Resilience Is the Norm, Not the Exception 

A few days ago, my 12-year-old daughter showed me a video montage she made filled with photos of her and her friends hugging, dancing, and laughing -- all the things 12-year-old girls love doing together. That was before coronavirus. The final image is of her looking sad with the tagline, “What Corona Took From Us.” The novel coronavirus came crashing into our lives, upending life as we know it. Overnight, how we work, learn, and socialize capsized, and the waves keep crashing. There is no doubt that this upheaval is taking an emotional toll. More than half of Americans say the COVID-19 crisis has already affected their mental health either a great deal or somewhat. A number of factors are aggravating the stress people are experiencing including financial strain, inadequate information, fear of infection, and feeling disconnected from loved ones. I am doing my best to keep up with friends but after a long day filled with virtual interactions, I often lack the energy to reach out. Zoom meetings exhaust me in a way that in-person meetings never did. This new normal feels so abnormal. A patient with a history of anxiety said her anxiety was under control but that she felt off-kilter: “What I’m feeling is hard to put into words. It’s not my regular catastrophic worry—it’s more of a dull, nagging, uneasiness that occurs when something you love goes missing.” A sense of loss, both large and small, is pervasive. People have lost friends and family members to COVID-19. Other losses are more ambiguous. “We’re capable of losing places, projects, possessions, professions, and protections, all of which we may be powerfully attached to. This pandemic forces us to confront the frailty of such attachments, whether it’s to our local bookstore or the routines that sustain us through our days,” says Dr. Robert Neimeyer of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition at the University of Memphis. Bereavement expert, David Kessler, believes that the unfamiliar feeling many of us are experiencing is grief—grief for what we have lost and also anticipatory grief, an ongoing dread that something bad looms on the horizon. Recognizing that what we are feeling is grief can help us cope with it. “There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion,” says Kessler. Grief helps us recalibrate our sense of self. It is a natural response to loss. So is resilience. Research by George Bonanno, a psychologist who heads the Loss, Trauma and Emotion Lab at Columbia University, shows that contrary to what many believe, most people ultimately adapt and cope well in the face of adversity. In fact, the vast majority of individuals exposed to traumatic events do not go on to develop PTSD or require therapy. A survey conducted one month after the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City estimated that over 7.5% of Manhattan residents would meet the criteria for PTSD and require ongoing treatment.  Thankfully, that did not happen--six months later the prevalence of PTSD related to 9/11 was less than 0.6%. Exposure to a traumatic event does not automatically mean a person needs grief or trauma counseling. Not only have studies found most grief interventions to be ineffective, but there is also evidence they may interfere with natural resilience processes. Bonanno’s work debunks the widely held assumption that only rare individuals with exceptional emotional strength are capable of bouncing back. The reality is that most of us adjust to challenges, adversity, and loss. Resilience is the norm, not the exception. While there is justifiable concern about the impact of the pandemic on mental health, it’s equally important to remember that most of us have the capacity to adapt. As Bonanno says, “This is not easy, but we can do it.”
The “we” is key. Being there for one another lies at the heart of resilience.
Everywhere we turn, there is suffering and loss but we are also bearing witness to its opposite—generosity, goodness, and compassion. A son sits outside his father’s nursing home window to make sure his dad sees him every day. A man holds up a sign that read “Thank you all in Emergency for saving my wife’s life. I love you all.” Healthcare workers are applauded from balconies and rooftops. Neighbors are taking care of their neighbors. In the words of Helen Keller, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.”

See the World Without Leaving Your House

Here are some of my favorite resources that keep me engaged, active, and connected while social distancing.    

Culture Tours and Shows

Virtual Museum Tours—Visit and tour over 1,000 museums from the comfort of your couch, where flash photography is permitted but not advised.  Tour Versailles—Spend hours virtually touring the splendor of Versailles, from its rich history to its even more rich decor. The Met Opera—Applaud from your living room with nightly opera streams. The show must go on!   Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest—Watch and listen closely as this symphony creates Beethoven 9 from their homes in this incredible video. 

Brush Up on Art History at The Met with Kathryn Galitz

The Making of a Masterpiece—Kathryn Calley Galitz, art historian and Educator at The Met, discusses Jacques Louis David’s painting, “Death of Socrates” (1787). Neoclassical Musings Brush with Power: François Gérard, Imperial Portraitist—Galitz examines the Neoclassical style as crafted by François Gérard in a magisterial group of portraits of Napolean I and his extended family. Neoclassical Musings—Galitz explores the legacy and relevance of classicism in today's world. 

“Explore” Nature

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Cams—My personal favorite is the penguin cam! SkyWatching Tips From NASA—If you get a chance to step outside, NASA has some tips for where to look for the celestial action.  Explore Top US National Parks With Google Arts & Culture—Carlsbad Caverns, Bryce Canyon, and Dry Tortugas are just some of the featured national parks.   San Diego Zoo Live CamsYou can choose from a koala cam featuring the zoo's animals to an art project video where your little one can make their own fuzzy friend.

Online Classes and Resources 

The Barnes Foundation—In short videos, Barnes curators, scholars, and educators talk straight from the shoulder about some of their favorite works in the collection. Yale University, "The Science of Well Being"—The course is designed to leave you with gratitude, happiness, and ultimately prepared to successfully incorporate uplifting activities into your daily life. Duolingo—The notorious green parrot can help you and your family learn a new language together. I might suggest a Game of Thrones rewatch paired with a lesson in High Valyrian?  JSTOR—This digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources is offering some of their material free of charge.

Let's Get Physical

The Class by Taryn Toomey—Live classes of this wildly popular practice that involves stretch, movement, and dance, are streamed daily.  The Sculpty Society by Megan Roup—Tone up and get moving with popular NYC trainer, Megan Roup's online classes.  QuarantineCal—If you need to get moving, QuranatineCal has a list of live, online events  from sound baths to virtual dance parties. 

My Favorite Mind-Expanding Podcasts

The Tim Ferris Show—The New York Times calls Tim Ferris, “A cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist monk.” I agree! Revisionist History—Malcolm Gladwell goes back and reinterprets something overlooked and misunderstood from the past. My favorite episode is, "Hallelujah," How Does Genius Emerge? (Ep.7,S1) WorkLife with Adam Grant—Each weekly episode of WorkLife with Adam Grant centers around extraordinary people at work – from the team at Pixar who broke boundaries with The Incredibles, to Olympic athletes who cheer for their rivals.

Enjoy Cooking and Eating Dinner 

Jessica Seinfeld—What do you want to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner? Jessica Seinfeld has great recipes that are easy to find on her blog and will make the house smell incredible. JD Hilburn—In his own words, "I’m not going to write anything you can simply Google search. This is a place you can peer over my shoulder and see what I’m up to." Hilburn's website includes cooking trials and errors as well as his list of everyday staples and kitchen essentials. NYC Chef Frank Prisinzano—His menu's are well-known throughout the East Village, but you can have a taste of what it's like to cook in his kitchen through his Instagram Highlights. I'll warn you, you might catch yourself laughing alone. 

For the Kids

NASA Stem Engagement—Your kid will feel like they are in a different dimension with activities such as "launching rockets" and building Moon habitats.  The Kennedy Center—Artist-in-Residence at Home, Mo Willems, has daily “Lunch Doodles” at 1 pm EST.  Save With Stories—Save the Children Foundation and No Kid Hungry have started a partnership to offer entertaining online stories for all children while they are home. 

Mental Health Resources

Child Mind Institute—The Child Mind Institute's digital response to the coronavirus includes daily Facebook video chats with clinicians, remote evaluations and telemedicine, and resources for parents. 10 Percent Happier—This app created a free Coronavirus Sanity Guide which includes meditations, blog posts, podcasts, and talks. Headspace—Headspace Plus memberships are now free to U.S. health professionals working in public health settings and they also have additional free Headspace resources for educators and for employers. New York State Office of Mental Health— New Yorkers can call the Office of Mental Health’s Emotional Support Hotline to connect with a volunteer with training in crisis counseling.

Happiness Does Not Come From Within

“Happiness comes from within.” We hear this phrase all the time. It is predicated on the belief that if you dig deep enough into yourself, you will figure out who you are and everything else will fall into place. While I agree with the overall message in that you are responsible for your choices, it has become increasingly apparent to me that happiness comes from “with” as much as it comes from “within.” The problem with the relentless quest for self-knowledge and inward focus is that it can become an excuse for self-interest and even narcissism. Don’t get me wrong--it is important to take care of ourselves. Eating well, getting enough rest, being mindful and exercise are valuable pursuits. Mastering a breathing technique to help us relax and taking a hot bath are good stress relievers, and can certainly help us stay strong within your daily stress, but too much emphasis on the self can lead us astray.   When the focus is exclusively on me, myself, and I, we risk missing out on what is most valuable about being a member of the human race--that which lies beyond us.  New York Times columnist, David Brooks, laments how today we live in a culture of “the Big Me” that glorifies personal happiness at the expense of community and relationships. The irony is that studies show that focusing on the “Big Me” actually undermines happiness and wellbeing.   Research shows that the happiest people have close ties to friends and family. Social interaction beyond one’s immediate circle is important too. Studies show that people who connect with other human beings, even strangers on a train or in the checkout line, report brighter moods. Behavioral scientists call this “social snacking.” It may be the healthiest snack in the world. Happiness is not a solo enterprise, and well-being doesn’t occur in a vacuum. We are social creatures and our wellbeing—both physical and mental—depends on our social relationships. It is well known that having a shoulder to lean on can help us navigate our way through a difficult time.  Less well known is the research that shows how doing things for others helps buffer against stress. In a research article entitled “Prosocial Behavior Helps Mitigate the Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life,” participants who engaged in “other-focused” behavior, such as holding a door, asking someone if they needed help, and lending a hand, reported better moods and lower daily stress levels than those who didn’t engage in helping behavior. The key is to actively seek pathways that will help us transcend ourselves and escape the echo-chamber of our minds.  As tempting as it is to dive inward, make it a priority to connect, to interact, and to add value.   This article originally appeared on Mind Body Green

Yes, Just 10 Minutes a Day Can Turn Your Life Around

Consider the following experiment: researchers asked employees of an outpatient family practice clinic – nurses, assistants, and receptionists – to complete an online “survey” at the end of each workday. They were unaware of the purpose of this exercise. The survey asked them to spend five to ten minutes writing about events that had gone “really well” that day and to explain why they believed they had gone so well. The participants could write about anything—events large or small, personal or work-related. Responses ranged from a colleague bringing in delicious food to a thoughtful story of a meaningful interaction with a patient or co-worker. One nurse wrote:

A doctor gave me a compliment today because I knew exactly what to do in an emergency situation, and I helped a patient who was having a seizure.

In just three weeks, stress levels and mental and physical complaints declined in small but significant amounts. On the days they wrote about good things, the participants were better able to detach from work stress when they got home in the evening.

This simple practice—writing about three good things that happened—creates a real shift in what people think about, and can change how they perceive their work lives.

Moreover, it creates a positive feedback loop. People who reflect on good things that happened at the end of the day are more likely to share them with loved ones. This, in turn, bolsters social connections which reduces stress even more. Another positive by-product is improved sleep. A good night’s sleep leads to greater alertness and a better mood the following day. Noticing good things may even make you more creative. Research shows positive emotions enhance creative thinking and innovation. Focusing on positive events does not come naturally for most of us. Evolution has programmed us to notice negative events and anything that may be perceived as a threat. This made sense for our ancestors but no longer applies today. As the above study highlights, just because your inclination may be to ruminate on the negative, it does not mean your fate is sealed. By intentionally noticing good things you can overcome the gravitational pull into thinking about what can or did go wrong. Practicing this activity every day will provide you with strength and a positive outlook. Start capitalizing on it today.

Lee Mayer

Lee Mayer, CEO, and founder of Havenly, started an online platform with her sister to make home design accessible, personalized, and fun. Havenly offers convenient and affordable interior design services to help bring your personalized home vision to life

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Lee Mayer, CEO, and founder of Havenly, started an online platform with her sister to make home design accessible, personalized, and fun. Havenly offers convenient and affordable interior design services to help bring your personalized home vision to life

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