This month marks the one year anniversary of “let’s all stay home for two weeks help to flatten curve.” I certainly don’t say that to minimize the importance of doing so but I doubt many people predicted the 12 months that followed. It’s been an interesting ride (similar to being stuck on a malfunctioning roller coaster during a hot summer day…. uncomfortable, a little scary, yet also a little boring and most of all eerily unpredictable).
Last week I covered #1-#5 of the 10 Things Your Therapist Hopes You Learned During a COVID Centered Year. If you missed it, check it out here.
#6 Relationships are critical to health and wellbeing
This year has been hard in countless ways, but isolation has been at the top of the list for many and for good reason. We know relationships are not only important, but they also lead to better health outcomes. In fact, the lack of social relationships is more damaging to your health than several other risk factors including obesity, smoking and alcoholism.
This year it has been challenging to find ways to be close while also being far away. Virtual doctor visits, telehealth appointments, remote working environments, and of course, Non-Traditional Instruction are just some of the ways our world has shifted in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Thus, it’s not surprising that “Zoom fatigue” (despite being a phrase none of us had even heard of before this year) is now something most are painstakingly familiar. Yet the need for connection outweighed our disdain of living in a virtual world. We have scheduled online game nights and Facetime dates, participated in Zoom weddings and Celebration of Life Ceremonies, and have even mastered the art of online birthday parties and baby showers. Our need for social connection is wired deep within our brains. I hope this year has taught you that even if you are thousands of miles from another human being, you don’t have to be alone.
#7 Resiliency in children must be taught.
We have all heard the phrase “Kids are resilient” and often we hear it most during times of stress and trauma. Sara will be okay because she is strong. Monica always pulls through. Devon will be fine—he’s a trooper. Have you ever asked yourself why people say this, or if it is even true?
As for the “why,” we all certainly want it to be true. During the past 12 months most of us have felt upside down at times. We are trying to juggle an entirely new way of living life while also trying to literally stay alive (and yeah, I know that might sound dramatic but even if you are someone that has fewer risk factors for serious complications or death from COVID-19, you likely still know someone in your family or circle of friends that you are trying to keep safe). There is no denying adults have been impacted by the events of the past year and kids haven’t gotten a free pass. They were thrown some major curve balls—some no longer had playdates or in person family gatherings, and many had to switch to a full-time online learning environment. Kids learn through relationships. Cooperative play, social skill development and emotional regulation are among the many skills children learn through interactions with others. This past year they were abruptly put into a situation where their only interaction with the outside world was (and for many, continues to be) largelythrough a computer screen. We want to believe kids are going to be ok no matter what they experience. It certainly feels better to assume that regardless of the circumstances, our tiny humans will prevail, unharmed.
Unfortunately, resilience is not innate. Kids aren’t born with the ability to push through hardships, unscathed. This year we have seen depression and anxiety increase in kids across the country. We have seen the academic decline of typically straight “A” students and witnessed the escalating behaviors of kids of all ages. Some have certainly fared better than others but the phrase “kids are resilient” misled many into thinking kids could push through without consequences.
Here’s the good news: Resiliency can be taught. Even during a global health crisis where in person interactions are sparse, kids can learn from relationships when parents, caregivers, and teachers intentionally foster meaningful interactions. Whether through online gatherings with the sole purpose of socializing or even just helping children write letters or draw pictures to mail to friends and family, those intentional moments of highlighting the importance of connection will make a huge difference in your child’s ability relate to others, which in turn, promotes emotional regulation and you guessed it—leads to resilience.
#8 Therapists are regular people
If you didn’t already think of your therapist as a regular person, you likely do now. At this point, through the joys of telehealth, you have seen the inside of our living rooms, basements, home offices and sometimes even our bedrooms. We set up shop wherever we could, while still paying close attention to maintaining your confidentiality. You have learned about our lives without us even having to disclose the details. You have heard our dogs bark and seen our cats scurry in the background (or even witnessed them demand attention by sitting on our keyboards). If one of our kids experienced something they perceived as an emergency during one of our sessions, you may have even seen that below the professional looking shirt we were wearing our much more comfortable pants.
At times, the world idolizes therapists. We are often depicted as professional robots—calm, cool and collected—unimpacted by crisis and emotionally unphased by much. This was never true, or at least not all the time. Sure, in session you typically get the best version of your therapist. We are only focused on you and your wellbeing, and most of the time we can emotionally and cognitively remove ourselves from whatever is being discussed in order to remain unbiased. Cue the COVID-19 complication that literally invaded not only every session we had but also every phone call, dinner conversation, personal appointment, news broadcast, television show and social media outlet. It was, and continues to be, everywhere. Ideally, when a therapist encounters a client struggling with the same thing they are, they refer out to a different therapist. For example, if a therapist is actively grieving a death, they typically don’t see clients that are also actively grieving. It can be challenging to remain impartial, and truth be told it can be hard not to be triggered. If your therapist never shared a personal feeling or thought during one of your sessions over the past 12 months, that is incredible…difficult for me to believe, but incredible, nonetheless. Either way, I hope you learned we are just like you…perfectly human and not immune to the impact of adversity.
#9 Therapy is valuable and it’s not just for everyone else
The demand for therapy is currently the highest I have seen. In many cases, clients are having to wait longer than ever to obtain a first-time appointment. Waiting lists for mental health services are long, and in some cases, practices are so full, they aren’t even adding to a waiting list. The pandemic has led to increased depression and anxiety for adults and children alike and more people are turning to therapists for support. While I hate that the world is struggling, I am hopeful therapy is becoming more mainstream and less stigmatized. Mental health has always been important but this year it is even harder to ignore that fact. I hope you have learned therapy can be a safe and valuable place, and that you don’t have to wait for the next global pandemic to benefit from it.
#10 You can do hard things
While I hope you have learned all the things on this list, this might be the most important. You can do hard things. In the face of uncertainty, I have seen people dig deep for courage and strength. I have seen people lift one another up while trying to maintain their own balance. I have seen people of all ages asking for help even when it is hard to do so. I have seen families navigate unimaginable, profound loss and yet still find a way to keep going. I have seen people survive the unthinkable and still somehow maintain hope for the future.
I have seen YOU. I have seen you do the best you can while you wrestle with the idea that it truly is enough. I have seen you overcome your fears and anxieties despite feeling uncertain about the path. I have seen you fall countless times and yet you continue to get up. I have seen you doubt how much you can handle, yet here you are.
You CAN do hard things.