Ask the Therapist

QUESTION: I’m struggling to adjust to all the difficult changes that come with what’s been referred to as our new normal.  How can I tap into my strengths to adapt and deal with these changes?

RESPONSE: This is certainly a challenging time to be alive! When our normal way of navigating life has been turned upside down, it can be difficult to muster the strength to keep going. It is during these difficult times that we are often propelled to not only tap into the strengths that we have, but to discover new ones. 

With all the changes we as a society have been forced to make, it can often feel as though our lives are out of control. When we find ourselves in this position, it’s difficult to feel as if we have any strengths, let alone know how to tap into them. One of the first steps you can take to regain your inner strength is to ensure that you have some semblance of order in your life. It can be helpful to develop and stick to routines for completing your daily tasks. Routine can add structure and a measure of predictability to your daily life, which will in turn lend to feelings of relaxation and calm. 

In order to tap into our strengths, it’s critical to pay attention to your thought life, as our thoughts impact how we feel about ourselves.  When we think negatively about ourselves or our situation, it’s difficult to draw on our strengths. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative in nature, it’s helpful to replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. I would suggest making a list of positive affirmations that resonate with you. An example might be, “I have within me what I need to succeed” or “I have the skills to accomplish my goals”.  When you notice that you are thinking negative thoughts, work to replace those thoughts with your positive affirmations. You will find that with practice, this can become an effective habit to help you better manage your emotions in difficult and trying situations.

Developing ways to enhance your feelings of accomplishment is an important aspect of enhancing our self-worth and inner strength. It’s been suggested that one way to do this is to make daily or weekly goals for ourselves. I find it helps to write your goals down as a way to hold yourself accountable and to have a visual note of what you plan to do. I like to make lists of the tasks I want to accomplish as it feels good to be able to check them off my list. You’ll want to be careful that your goals are realistic so as not to set yourself up for failure as this can leave you feeling defeated.  

As always, it’s important to make sure that you are practicing self-care as a way to cultivate your inner strength. With the hustle and bustle of daily living, some feel this is a luxury they can’t afford, while others feel that caring for themselves is somehow selfish.  In the words of L. R. Knost, “taking care of myself doesn’t mean “me first”, it means “me too”. Self-care can be practiced in a myriad of ways as it depends on what you find replenishes you. Doing things, even small things that bring you joy are great ways to practice self-care. It’s also imperative that you are not only getting enough sleep, but that you’re getting good sleep. In the words of one of my wise mentors, good sleep is restorative. Developing calming routines around bedtime can help to slow down your mind and provide a sense of calm, making it easier to fall asleep. Exercise, eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated are also important ways to practice self-care. 

There are times in our lives when we can benefit from drawing strength from other’s example. Think about the people you feel are strong and have modeled that for you. What did you notice about their actions, or how they related to you and others that conveyed strength?  What can you learn from their example that can help you draw on your strengths in difficult situations? It can be helpful to talk with others in your life that you feel possess strengths you would like to develop. Don’t hesitate to ask them what strengths they see in you as we don’t always recognize the qualities that others see in us. 

With all of the changes our new normal brings to our daily lives, it’s important to ask yourself if you have truly accepted these changes. One sure way to zap your inner strength is to fight changes that you can’t control. I recently found myself in a situation where I had to ask myself if I was resisting a change that was beyond my control. I finally realized that I needed to give up the fight, (which was making my situation worse), and practice accepting my situation for what it was.  

In her article entitled, “4 Ways to Practice Acceptance Every Day”, Amy Hillock, 2016, shares the following: 

  • “Nix judgement – try to avoid thinking of situations as good or bad and simply see them for what they are. 
  • Acknowledge always – practicing acceptance means respecting the process and your current place, and also acknowledging that everything is or can be temporary.
  • Start with self – a positive mind pushes you forward, and when you acknowledge that you’re capable of doing better, any shortcoming begins to matter less.
  • Find the good – even though it may seem impossible, there is always something to be positive about. It may take some time and effort but developing the skill to seek out the positive is well within everyone’s ability. “

It’s important to note that accepting your situation doesn’t mean that you necessarily approve of what has happened or that you have given up. It’s about acknowledging that what has happened cannot be changed without the ability to accept what has happened. The act of acceptance can free you up to be able to tap into your inherent strengths as well as to reveal strengths you didn’t realize you had!

“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really know. They’re what make the instrument stretch – what make you go beyond the norm.” Cicely Tyson

By Gladys Smith, a Licensed Independent Social Worker with Mental Health Associates.

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