5 Ways Parents Can Build Resilience & Stamina for Our Pandemic Winter
By Dr. Amanda Zelechoski, co-founder of Pandemic Parenting
In one of our recent Pandemic Parenting Exchange webinars, world-renowned child psychiatrist and trauma expert, Dr. Bruce Perry, said that what we’re currently experiencing while pandemic parenting is not a sprint or even a marathon. It’s a thru-hike.
I’m sorry, what?
He explained that a thru-hike is when people walk thousands of miles, from Mexico to Canada, for example. Apparently, this is something people do. On purpose.
I was intrigued by this notion and wondered, how does one survive such a long, unpredictable, and arduous journey full of storms, falls, potentially broken bones, not to mention the mental strength an experience of this magnitude requires? So, I did what any well-respected psychological scientist does – I started googling “thru-hikes.”
It turns out that there are some pretty fantastic parallels between a lot of the advice we’ve been giving at Pandemic Parenting about building resilience for yourself and your kids, and how thru-hikers prepare for and survive their voyages.
Here is some thru-hiking lingo I learned from expert thru-hikers that I think beautifully captures some of the ways we can build our emotional stamina for the long winter months ahead while navigating COVID-19.
1. Hike Your Own Hike
Thru-hikers know the importance of tailoring their journeys to their individual strengths and weaknesses and planning accordingly. They also remind themselves often that every hiker’s strategy is their own, and judgments and comparisons are not helpful. We’ve each had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic in our own ways, with different twists, turns, and bumps along the way. There have been so many decisions to make for our families, big and small, and we do the best we can with the information we have at the time. When you are scrolling social media or talking with friends and seeing wildly different versions of pandemic parenting, remind yourself that your journey is not the same as theirs and stay focused on hiking your own hike.
2. Pick a Shorter Trail
Sometimes, we set these lofty goals for ourselves, our children, and our families. Our intentions are good and the expectations seem reasonable at the time.
But then life throws us curveballs (yep, here’s looking at you, global pandemic) so we need to adjust our expectations and know that it’s ok to not do all the things right now. That might mean you say no to that additional professional opportunity because you are already trying to manage too much. Or that you do not sign your kid up for a winter sport or extracurricular activity this year because the constant emotional and logistical fluctuation of whether the activity will be possible under current COVID-19 safety protocols is too much added stress. What are some ways you can shift the expectations you hold for yourself and your family? It’s okay (and good!) to pick a shorter trail this time around until the “hiking” conditions have improved.
3. Camel Up
Expert thru-hikers take in as much water as they can at various points along the journey to sustain them until they reach their next water source. What are the things that sustain you on a daily basis?
When it comes to parenting, especially right now, there are so many moments where I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and, even hopeless. Will my kids ever stop fighting with each other? Will I be able to get my work done? And then I look up from my 100th cup of coffee and catch my older sons reading tenderly to their little brother. And, I exhale. This mental image will get me through the next few hours. Drink in the moments that will sustain you – camel up.
4. Take “Zero Days”
Experienced hikers know that they need to build in what they call “zero days”– days for recovery, where they forego hiking and instead focus on rejuvenation and replenishing depleted supplies. When it comes to building our resilience, we have to remember that it isn’t the absence of stress that creates resilient children or parents. Rather, it’s “dosed” stress – stress that is predictable, moderate, and controlled.
Recognizing that we’re experiencing an ongoing, unpredictable crisis, we need to allow for, and maybe even build in “zero days,” where we put all the demands aside and just let our families–and ourselves–recover. Our stamina and resilience will grow, and we will ultimately be able to hike more miles if we allow for emotional rest and recovery.
5. Look for the Trail Magic
“Trail magic” is an unexpected occurrence that lifts a hiker’s spirits and inspires awe or gratitude. Thru-hikers often share stories of finding what they need the most at a point in their journey when they least expect it. As hard as the dark winter months ahead might feel, there will also be moments (and people) that lift us up. One of the best buffers for enduring prolonged, stressful experiences is support from others. Sometimes, this comes from the most unexpected sources. Trail magic is everywhere – look for it, accept it, and be it for others when you can.
We didn’t choose to go on this thru-hike, but here we are, putting one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time. It may not always feel like it, but we will make it through this journey and there are ways that we, and our children, can be stronger in the end if we take steps to build our resilience along the way.