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5 Ways To Build More Mental And Emotional Strength In The Face Of What We’ve Lost

Part of the series "Accessing the Most Powerful You"

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pensive woman in front of the window
pensive woman in front of the window

In reading article after article and headline after headline about the pandemic and what is happening in so many people’s lives around the world, one thing above all has become crystal clear, and that is:

The coronavirus has stolen much from us and irrevocably altered how we see our reality.

Experiences, situations, events, and beliefs about the “reality” of life that so many of us took for granted (and never for a second questioned could be stripped away) are now gone.

For me and my family, and for the clients and course members I work with, for instance, there have been shocking truths that we never imagined we could be dealing with, including:

Physical distance

  • We can’t physically be with our loved ones or friends or enjoy a get-together for the foreseeable future
  • Even walking in nature, which for so many is healing, is not allowed in many states

Loss of connection

  • Our beloved family members could suffer or die alone, without our being there to comfort them

Lack of protection

  • We have lost the sense that we have the power to protect ourselves from harm
  • Healthcare workers in this country aren’t protected and have to put their lives on the line every day for us
  • Family members of first-responders and healthcare workers, and others who are vulnerable, are at great risk

Learning

  • Our children have to adjust to an entirely new way of learning and connecting that many are not equipped for, technologically or emotionally

Lack of celebration and closure

  • Many who would be experiencing beautiful life milestones such as graduation, prom, sports championships, special birthdays, etc. have lost these high-point memories and experiences

Means of provision

  • There is risk to leave our homes to obtain the necessities we need to live

Our sources of joy and solace

  • Our places of worship and our concert halls, theaters, museums, etc. where many experienced solace, comfort and joy are not safe

Our work

  • The work so many people do each day to be of service and earn money to live has been stripped away

A new experience of vulnerability

  • Most of all, all our understanding and learning from science and research and the from past still hasn’t been enough to protect us

I don’t write this to be doom and gloom, but to highlight what all of us are dealing with that we were, frankly, not prepared for.  It is wartime, for sure. In thinking about what we’ve lost, we could become even more depressed, and that would be an understandable response.

But now is the time to access our most powerful and potent selves, and to soldier through this—to cope and rise above it—best we can, because we need to and others need us to be strong. We need to hold ourselves together for those who rely on our strength and capabilities. And this is the time to also be grateful for what we do have, which is still so much.

Absolutely, we must allow ourselves to grieve and process our emotions fully, and not pretend that we’re not sad and frightened. But if we can, we also need to access more mental and emotional strength and resilience so that we can go on in the best way possible.

As a former marriage and family therapist who worked with clients dealing with deeply traumatic experiences including rape, incest, pedophilia, suicidality, substance abuse, attempted murder and more, I have seen firsthand what those who have faced the darkest of human experiences have done to cope, heal, rise above, and even thrive through their deepest challenges.

And in my coaching work with people who have experienced incredible challenges that have impacted their professional lives, I’ve seen too what people can overcome. And how they can grow stronger and more resilient through these experiences so that when the crisis is over, they are stronger, clearer, and more of who they want to be.

I’ve seen that there are five core behaviors that help us marshal our internal resources, build mental and emotional strength, find brave, and access our most powerful selves and they are:

#1: Be vigilant about what you attend to

If you’re like me, an overload of horrific headlines and news makes me feel sick with worry, anxiety and fear. And my physical well-being is affected as well. My blood pressure rises, and there are other physical signs of anxiety that emerge when I’m flooded with negativity and a feeling of doom.

Now is the time to be very careful what you focus on. It’s critical to find ways to stay informed without falling into depression. In a fascinating Forbes interview with Michelle Gielan on 7 Ways to Instantly Become Influential In Your Business and Fuel More Success, Michele helps us take control of what we focus on, and shares this:

Our brains are wired to scan the world for threats, which is not often ideal for fueling success. While we are able to process 40-50 bits of information per second, our brain is bombarded with 11 million bits per second. If we are consumed with mitigating threats at work or with our families, we don’t have brain resources left over to scan the world for the opportunities and resources. 

And in our Finding Brave podcast interview, Michele demonstrates what I call Brave Speak, and shares how our words create our reality and our happiness. Click below to listen in – this is powerful information for just these times:

Focus intensively now on what you’re putting in your brain as information. Be selective about the type of news you access, how much, and when. Read your news (rather than watch hours of TV and talking heads rambling about their take on the news) and be selective about the headlines you choose to read. Understand that if you aren’t careful in what you digest, you’ll be fueling a breeding ground for more fear and overwhelm.

Also, be careful who you are hanging out with (virtually and otherwise). People who are terribly negative do indeed have an impact on you.

#2: Find a way to process your grief but not dwell on the terrible

It’s so important to be able to fully process what we’re experiencing, including pain, confusion, loss, fear, and despair. And it’s perfectly normal to be grieving right now (there are different kinds of grief as well, including anticipatory grief and grief over all that we’ve lost).

That said, dwelling on the awful doesn’t help us. Acceptance of today’s reality (for now) and embracing a problem-solving mentality is what helps us cope better than falling into a pit of despair. Take the time now to build stronger coping mechanisms for yourself, and give yourself what you need to process your emotions while also taking steps to problem-solve.

For instance, take an online meditation class to help calm you, or start a journal process nightly, to explore and work through your thoughts and concerns more fully. Check out my Forbes interview with renowned happiness expert Shawn Achor on ways you can increase your experience of happiness today.

If you feel it’s too much to handle alone, reach out to a therapist and work with them online. (Check out the American Assn of Marriage and Family Therapists and use their therapist locator to find someone to help you.)

We WILL get through this. Try to take one step a day that feels like you are addressing the problems at hand in a powerful way that demonstrates your own self-efficacy.

#3: Focus on what you can control

So many of us feel helpless and out of control right now, and that fuels our anxieties. Take back control of your day wherever you can. For me, for instance, I’m continuing to work on my typical work projects including writing, finishing my book, recording my podcast and coaching and teaching, etc. but I’m intensively focused now on offering where I can new content that’s relevant to today’s times. That’s what I can control – what I create, write and produce.

How about you? What can you control in your day that makes you remember that life is going on and will continue to go on. Perhaps it’s cleaning and organizing one room a day, or taking an online class to build that skill you’ve been wanting to. Some men I’ve spoken to who have lost their work (but their spouses continue to work outside the home) are taking on all the cooking and cleaning and other domestic responsibilities for the entire family (something they never did before).

Another method of taking back control is to find a way to be of service to other people. Who can you help today? Perhaps teach something online, or offer a Zoom or google hangout meeting. Find a way to be of service to someone new today.

Do something each day that helps you feel you’re taking back control over your life.

#4: Surround yourself virtually with people who inspire and uplift you

I’m in a wonderful singing group–The Wilton Singers— that meets to rehearse every week from September through May, to prepare for our two annual concerts. We sing for two hours, then we have an hour of snacks and socializing. I’ve been in this group for 15 years and these people have grown to be my dear friends who have seen me through so many of my life’s ups and downs. Suddenly, we can’t meet, sing or connect physically any longer (for now).

So many of us feel the deep loss of that connection and miss our friendships. But we took action last night and held a virtual rehearsal and meetup for two hours on Zoom. It was a balm for the soul and we all felt it. Now, we’re committed to meeting every week to just stay in touch and support each other. It’s not the same as physically singing and being together, but it’s something, and we’ll take it.

Who can you surround yourself (virtually) with today, this week and next week, who uplifts and inspires you and brings you joy and gratitude? One amazing gift we have is that we can still connect virtually with our dear friends and inspiring thought leadership around the world. Read some riveting new books and other material or listen to great podcasts that remind you of what we can be appreciative of today.

#5: Ask for help out loud

Finally, if you feel this is just too hard and you need help, don’t be embarrassed to ask for it, out loud. Tell your parent, partner, or best friend that you need help to deal with what’s happening. Talk it out. Share your fears and anxieties. And don’t wait to seek therapeutic help if you aren’t coping with the struggles you’re facing and the burden feels just too great. You’re not alone and there is no shame in needing help. In fact, it demonstrates your mental and emotional strength to admit it’s time for help.

There are amazing helpers, supporters and angels waiting in the wings to offer you just the right guidance, strategies, support and beautiful listening ears you need.

Sometimes, the most important thing we can do to thrive is to finally say out loud what we’ve been struggling so hard internally to cope with. For help, contact your local Social Services department, your primary doctor or your local hospital to request a referral to a therapist or counselor who can provide support. (Or again, check out AAMFT.org’s therapist locator.)

We will get through this together. Let’s all use this time to build our mental and emotional strength so that, when this is behind us (and this too shall pass), we will be able to adjust well, recraft our lives successfully, and thrive.

For career, leadership and personal growth support, work with me in my Breakthrough programs, and tune into my podcast Finding Brave. And stay tuned for my new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss coming July 2020.

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