It’s always rough returning to school after the holiday break. This year, it seems like everyone is having an exceptionally hard time readjusting to a school routine. I’ve been scratching my head about why this year seems to be harder on me and my kids than it was in the past. So, I decided to analyze a regular day this week and see if there was a pattern of disruption.
I found one.
5:45 a.m., wake-up time for the swim team kid. First kid, first problem; someone on the team is out with COVID-19. Coach is sick also. A big meet got canceled.
The next wave of kids gets ready at 7 a.m. There’s trouble here, too. The pre-teen has an assignment due for science. His lab partner missed a day to be tested for COVID-19, so they are behind and my boy is a bit panicky.
7:45, we drive past Cache Valley Hospital to get to school. There are over 50 cars in the queue at the COVID-19 testing site.
See the pattern?
This darn pandemic makes functioning in a normal routine a big challenge. I know I’m not the only person struggling to find my footing, so I reached out to Licensed Clinical Social Worker CJ Sorenson for some advice. He’s a clinical professor in social work at Utah State University and the owner of Resilience Counseling.
Sorenson told me I’m not alone in my frustrations. “Since the pandemic started we have seen a significant increase in demand for therapists around the valley. Clients are expressing real fatigue with the ongoing pandemic issues,” he said. “There was a hopeful expectation that things had turned a corner, and now it looks like we are facing a significant surge from Omicron. That’s a big setback.”
But there is a silver lining; people are becoming more resilient.
“The science of resilience is pretty complex,” Sorenson said, “but there are some consistent themes in what we know about people who are resilient. Boiled down, resilience is the capacity to be adaptable and flexible and bounce back in stressful situations.”
He continued, “Resilience CAN be learned and developed. It’s not like either you have it or you don’t. We can all do things to cultivate our resilience in ourselves and in our kids!”
Sorenson said he often talks with clients about four concepts: purpose, productivity, rest, and connection.
Remembering that the trials we go through have a purpose is key. “A lot of times when we are in stressful situations or in crisis, individually or collectively, to be able to tune into the meaning that it has for us can be very powerful,” Sorenson said. “Suffering for suffering’s sake is not very useful, but if we can tune into a purpose, that makes a big difference for our mental wellness.”
Finding purposeful ways to use time is a good idea, too. “Productivity is the idea that it’s important for us to be engaged in meaningful activity,” Sorenson continued. “Being engaged in work and play and recreation and tasks and activity is really important for our well-being. In a situation where people are in isolation and quarantine, it would be important for them to be intentional about what they can do to be productive.”
He specifically mentioned the importance of exercise and physical movement for our mental health. For the sake of balance, taking appropriate rest is also necessary.
Sorenson simply said, “Rest and engaging in good self-care is super important for our well-being.”
He also said healthy connection and human support is the most significant thing for maintaining wellness and building resilience. “We find in the research over and over again that connection is critical,” he said. “Even in this period of occasional isolation, it’s so important that people cultivate healthy and stable relationships.”
Along with focusing on those four things, establishing a consistent, predictable routine can help people feel grounded. Even with the best possible preparation though, things will continue to be challenging.
That’s why building resilience is so important.
“Resilient people aren’t people without emotional struggle,” Sorenson said. “We can’t be resilient if we don’t have something to struggle out. Resilient people are folks that can embrace their emotions across the full spectrum and manage them in healthy ways.”
For me, his advice is well-timed since a COVID-19 testing site has just opened in the city park across the street from my house. It will be a constant reminder that we are not out of the woods in this pandemic.
And yet, being stuck in this situation doesn’t make me powerless over so many things. I can still work, play, and help my family. I can find other ways to communicate with friends and look out for neighbors while still obeying Health Department recommendations.
The best thing I learned from CJ Sorenson is that the tools for health and well-being haven’t disappeared because of the pandemic. And if I use them, I can learn to be more resilient.
I’ll need it during this surge.
For me, establishing a good routine and being flexible enough to roll with the punches when something changes will be my New Year’s goal. I’ll do my best to cultivate a healthy pattern of intentional, productive actions. Because that’s what resilient people do.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org