Towards A Better Normal
Posted on 23 March, 2021 News
I am a Key Worker on the VOICES North service, for young people impacted by parental substance misuse. Since the pandemic, the formal structures that support these young people and their families, such as schools, social services, and other agencies, have come under huge stress or closed altogether. This trend for some services is set to continue even when the pandemic is under control. In this climate, where will the young go for support, consistency, security and respite? While the lockdown has been the ultimate stress test for most of us, our clients feel this most acutely due to the trauma of their backgrounds and for some, the less than nurturing environments they live in.
A Letter To My Clients
Even before the pandemic, life wasn’t easy for you. We had looked at ways to make things easier, like after school clubs, sleep overs etc. but now that isn’t an option. We had looked at dealing with anxiety, but it seems to be coming back. You don’t like to complain, instead accept your lot and smile even when it is hard to. You often asked me to look after myself and inquired about my wellbeing. Your generosity and compassion humbled me.
I am glad you are reaching out, though I can’t support you in the same way as before. I am here, and I am willing you to hold on and I will tell you that things will get better and ask you to believe they will. I know that setbacks are nothing new to you and life can have a few setbacks on the way. A bit like the pandemic it can throw uncertainty and challenges our way. So how can we help ourselves when adversity strikes?
The topic of resilience is not a new one to us, I wanted to tell you a bit about how to incorporate it into your life, so it helps you to bounce back when things don’t go smoothly. It’s a well-researched topic, with many definitions, but I like this one (Walsh, 2008)
“the ability to withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges, strengthened and more resourceful”.
Psychotherapist and resilience-researcher, Dr Meg (Carbonatto, 2013) groups different skills into umbrella categories of resilience. Skills used by people were observed to have prevailed over adversity. Carbonatto’s framework classifies resilience skills as those of optimism, social support, practical preparation and purpose/meaning/will. While resilience has many components, I think these encapsulate most of them.
Optimism is a mental attitude characterized by hope and confidence in success and a positive future. It is a habit that through practice can, improve your wellbeing. Mindset really is the key here. In his research, George Bonanno found that perception played a key role in resilience. In fact, he’s quoted as saying, “We can make ourselves more or less vulnerable by how we think about things,” (Konnikova, 2016). During this pandemic, the beleaguered business community continued to plan for the future. Changing how they deliver their service, investing in protective measures and adapting to a new reality.
Well-developed support networks unsurprisingly is the next component which sustains us during difficult times. I know you will choose wisely and nurture those relationships. Mentoring relationships, access to trusting adult relationships, and supportive friends or partners promote resilience in the face of neglect, abuse, low socioeconomic status and other challenges (Bernstein et al., 2011; Graber et al., 2015). For most of us, (including myself) life was made a lot more bearable during this time by connecting with those valued networks and seeking support.
Practical preparation/planning comes next. When we do safety planning, or study for exams and decide on what we want to do when we leave school this is what we are undertaking. Evidence suggests that education provides accumulated financial and social resources, facilitating long-term resilience during disasters (Frankenberg et al, 2013). During the pandemic, it was widely reported that people in high skilled roles and therefore with more resources did better. Countries that robustly planned for pandemics also faced it with more confidence.
Purpose is the final component. Whether you do chores around the house to help out, study hard to get the grades you want, or get involved in politics and work for social justice - finding a purpose/meaning and exercising your will can make a massive difference to how you cope with adversity. People who take on a cause like climate change for example, scientists who committed to coming up with a vaccine, health professionals who keep going day after day to heal and protect, ordinary people going the extra mile to support the vulnerable, are all connecting with a purpose.
While ‘change is the only certainty’, it doesn’t have to be frightening. Change can be for a better tomorrow, a different way of being. So, thank you for letting me in to your life, it is a true privilege. I hope I have made things a bit easier. Please remember (in the words of Amanda Gorman)
‘There is always light, …………..and I wish you courage, to see the light……………… and the courage to be the light!’
VOICES North provides therapeutic services for children, young people and families affected by parental substance misuse. For more information click: #ChangeStartsHere.
References: Walsh, F. (2008). Spirituality, healing, and resilience. In M. McGoldrick & K. V. Hardy (Eds.), Re-visioning family therapy: Race, culture, and gender in clinical practice (p. 61–75). The Guilford Press. Carbonatto, M. (2013) What does resilience look like? The Professional Therapist. 2, p 10. Konnikova, M., (2016) How People Learn to Become Resilient [online] The New Yorker Available from: https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/the-secret-formula-for-resilience [ cited 20 March 2020] Frankenberg, E., Sisoki, B., Sumantri, C., Suriastini, W. and Thomas, D. (2013) ‘Education, vulnerability, and resilience after a natural disaster’, Ecology and Society 18(2): p 16. Bernstein, J., Graczyk, A., Lawrence, D., Bernstein, E. and Strunin, L. (2011) ‘Determinants of drinking trajectories among minority youth and young adults: The interaction of risk and resilience’, Youth & Society 43 (4): pp 1199-1219