In some ways, Summer 2020 beat me down hard: COVID was rampant, my kids were home, my business was slow, and my anxiety was high. However, last summer also lifted me up in ways I never would have expected.
How? The resilience I needed to develop in order to cope with the challenges of that summer became transformative. It turned that intensely difficult summer into a sacred, precious experience that had a deep impact on my life.
Let me start by saying that I suffer from anxiety. Health issues and physical illnesses make me nervous in the best of times. COVID brought a whole new level of discomfort and fear. I needed to build my resilience to cope.
In order to build my resilience, I focused on five elements that I now collectively call COPAP. This acronym stands for Control, Opportunity, Purpose, Attitude of Gratitude, and Play. Each of these elements alone would have increased my level of resilience. Working on all five was life-changing.
Here’s how I did it:
Let’s start with Control. This absolutely does not mean I tried to control everything I could (as much as I wanted to). Rather, it meant letting go of the things beyond my control and focusing my time and energy on what was within my control. Last summer I could not control the global pandemic. I could not control that my children’s camp was cancelled. It was not worth my energy to complain or stress about these unfortunate circumstances that were outside of my control. But…there were things within my control that I could focus my energy on, like keeping my family safe by wearing masks and social distancing or signing up my children for interesting online camps to keep them occupied and learning creatively from home.
The second element I focused on was Opportunity. This meant I tried, really tried, seeing my difficult circumstance constructively. It wasn’t easy, but I worked on seeing at least one element of my situation as an opportunity to learn something new, try something a new way, or give up something that wasn’t working well anyway. For example, the pandemic was, and continues to be, horrible in so many ways. I was able to see, however, the opportunity it created for my family to spend quality time together. We cooked, we played games, we regularly went to a (safe) outdoor ropes course. We would not have had these family experiences were it not for COVID keeping us all home. By the way, my children now regularly cook dinner for the family. A HUGE opportunity!
Next was Purpose. Everyone has a reason for being. I took the time to think deeply to determine my purpose, then I used my purpose as a reason to motivate myself to get up and going every day. I hadn’t really thought about my purpose before last summer, but when I did, it came through loud and clear: I was put on this earth to help and teach. When I had tough days last summer, I reminded myself of my purpose and focused on both helping my kids learn something new and coming up with creative ways to teach my business clients. It made a significant difference on days I was anxious and just wasn’t feeling motivated.
Fourth was Attitude of Gratitude. Simply, I made the effort to be grateful for what I had. Having a positive attitude was extremely difficult when times were tough. I chose to challenge myself by considering alternatives that could have been worse for my family: We were stuck home together, and we stayed healthy. Instead, we could have been careless and gotten very sick. We couldn’t spend indoor time with the grandparents, but we had a warm, sunny summer and enjoyed outdoor time together in our yard. Instead, it could have been a cool, rainy summer where we couldn’t spend time together. Two things to be thankful for.
And, finally, my last element was Play. This meant I intentionally made time to do things I enjoy. I’m busy, really busy, but I began to see the benefits of making time to do things I love, whether individually or with others. Over the summer, I read, I rode my bike, I walked. These activities brought short, welcome moments of peace, calm, and contentment during a very stressful time.
A daily journaling practice helped hold me accountable for taking action and changing my behaviors. For three months, I chronicled my activities and emotions. I ended each journal entry by writing lessons learned that day about building my resilience. The practice was truly life-changing.
By the end of summer, I was in a much healthier frame of mind than when it started. By focusing on five ways to make myself more resilient, I was able to make a very hard time more manageable. The anxiety didn’t go away, but I was better able to handle it. It certainly wasn’t a perfect summer, but it was sacred to me. Even better, I continue my work on build my resilience so I’m more able to handle difficulties as they continue to arise.
Image: Risa and her family
Risa Seelenfreund is an executive coach, business trainer, and author. Her book, Sacred Summer: A Mom’s Guide to Resilience, Discovery, and Family Fun will be published in May. Check out her website at www.sacredsummerbook.com or follow her on Facebook @SacredSummerMom.