Counseling: Supporting the mental health and well-being of the community
While the transition into a new school year online and the uncertainty in the world around us can be cause for stress, it can also be an opportunity for us to grow and build resilience. Psychologist Dr. Madeline Levine says the pandemic is an exercise in learning how to deal with things outside of our control and become more adept at handling challenges. It is also an opportunity to rethink how we do things, focus on what really matters, and prioritize self-care. According to psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, resilience isn’t only about surviving challenges, it is also about thriving and becoming stronger. The PERMA Theory of Well-Being, from the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, includes the five building blocks that enable flourishing: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. This framework can help us build resilience by shifting our perspective from focusing on “What’s wrong” to focusing on “What’s going well.”
Positive emotion: Practicing healthy coping strategies that increase positive emotion in your life can broaden your scope of thought, flexibility, and ability to adapt while also improving your well-being. Here are practices you can try to increase positive emotions:
- Daily Gratitude Visit: Keep a gratitude journal/log. Note things, events, and people that inspire you to feel grateful.
- Signature Strengths: Identify your strengths. Pick one of your strengths and use it in a new way each week.
- One Door Closes, Another Door Opens: Recall a time when you lost out on something and write it down. What was the door that closed? What other door opened? How did you change from that experience? Do you recognize any benefits you are grateful for?
Engagement: Engagement is when you use your skills, strengths, and attention on a task that you find satisfying and stimulating. Seeking this state of being “in the zone” or “flow” can help distract from worries in the moment, and over time, it can also create a sense of mastery, and lead to positive emotions. Make time in your day-to-day life for engaging activities: playing a musical instrument, reading a book, drawing, gardening, exercising, building a puzzle, etc. Engage in activities as a family and model this coping strategy for your kids.
Relationships: Relationships are fundamental to our well-being and having connections add purpose and meaning to life. The pandemic presents us with a unique challenge in finding creative ways to connect with each other. It may mean more phone and video calls as well as social media use, but it can also mean that we are valuing relationships more than ever. It is important to remember that you are not alone and to reach out for support when you need it. Here are some ways to connect with others:
- Expressing Thanks: Write a gratitude letter/email and send it to someone you want to thank.
- Kindness Counts: Make a point to do something kind for someone else and to make note of any kindness you receive from someone else.
Meaning: Caring for others and feeling connected to something larger than yourself can help foster a sense of meaning and purpose. Whether it be community engagement, connecting with nature, turning to faith/spirituality, or getting involved in causes you care about, finding meaningful activities can give you something to strive for, a way to connect with others, and may help you shift your perspective from your own worries.
Accomplishment: This does not mean grandiose and ambitious achievements. Right now, accomplishment might mean getting up every day and showing up to your responsibilities. It might be that you got out to exercise or supported a friend. Focus on small daily accomplishments and remember that things are not meant to be perfect. Instead, shift the focus on being as adaptable as you can be and celebrating those “small wins.”
The PERMA model is a reminder to do something small every day to put a drop in each bucket to promote your well-being. By making self-care a priority and regulating your own emotions, you are modeling healthy coping strategies for your kids and teaching them how to be more resilient. While we can’t do all of these things, all of time, making the effort to incorporate some of them, even some of the time, can have significant impacts not only on our own mental health, but that of our children and the community around us.