You’ve probably heard the expression, “When life knocks you down, get back up.”
Easier said than done.
During the global health crisis, many have been knocked down…hard. Some have lost their jobs. Others have lost someone close to them.
There are no magic words that can make things better when tragedy enters the life of an unsuspecting soul. Friends or acquaintances may attempt to soothe emotional wounds with tired platitudes (like “Into each life, some rain must fall”) or nuggets of pop psychology. Though well-meaning, such sentiments can end up doing more harm than good.
So, when words fail, what’s the best way to comfort someone who’s endured an unexpected loss? Here are some helpful tips on how to be resilient and how to help others through tough times…
The Present of Presence
One of the best things you can do for someone who has suffered a loss is to just be there for them. Showing up during a difficult time reveals more than just your support…it reveals your heart. They might forget the card or casserole, but they won’t forget you being there during one of the lowest points in their life.
The most important thing to remember when practicing presence is to listen. If they want to speak, to express their feelings, actively listen to them. Otherwise, if they remain silent, just be with them.
Sitting in silence may make you feel awkward or helpless, but it’s a far better option than trying to ease their pain by telling them of a hardship from your past (which minimizes their suffering) or filling the time with Band-Aid bromides, like the one referenced earlier.
If they ask for your advice, resist the urge to fix the problem. Keep your responses compassionate, but brief. Here’s a good guideline to follow: the greater the tragedy, the fewer words you should speak.
The Stages of Grief
Chances are, your life has been altered in some way during the stay-at-home period. Whether you’ve experienced mild or severe changes, identifying and processing your feelings can be a significant step in moving past loss or grief.
Although models vary, many counselors follow the 5 Stages of Grief (Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle) when helping their patients. The 5 Stages are:
- Denial – This is typically the first stage (but some quickly proceed to Anger). When faced with an unexpected or tragic situation, many people resist the facts or enter a state of disbelief.
- Anger – As the reality of the situation sets in, many people become outraged and may even start to blame others. This is especially true when an avoidable or senseless tragedy has occurred.
- Bargaining – When people feel helpless and vulnerable, they may try to regain control with “If only” statements like, “If only we’d gotten that second opinion.”
- Depression – Depression may manifest itself as mourning, sadness, regret, helplessness, or hopelessness.
- Acceptance – People who arrive at this stage have come to terms with what happened and are trying to figure out how to move forward with their lives. Some reach this stage only after extreme effort. Sadly, some never fully reach this stage.
If you or someone you know has been knocked down by recent events, working through this cycle can be a huge help.
The Process of Recovery
So, how do you get back up? Is there a special formula that allows some people to bounce back while others throw in the towel?
The first step is to realize that people react differently to adversity. Some immediately get up swinging, eager to rebound from life’s sucker punch. For others, it may take more time to heal and find the strength to get back on their feet.
It’s important to have patience during this process, especially if someone in your life isn’t progressing as quickly as you think they should. Though the natural tendency is to rush the healing process, there’s no set time limit. Just as grieving is a process, so is recovery.
How to Be Resilient: According to Brain Experts
Recently, Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Robert Johnson held a video conference with Amen Clinics staff members. One of the many topics discussed was the importance of resilience as we collectively face the ramifications of COVID-19.
Dr. Amen referenced the work of Dr. Martin Seligman, which frequently focuses on positivity and mental toughness. According to Dr. Seligman’s research, people who are more resilient see problems as being temporary, local, and that they have some degree of control over the situation. Unfortunately, many people today see their problems as being permanent, global, and that they have no control over what’s going on in the world.
At this point, there can be no doubt that the coronavirus is a global concern. However, Dr. Amen sees the virus as a temporary problem. Even if it takes another year for a vaccine to be developed, he believes the current dilemma won’t last forever.
Fortunately, we aren’t powerless in the meantime. As Dr. Amen helpfully reaffirmed, we all have control over how we respond to circumstances.
The Power of Thoughts
Advancing Dr. Amen’s comment, Dr. Johnson underscored the importance of dealing with the ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) that can infest our mind and cause us to obsess over the “What ifs?” of life. Feelings of fear and worry can lead to a kind of hypervigilance where we overfocus on the negative.
The trouble with such negative thinking is that it can distort our perceptions of reality. When we engage in negative forecasting (worrying about things that may or may not happen), problems can seem bigger than they really are.
Feelings of unease and apprehension have become a universal experience in recent months. Many people are drifting toward a negative bias due to the ambient stress created by the media. This kind of stress may raise cortisol levels and negatively affect a person’s exercise, nutrition, and sleep habits.
If stress is taking its toll on you, Dr. Johnson suggests taking some time to reground yourself. He recommends getting back to a routine and structure that supports healthy thinking and accurate perceptions. These perceptions aren’t as much about positive thinking as they are about data-based thinking.
Where to Find Help
So, where can you get help? Many people receive support from a therapist or counselor. Speaking with a trained counselor can make a significant improvement in your outlook and ability to bounce back from life’s challenges.
If you’re dealing with fear, anger, guilt, sadness, or mood issues, you don’t have to continue struggling by yourself.
Amen Clinics offers in-clinic and telehealth (via telephone and video conferencing) services. To learn more about the full range of services at Amen Clinics or to set up an appointment, please call 888-288-9834.
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