The COVID-19 crisis has tested the resilience of families across the world. The important question now is how do we teach ourselves and our children to move forward? Here, psychotherapist Noel McDermott encourages families to look at their successes throughout this pandemic, rather than look to the unknown. He also offers a simple resilience checklist that will add to our support and skill set, helping develop our resilience further.
Noel comments: ‘We are entering another phase of the pandemic in the vaccinated countries, one in which we need new ways to measure risk and opportunity. Pre-vaccine we had relatively simple choices about staying at home which has, over the course of the pandemic, become more complex and continues to become more complex still. This is the theme of the next year to come – we will be living with the pandemic phase of this virus for a couple more years before we adapt and it joins the other coronaviruses in becoming endemic to us.’
Knowledge is key – be armed, be resilient
Knowledge about health and the virus and the associated timescales is one of the key resilience factors in managing our stress responses to this situation. Understanding and normalising experiences allow us to contain our fear responses, not only protecting our psychological health, but also that of our kids. The new metric for us is not about infection but about hospitalisation. It’s quite a change to make to stop ourselves from experiencing adrenaline when we hear that the delta variant is sweeping across the country, but the truth is the vaccines are doing what they say on the tin: breaking the link between infection, hospitalisation, and death.
When doing a risk analysis, we ask ourselves two key questions: (1) What is the likelihood of the risk? and (2) What is the severity of the risk? To these questions, we had been saying ‘high’ for both, but now we are saying the likelihood may be high but the severity of the risk happening is low. This means it is safe to be exposed to the risk.
Noel continues: ‘If we can contain our fear through better knowledge and insight into the current situation, we go a long way to helping our children do the same. Children copy us; they don’t usually listen to us. Don’t run around shouting “Don’t panic” at the top of your lungs. Be congruent in the verbal, behavioural, and emotional messaging you give to your kids.’
Building family resilience
Resilience is about developing flexibility in dealing with difficult life situations and, the more flexible we are, the more open we are in times of change and the more confident we will be that we can manage whatever comes our way. Looking back over the last year, we have managed to live with an extremely challenging set of circumstances, and this is evidence enough you can deal with whatever is coming next. Look at your successes and pat yourself on the back, rather than look to the unknown.
Focus on the here and now
Ask yourself ‘At this moment am I okay?’ If the answer is yes, then you are okay and will be so in the next moment, and the next. Focussing in this way on this moment – the here and now – will reduce any feelings of fear or depression. Mostly, in the here and now we are fine. The more we can allow ourselves to inhabit that, the less stress we will feel and the better equipped we will be to deal with change and challenge. Teaching your kids to do the same will be of enormous benefit to them, though truth be known it’s usually kids who can teach us adults more about this skill than we can teach them. Depending on the age of your child, they will be very adept at finding what is pleasurable at this moment.
Resilience is about adding to our support and skill set, not about trying to manage external events. Here is a simple checklist that will develop this for us and our children:
- Eat, sleep, hydrate, exercise, go outside.
- Socialise with people you like, love, and enjoy the company of.
- Get involved in activities with others that allow you to meet new people with shared interests.
- Stay in the here and now when you begin to worry about the future. Managing fear feelings will reduce your psychological distress and improve your decision making.
- Develop or maintain your talk times at home to discuss worries.
- Get informed and educated about the current phase of the pandemic.
- Vector away from the old metrics of infection into the new ones of hospitalisation and deaths.
- Focus on your successes in getting through this very challenging year rather than worrying about the unknown future.
- Volunteer and help others; this will contextualise your concerns and make the world a better place.
Apart from us projecting resilience and being resilient in our behaviours, the other major ways kids develop this in life is being with their peers in school and out of school. This summer is for staying at home and organising as many group events with your child’s peers as possible. Stay home, rest, socialise, and give yourself and your children time and space to settle down to our new normal. Being part of complex social groups is the therapy most kids need, as well as being outside and experiencing nature.
Most of us have developed some great psychological habits this year from being together more, family meals, events, connecting to others, having a stable routine, etc. Keep that going and continue to prioritise healthy habits of regular exercise, good food, and lots of time together. Many of us have found we have had more time and more incentive to share feelings over the last year to eighteen months; this is a great habit to keep going.
Noel comments: ‘This isn’t a time for new adventure; it’s a time for settling in and processing. It’s a time to focus on gratitude for coming through this healthy and alive. For most of us, our first instinct in the first lockdown last year was to reach out to those we love that we had not seen or spoken to in a while; let that be your instinct now and focus on love for others and love for yourself.’
Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education, with a range of online therapy resources to help clients.