Hope and Resilience in 2021

Beverly Hills Courier columnist Dr. Eva Ritvo is a psychiatrist with more than 25 years’ experience, an accomplished author and global initiative leader. She received her undergraduate and medical degrees from UCLA, and psychiatry residency training at Weill Cornell Medicine.

New Year’s 2021! We made it here. On New Year’s Day last year, very few of us had any inkling of what lay ahead. It has been an incredibly challenging year for most of the 7.6 billion people on the planet. It felt like being in a slow-motion train wreck. Experiences ranged widely depending on where you sat on the train. Uncertainly and fear were almost universal. Yet, as the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” So how do we face 2021 and what lies ahead?

The news will continue to focus on the negatives to scare us and raise our cortisol levels. Cortisol narrows our focus, which makes us watch more news. As Randolph Hearst discovered in the late 1800’s, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  This year has been a stunning example of this phenomenon as it has been hard to think, talk or feel much about anything else.   

And indeed “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” We are currently in the riskiest part of the pandemic and we must remain vigilant! We cannot lose focus.  Don’t give in to COVID-19 complacency. Remain cautious. As we enter 2021, we know so much more about the virus than we did mere months ago. We can begin to see our way out of the darkness as 2021 is taking shape.

In March, I wrote to you that we needed to stay inside, follow the advice of the CDC and wait for our scientists and medical professionals to find a way out of this pandemic. Two vaccines making their way through development to distribution this rapidly is a miracle of modern medicine. The enthusiasm amongst the medical community is palpable, and it is so heartening that the heroes of this pandemic are already being vaccinated. Two million of the four million doses given worldwide were to healthcare providers in the U.S. We can now track the hopeful number of people vaccinated alongside those who have become infected or died. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

Think about what you will do when you receive your vaccine. The 1918 pandemic gave rise to the Roaring Twenties. What is next for our civilization? Can we emerge from our cocoons after months of struggle like beautiful butterflies? Reflect on how you matured this year. What have you learned to value more? What have you been able to let go? What can you do better now? Actively focusing on the positives while not denying the negatives will allow for a better transition to 2021.

We are innately wired to adapt to adversity and therefore resilient. The key is to be able to tap into this wiring by developing behaviors, habits and strategies that support us.

Post traumatic growth (PTG) is a theory in mental health that explains a kind of transformation following trauma. It was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D. and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D. in the mid-1990s. They have studied how people experience positive growth following adversity. “People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life,” said Tedeschi. One half to two thirds of individuals experiencing trauma will experience PTG. Given that the whole world has gone through this collective trauma, far better times may indeed be ahead.

Resilience experts such as Eva Selhub, M.D. (https://www.amazon.com/Resilience-Dummies-TA-TK/dp/1119773415) suggest cultivating the six pillars of resilience:

Physical Vitality: Our health has most certainly been at the forefront of our minds throughout most of 2020. Optimal physical and mental health allows us to deal with stress more effectively. Eating at home has improved the level of nutrition for many and made it easier to limit dessert and alcohol. Exercise is often easier to do in groups or classes (thanks to our mirror neurons) so for many, their fitness level may have declined. It is vital to move more as we emerge from our confinement. We must continue to focus on optimizing our health: 2020 brought into sharp focus the importance of health. Without it, little else matters.

Mental Toughness: If on last New Year’s Day, I told you that you would spend the year alone or with very few people, inside your house and unable to shop, travel or go to a restaurant you would have thought I lost my mind. Most of us would feel that would have been impossible. Yet, we did it. Many of us have learned to clean our own houses, cook our own food and do our own laundry. One friend even learned to play the cello over Zoom. We have adapted to living with far fewer pleasures. We have cultivated multiple ways to tame our anxieties. Of course, it is always a work in progress, but we have come a long way in a short time.

Emotional Balance: Anxiety and depression were easy to fall into in 2020. But as we emerge, the pendulum will swing the other way. We must actively focus on positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, and optimism.

What are you hopeful for? I can’t wait to get my vaccine and get on a plane to see my family. I am incredibly grateful for our medical community who has tolled to keep us safe and restore our health in countless ways. Vaccines offer the brightest hope for our future and the countless people behind the scenes working on distribution will be the heroes of 2021. I am also grateful that after months of hearing about the possibility of a civil war, it appears we are rapidly approaching a successful transfer of power.

Loving and Strong Connections:The pandemic has dramatically altered with whom and how we interact.  For many this has brought welcome change.  Introverts have ruled this year as social obligations have all but disappeared.  Extroverts have found very creative ways to connect using technology. Many of my patients have found renewed happiness in their primary relationships as they have the opportunity to spend far more time together. The dating scene, which was spiraling out of control, has vastly improved for many as the options have narrowed to more realistic levels.  People are coupling again, which bring hope for a more stable future.

Spiritual Connection: Facing death helps us look at our life from a very different perspective. Why are we here? What really matters? What we can live without? We have forgone so much of what we took for granted in the past. How can we reintegrate with life with a deeper appreciation recognizing that every day is a gift?

Become an Inspiring Leader: Once again, I am asking Beverly Hills Courier readers to be the light. We can grow from trauma, not succumb to depression, self-destruction or divisiveness. We must continue to care for ourselves, our families and our community. We must work together to ensure a brighter and safer future for all.

Wishing you a safe, happy and healthy 2021.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

Carl Jung, Ph.D.

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