Seeking Resilience in Uncertainty

Suggestions for ways to cope with fear, loneliness, and grief.

Posted May 07, 2020

In a recent New York Times article, Andrew Solomon identifies fear, loneliness, and grief as the hallmarks of mental illness. Those of us whose loved ones are addicted to alcohol and illegal drugs are no strangers to these emotions. Our loved ones suffer from these symptoms and so do we. It’s even more challenging because of the pandemic.

A friend’s son is homeless in a state where the governor has eased stay-at-home requirements. The son lost his cellphone, so communication is cut off. In the past, my friend had paid his son’s rent, groceries, and even put him up at a hotel when he was evicted, all in an effort to help. Like many of us, my friend enables because he loves his son and hopes that he will live long enough to straighten out and seek recovery. But that hasn’t happened yet. So my friend fears for his son’s life. Where is he? Who is he with? How will he protect himself? What will happen if he becomes infected with the virus? My friend and his son are both coping with fear, loneliness, and grief but in very different ways. My friend is engaging in social isolation like all of us but he has some tools: a group of like-minded friends to share his feelings with, an understanding of the need to detach and take care of himself, and a recognition that fear, loneliness, and grief cannot be the cornerstones of daily life. Unfortunately, the addict lives in a haze of bad decisions and self-destruction.

I live in the downtown of a small city in West Virginia. While, I, too struggle with fear, loneliness, and grief, I also have tools to help me get by. For example, I take daily walks in quiet contemplation. However, it’s hard to stay focused and in the moment sometimes. On my daily walks during this pandemic, I encounter many homeless people camping out on city sidewalks. Tarps provide a minimum of covering against the cold and rain. Garbage is strewn around the streets and social distancing is not an option for the homeless. These people don’t wear masks, gloves, and have few resources to keep them safe. Several non-profits provide daily meals and our community is blessed with a free health clinic but access is limited due to the virus. And some of the homeless are too addicted or mentally ill to access these resources.

Uncertainty, fear, grief, and death. The 24-hour news cycle bombards us with these tragedies every minute of every single day. So how can we counteract some of these negative images? I recently participated in a Zoom session, “Staying Resilient in Times of Uncertainty." Here are a few suggestions that were shared to help us weather this perfect storm of fear and uncertainty.

1. Remember that our recent ancestors survived difficult times, such as the Great Depression and World War II.

2. Consider keeping a gratitude journal or list a few good things that happen to you each day. (Yesterday I tried a new recipe. The day before I figured out how to order my groceries online. Pick them up tomorrow; grateful for the grocery store clerks.) 

3. Get enough sleep. Keep your smartphone and tablet out of your bedroom. And try to limit your time online, be especially cautious of too much news about the pandemic.

4. Exercise, meditate, pray, and breathe deeply.

5. Appreciate the present moment.

6. Write a letter to your children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren. (I’ve not been blessed with grandchildren, but I plan to write a letter to my son and daughter.)

7. Keep a sense of humor. Many heartwarming videos, songs, skits, poems, etc. are being posted on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. Here’s one you might enjoy.

There’s no way to eliminate the fear and grief that everyone on this planet is experiencing. Embracing resilience can help us roll with the reality of our new normal.