WINCHESTER — Lizi Lewis and the staff at Special Love have learned a thing or two about resiliency.
Not only is Lewis, who works in marketing for the nonprofit organization, privy to watching staff work with children with cancer and how the kids go about their lives day in and day, but she’s seen how the organization has worked to shift everything online since stopping in-person interactions in February amid coronavirus concerns.
Lewis said the staff does things like engaging families and children on social media with events such as virtual campfires, arts and crafts, woodworking lessons and nature reports.
“We are sticking and moving, because we don’t know what else to do,” she said.
It’s that type of resiliency that Joan Monahan was working to help Valley Business Women find during a Zoom presentation Wednesday afternoon. Valley Business Women is a group of female regional business owners connected through the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber, and the group allowed Monahan, a professional counselor who owns Legacy Wellness Center on Cameron Street, to lead the discussion this week.
Monahan took the group through breathing exercises and self-assessments while further educating the group on how it could connect the dots toward weakening stresses and pushing forward.
While the discussion certainly discussed COVID-19, it wasn’t centered around the pandemic.
“When we experience something, we take a snapshot of that experience. We file it in our head,” Monahan said. “We do have the ability to become flexible during times of adversity. That’s resilience.”
Monahan said everyone has good and bad experiences. She also explained how a body can react to those experiences.
With that, she broke down some of the brain’s processes and explained the difference between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. She said the sympathetic system reacts when our body handles stress and “if we spend too much time there, our body holds on to that.”
She said the nervous system works like an alarm system. She explained a person can condition themselves to work toward getting to the parasympathetic system to decrease stress.
Some, she said, are naturally resilient, but she said everyone has the “human capacity to tap into your strength.” Many times, she noted, that comes with using coping mechanism — which can be both good and bad.
“Sure, it’s easier to not think about something that’s not so pleasant,” she said. “But our mind and our senses are still feeling it.”
It’s healthy, Monahan said, to find positive ways to help your body work through the stress and use it to press forward in tough situations.
She explained that setting reasonable goals and expectations and then meeting them will help tap into that resilience. She also advised those listening to give themselves a break and to “allow some forgiveness.”
“This is a stressful time, I’m not going to minimize it. But you’ve got to try to reset,” she said. “Naturally, we do have the ability to rest. And when we do physically and mentally reset, we go into a place where we’re able to ground ourselves and naturally reset.”
About halfway through the presentation, participants were put into breakout rooms in the Zoom call and asked to share how things had been going for them recently, things they were struggling with or things they’d found helpful.
In one group, Sharon Elliott, with the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, said working from home had put a strain on inter-office communication.
“We’ve all been working from home, so that’s been a big challenge for me,” she said. “I like going to the office. I miss all my office family bad. I think the biggest struggle has been the communication between all of us.”
Once back as a whole group, Monahan had participants do another breathing and self-assessment exercise. When it was over, she reminded the group members not to be too harsh on themselves.
“Don’t judge yourself if your stress levels don’t change,” she said. “Don’t live with the pain or stress that our current circumstances bring.”
Instead, she reminded them of their beauty and strength.
Group members thanked Monahan for the tips and shared comforting words with each other as the hour set aside for the presentation wound down.
“It’s very reassuring that there is comfort in numbers,” participant Jennifer Smith said.
“We are stronger together. We are all experiencing the same kinds of feelings — feelings of doing, doing, doing,” Danita Roble, director of event management for the chamber, added. “I think it gives us a sense of control in this uncontrollable atmosphere.”
Monahan ended her presentation with a dance party to promote laughter and feeling good.