Most of you don’t know me yet, I haven’t been in town very long. But, in the short time since I moved to Moab in August 2019 to become the Addiction Psychiatrist at Moab Regional I have been inspired by the warmth and proactivity of this community. As a psychiatrist I often care for people who have endured incredible hardships, but the strength required to seek and accept help remains one of the most awe inspiring things about my job. Moabites have certainly endured terrible hardships and the people who stay here demonstrate a special type of grit. But, as is true with all survivors, “the body can only take so many hits before the cracks start to show”. So even the most resilient among us are bound to feel a shift in their reserve in these frightening and uncertain times. But sometimes, the cracks can shape us in surprising ways.
For some, mental health feels like something apart from regular medicine, something not so serious or something shameful. But, long before we had traditional medicine, it could be argued that mental wellness is all we really had under our control. After all, our camp could be washed away by floods, or a famine or drought could destroy our food sources, or a disease could sweep through our communities. To cope with these uncertainties, we used rituals and ceremony to create connection and meaning, herbs and special foods to nourish our body and soul, and tests of physical endurance to challenge our spirits and fortitude. These days, we have changed our lifestyles such that most of us have lost our sense of routine self-care. We may rely so much on the comforts of modern society that we have lost track of the power of our own ability to guide our sense of wonder. So, what can we do, when the pressures of the world are stealing our security and dependability? This is when re-building resilience and finding connection and meaning in our lives matters most. And perhaps this is when we start to rebuild a renewed sense of self-empowerment about what lies ahead.
Resilience refers to a person’s ability to sustain health and adapt through periods of stress. Resilience, like all fundamental mental health needs, is unfortunately not found in a day. It takes routine effort, like strengthening a muscle. Things that improve resilience often feel like they should be simple, like going to bed on time, limiting screen time, eating vegetables, and getting a little exercise. But, these are usually the first things we put aside when things get tough. Why would this be? Why would we deprive ourselves of self-care when we need it most? The answer probably lies in our most basic survival mechanisms. Simply put: instant gratification, meaning our brains choose the most rewarding and soothing activity to get through the moment. Our stressed, tired brains want high calories, physical relaxation, and mental distraction. Choosing instant gratification can happen spontaneously and without thinking. Those who have never struggled with substance use may find a little empathy here for those with addiction when you consider your own struggles with self-care- if it were easy, wouldn’t you be doing it already?
When your spiritual, emotional and physical tank is low, the first step in rebuilding can feel like the most difficult, so start with the most manageable and realistic change. For example, change often starts with thinking alone. Consider the pros and cons of taking a walk in the evening, calling your sister, or playing with your kid, instead of watching TV for another hour. Make a list of these pros and cons, or talk them out with a friend. Consider whether you have real balance in your life between work and play- are you working too much and neglecting your family, pets, health? Or, perhaps you are avoiding the work for distractions?- it can go both ways. Regardless, prioritize one impactful change at a time and practice this daily.
Certainly some people will have more on their plate than they can think their way out of. When this is the case, reaching out for help is best. You may need to see a medical professional or a therapist. You may need help with housing, rent, food, health insurance. You may need a day off work to run errands or make phone calls. You may need help escaping an abusive relationship. Remember, those who have experienced the most chaos and trauma are sometimes those who come out the other side stronger, more thoughtful, more creative, and with more appreciation of life than ever, but it can take time and the creation of new, safer spaces in our lives. Sometimes a little self-exploration can lead to tremendous post traumatic growth.
All in all, building resilience is a basic way to honor your humanity and your most basic needs. Setting boundaries by increasing balance in your life may help you feel a greater sense of control in an out of control world. As Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. I know times are difficult, but there may be space between the hardships where we can find new meaning, greater connection, or to finally take that step forward toward self-care.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call one of the numbers below. Or, check out some of these helpful websites for guidance on increasing your wellness and resilience.
Hotlines and treatment access:
National Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990 / 800-846-8517 (TTY)
Utah Crisis line: 800-273-8255
MRH Mental Health access: 719-5531
Addiction treatment: 719-5585