Case Study: Moving Through a Break-Up During the Pandemic
Over this past year you’ve probably heard some talk about “building your resilience” as we navigate an unprecedented time filled with challenges, obstacles, and setbacks. To build your resilience means to strengthen your ability to bounce back, cope, and recover from difficulties or hardships, so naturally during this time of difficulty the concept of resilience has been trending.
But at this point, many of us are dealing with pandemic fatigue and the thought of building new skills or adding another thing to your "to do" list probably seems like too much right now. You may be feeling ready to go into hibernation mode and just shut down for a while because you’re exhausted and you feel like you never get enough rest these days.
So instead of my usual posts that include various tips and strategies to bring yourself relief from anxiety & stress and a boost in self-confidence, I wanted to share with you a story of resilience to offer you some inspiration and to give you an idea of what it can look like to build your resilience and reap the benefits.
This is a story of Monica (a pseudonym), a client of mine who used the keys to building resilience to help move through a break-up in the midst of the pandemic. She’s gotten to a point where she feels more hopeful and enthusiastic about her life, more confident and clear on her path forward, and overall she feels more like herself again and ready to get her life back on track.
When I first met Monica, things were rough for her. She had just ended a relationship and had moved out of an apartment she had shared with her long-term boyfriend. She was feeling conflicted about the break-up, knowing deep down that it was the right thing to do, but at the same time she was feeling sad about the ending, unsure about being single and on her own, and she was lonely. It didn’t help that the shelter-in-place orders went into effect which left her feeling very isolated and she felt like she was stuck at home with all of her thoughts – questioning her decision, feeling bad about herself and feeling insecure, concerned that she had made a mistake, and uncertain about what her future would hold.
She felt stressed, anxious, and at times a little numb and paralyzed. She had a hard time thinking clearly and couldn’t figure out what she could do to move on or move forward in her life because she wasn’t really sure what she wanted anymore - she felt like she had lost part of herself in her previous relationship. She wanted to get back on her feet, feel more confident, and feel more inspired.
Her eagerness to learn new skills and practices, her commitment to her personal growth and well-being, and her persistence in putting new practices into place, one step at a time, really paid off.
After she was introduced to a couple simple stress & anxiety management skills, within a week she was starting to find relief from some of her usual stress.
A few weeks later she was starting to feel more confident in herself and her ability to manage challenges.
And a few weeks after that she had gotten a clearer idea of what she wanted for herself in life and she had some ideas for how to make it happen and start moving forward.
Here’s a snapshot of how she did it:
The first things that Monica learned were some simple mindfulness practices to help her slow down and pay attention to her reactions and responses throughout the day – stopping to notice how she is feeling emotionally and physically and taking the time to check in with herself to see what her needs are in any given moment. This may seem really simple, but it really made a difference.
She had been so caught up in her thoughts and feelings, trying to think her way through the problem that she wasn’t really paying attention to her needs or taking the time to care for herself. Slowing down and observing herself in this way, helped pull her out of her thoughts about the past and the future, and into the present moment so she could tend to her needs and find ways to relax her body and calm her mind.
2. Coping Strategies
Once Monica had started slowing down to observe herself, she started recognizing some of the early warning signs of stress and then she started regularly putting certain coping strategies into practice right away, before the stress levels could build up. For example, she learned that when her stress levels are rising, she starts to feel tension in her shoulders, so now when she notices tension in her shoulders, she pauses for a moment and focuses on relaxing her shoulders and taking a few deep breaths. She said that this simple practice has helped keep her stress at a more manageable level – it doesn’t build up and overwhelm as much as it used to. Now, that's not the only thing she does to manage her stress, but it's an example of something small that she does that requires little effort and has made a difference.
3. Shift In Thinking
The more she paid attention to her reactions and responses, the more she recognized just how often she has thoughts that run through her mind that add to her stress and anxiety – thoughts that are based in fear, doubt, and self-criticism. These thoughts were constantly running in the background and had been for a very long time, so she barely noticed them at first.
But the next area she focused on was her thinking. She began to take note of when she was having negative, fearful, or self-critical thoughts and she learned a couple of strategies for how to challenge and shift her thinking so that it is more realistic, supportive, and affirming. The negative thoughts still come up, but now she knows a few ways she can deal with them when they do.
A large part of being able to challenge and shift her thinking comes from being able to keep things in perspective and practicing self-compassion – or offering herself kindness, understanding, and care. For instance, when she caught herself having thoughts about never being able to find another relationship again, she learned how to talk herself through it. Reminding herself of the bigger picture - that she was still relatively young and had plenty of time to find another relationship – and speaking to herself like she would speak to a friend by reminding herself of her strengths and assuring herself that she made the right choice and that she can use what she learned from this relationship to help clarify what she needs in her next relationship.
She also started to accept that her feelings of sadness, fear, and uncertainty were normal given the circumstances, that it’s ok to have those feelings, and that the feelings will pass with time. She pointed out that this way of thinking was really relieving for her and it helped quiet that voice inside her head telling her that there was something wrong with her and that she should be handling things better. Yay!
5. Asking For What She Needs
Once Monica had started coping better, paying closer attention to her needs and responses, and talking to herself in a kinder and more supportive way, she really noticed how much better she was feeling, especially how much better she was feeling about herself. The fact that she was making changes to her usual way of thinking and her usual way of doing things, AND seeing how it helped reduce her stress and anxiety, gave her a boost of confidence and she started to feel more empowered.
She noticed that she was speaking up more at work and in her other relationships, communicating how she was feeling, setting limits, and communicating what her needs are, because she felt better prepared to cope with any negative responses she might get. She recognized that she could talk herself through her fears and worst-case scenarios and ask for what she needs. To her surprise, most people responded well to this! Her friends and family particularly liked hearing what she was going through and were interested in supporting her in the best ways they could.
6. Create a Vision
At this point, Monica really started to understand her patterns and tendencies and she was developing a clear picture of who she is and who she wants to become. She started to recognize her strengths, her values, and she started to create a vision for her future. She identified a couple goals that she wants to work toward in the short-term and she has taken the time to start outlining the steps she has to take to reach her goals.
I love this story because I was truly inspired by the ripple effect of changes that happened once Monica simply committed to slowing down, observing herself with curiosity, and treating herself with care. She found relief from her anxiety and stress and it laid the foundation for building new skills and developing new practices that helped her reconnect with herself, find hope, and instill confidence in her ability to deal with difficulties when they inevitably arise.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying this is a miracle cure and everything is perfect. Monica still has times when she feels sad about the loss of her relationship and times when she feels lonely, stressed, and overwhelmed, and that’s ok.
Being human means experiencing a range of challenges, losses, and setbacks - it’s how you relate to these experiences that determines how resilient you will be.
And if you can build belief in yourself and your ability to overcome obstacles, remind yourself of what’s important to you, and take steps that move you toward what you want in life, like Monica, you can be resilient and get your life back on track.