difficulty. It is not only for people who lead a charmed life (psst: those don’t exist) but is available to all. In fact, resilience is not extraordinary and in fact, comes from the very ordinary behavior of facing challenges, doing your best to not let them bury you and then stepping up.

Napoleon Hill said “Within every adversity is an equal or greater benefit. Within every problem is an opportunity."

So, yes, things are uncertain right now and there is more uncertainty ahead. But, I have every confidence that Utah will make it through. We are resilient like that.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.