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6 Ways to Build Resilience for Back to School Season feat. Psychologist Mallory Beaker

Mallory Becker is a psychologist who makes her sessions feel like you are talking to a friend. We were drawn to her welcoming personality, and appreciated how she gets down to the point and shares an abundant amount of proven strategies to help reach growth. When talking about the turbulent times of our health pandemic, she has shared six life-changing tips to help support both ourselves and the children in our life. We are thrilled we get the chance to share some of her professional strategies with you - and we hope they help you through the new back-to-school season and continuous shifts in life we are making to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Expect anxiety and stress to arise and have some tools for everyone in your family.  My favourite quote is from Benjamin Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Continue reading for Mallory’s 6 tips to resilience: 

1. Listen to the signs that you (or those around you) may need some more self care time.

Signs are different for everyone as some tend to over function and other under function however, some common signs are:

How you might feel:
  • irritable, aggressive, impatient or wound up
  • overwhelmed or feeling like you have nothing left to give
  • Anxious, nervous or afraid
  • Difficulty stopping thoughts
  • unable to enjoy yourself
  • like you've lost your sense of humour
  • a sense of dread
How you might act:
  • finding it hard to make decisions
  • constantly worrying
  • avoiding situations that are troubling you
  • snapping at people
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • eating too much or too little
  • restless, like you can't sit still
  • being tearful or crying

The other important thing to remember is having open discussions about mental health.  Mallory's communication for the whole family is checking in every few days to discuss what “emotional zone” you are in.

Green zone means = I’m good  
Yellow zone = a few things are off with me
Red zone = I’m struggling

You can also discuss proactively what are some signs for every member of the family, as this may change person to person. 

2. Practice useful activities or methods to utilize when we notice anxiety start to rise.

Everyone has different things they need to rejuvenate and decreasing anxiety in yellow zone is much easier than waiting for red zone.  Typically, it helps to:

  • Decrease stressors
  • Simplify life and demands 
  • Increase low energy enjoyable tasks such as time in nature, hobbies, reading books
  • Say no to reduce anxiety and burnout
  • If anxiety is persistent, working with a psychologist or a school Counsellor can also be helpful.

3. Strengthen children's mental health (and your own) while continuing to stay socially distant. 

We are wired to be socially connected and finding ways to connect socially with peers, family and friends is very important whether it be by social distancing or online like: 

  • Eating tacos on Tuesday virtually with grandma
  • Virtual show and tell with a friend/cousin 
  • Getting others to read books or colouring virtually.

You can also discuss proactively what are some signs for every membership of the family in each zone (Ie. Ethan tends to spend more time on his phone I’m yellow zone, or mom gets more short with requests, or Amy withdraws from family and friends) as it can be hard to notice or communicate when someone is in yellow or red.  

4. Set routines at home to reduce your children's anxiety.  

Practice the routine of new behaviours at home and other situations as much as possible so kids know what to expect and how to act. 

Action steps:
  1. Discuss what your kids can expect going back to school so they feel more prepared
  2. Talk openly with your kids about their feelings and be ready to answer any questions.  It is ok to be honest at a level that is appropriate for their age.
  3. Discuss and practice strategies to deal with worry if it comes up.  You can use children’s books, practice belly breathing while counting to 10, and have regular check ins to see how they are doing (ie green zone means I’m good, yellow zone is a few things are off with me, red zone is I’m struggling.
  4. Practice your routine a few days in advance. Set the alarm clock, go through your morning rituals
  5. Rehearse entry into the new situation

5.  Manage your own anxiety about making decisions:  

We know most of you have made hard decisions, such as if you should send your kids back to school or not. These types of realities are not easy, and some ways to cope after you have made these decisions include: 

Creating boundaries 

Learn how to prevent your mind from overthinking. Schedule 5-15 minutes a day to worry. When worries come up during the day, write them down and tell your mind you will think about it during your worry time. The purpose of this exercise is to prevent these thoughts from consuming your mind.

Accepting your decision

Acknowledging your decision and making room for difficult feelings, urges and sensation while allowing them to come and go without a struggle. With the pandemic and difficult decisions, we are faced with a dilemma where all the options are hard and come with uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, fear, worry or guilt. Learning how to process these emotions without judging them as positive or negative is a critical skill.

Practicing positive coping

Proactively schedule time for you to rejuvenate or connect with your positive coping tools. Proactive use is ideal as we anticipate stress will come up. Tools can include relaxation, yoga, mindfulness exercises, hobbies, connecting with loved ones or practicing learning strategies from an expert such as a psychologist. 

6. When other decisions come up, whether it’s including your kids or seemingly risky, start by: 

  1. Gathering information locally (from the school, teachers, or Alberta Health Services. Try to stay away from information about places elsewhere with different decisions. The purpose of this step is to gather information without making a decision. 

  2. Weigh the pros and cons, talk to those around you and see what support you have if things change. Set a deadline to make your decision. 

  3. Remember that your decision can be fluid. You can even make a decision that is flexible depending on certain factors like number of covid cases, and have a tipping point in mind to change your plans. 

  4. Focus on the situation right now (not what it can be in 6 months at the worst case scenario) when making your decision so you do not become overwhelmed in the “what if’s.” It’s okay to make a different decision later on.  

  5. Affirmation: you have everything within you as a parent to make the right decision for your family, or as an individual to make the right decision for yourself.

  6. If you are struggling to make a decision, consider talking with a professional such as a psychologist to help you through the process and learn strategies 

Parents, caregivers and even single individuals can take the tips that Mallory has shared here and apply them to their own life. With more patience for ourselves and family members, we can have more understanding for others that have made difficult decisions as well. 

With these strategies, we can learn to notice the signs of mental health needs - both our own and in our family, and have a better way of knowing how to address them. Even with the uncertainty that COVID brings, we can still have certainties like our routines, support systems, and uncomfortable emotions (which are certain to pass as well). 

Thank you so much to Mallory for sharing her knowledge and tips with us! Let us know if you have used them yourself, and how they have helped your family. Mallory’s Instagram is also a great resource for advice so check it out @yeg_psychologist! 

*Disclaimer: the article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. It is your responsibility to evaluate the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information, opinion, advice or other content in the article. Please seek the advice of professionals, as appropriate, regarding the evaluation of any specific information, opinion, advice or other content. Never disregard professional advice, including medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read in this article.
Mallory’s headshot was taken by Emilie Iggiotti - check her out on instagram @emilieiggiotti

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