Creating Resilience and Strong Families During the Pandemic

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

by Jessica Waters, M.A., M.P.S., M.C.P.

Trauma, Grief, Mindfulness and Resiliency Specialist

Who would have thought just a couple weeks ago we would be sheltering at home, practicing social distancing, facing online learning and school cancellations for the school year, having to get everything delivered to us and wondering about all the financial and practical things that go with the realities of a pandemic in the U.S? Not I, for sure and I’m betting you didn’t

see this coming either. The reality is however, that this time, as quickly as change is being thrown at us, as crazy as it is, as terrible as it maybe in other countries, is a time to build our families strong and develop our personal and family resiliency.

What IS resiliency, you might ask? It’s the ability to roll with the punches. To adjust and adapt and bounce back during and after a crisis. I’m sure there have been times in your life when you’ve developed your own resiliency. Some more than others. During times of trauma, grief, financial despair, employment changes, family drama and trauma. You saw our country develop resiliency during and after 9/11, during the housing crisis, for those of you old enough to remember, during the Dust Bowl and Pearl Harbor, even the World Wars. While the pandemic is not an act of violence, it is a war on our personal health and society. It calls on use to think about ourselves AND BEYOND ourselves to our families and neighbors developing stronger bonds in assisting those that cannot get out to get supplies, that cannot afford to have meals and groceries delivered and who are alone.

Within our families we are challenged from moving to a model of fast paced, activity filled “doing” to slow paced quality time “bonding and being”. Take advantage of the gifts that this “sheltering”, “quarantining” time is giving us. The gift of time and togetherness. Perhaps these are the biggest blessings of all. Here are some things to do while your home to help develop personal and family resilience:

  • Stay calm and focused. To help do this practice breathing. This simple act that we take for granted a million times a day is the key to helping activate the parasympathetic nervous system in your body that sends calming chemicals to your central nervous system making stress and fight or flight responses lessen. Practice grounding exercises to help with focus (outlined in my article Remaining Resiliency During a Pandemic available here). Manage catastrophic thinking through positive reframing of thoughts and language.

  • Model this and guide your kids in practicing these strategies as well. Do them together. Let them see you do it and ask them to try it with you. After a few days of doing it, they will remind and lead YOU in doing it when they notice you are under distress. The best thing is that these are life skills that will help all of us navigate stress, trauma, anxiety, a changing world and all the elements of the unknown that come with it.

  • Create a schedule for work, school and play to help provide some structure for you and your kids. Structure equals safety to kids. Freedom and play within that structure is essential. We all are under enormous stress right now, your kids feel it too and they feed off the stress and anxiety that they see you under as well. A structured schedule can help them have a sense of normalcy in their life (because school schedules and routines are a part of normalcy for children). Below is a sample of a schedule:

  • Help your kids and family regulate their emotions. It will be normal for kids and family members to be reactive, annoying, irritable, hyper and even explode. This is a normal nervous system response to the crisis. Use Dr. Bruce Perry’s 3 R’s to help guide you in how to do that in an effective, attachment producing way. The key to preventing explosions is “heading things off at the pass”. Using calming strategies like breathwork, movement, repetitive creative processes like coloring, making play dough from flour and water at home, having quiet time, listening to calm music, etc. Movement, moving the body, is essential however. It helps release the anxiety and stress hormones from the body as well as retrains crisis muscle memory which helps process anxiety, stress and trauma. Wall push ups, walking, running, yoga, playing Twister all help prevent explosions. If one occurs, do not touch the person during the explosion. To not try to reason with them, that part of their brain is inaccessible.

Together, we can get through the next weeks and months and embrace this time as a time to bond, be and challenge us to grow. As we go through this change in our lives and society, please feel free to contact me for assistance if you need it. I am offering my coaching services for donations only and am moving my Navigating Loss Support Group online within the next week. I also will have a couple of online self paced courses that will be available for a donation within the next week or two. You might have to isolate, but you are not alone. I am here to support you through coaching you through anxiety, trauma and grief responses as well as teaching you mindfulness, coping skills and resiliency building through it all. Be well my friends.

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