The Opportunity for Growth, Found in the Instability of COVID-19

written by Amanda T. Parrott, MSW, LISW-CP for Pebble Tossers

“You have power over your mind – not outside events.
Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Marcus Aurelius

COVID-19…How will you show up for yourself during a monumental event in history?
I pose this question to remind you of the power that you hold when managing this and other stressful events you will encounter in life. Comfort and strength come from the awareness that you have control over your actions or response, not control over the situation itself. The truth of the matter is that by nature, life is uncertain. As humans, we fight this simple fact on a regular basis, as we prefer the illusion that we can somehow predict and control our circumstances.

During times like these, we face the uncertainty of life, our actual reality. We feel vulnerable with stress and worry resulting from the lack of predictability, security and familiarity we typically rely on. It is natural for our thoughts to turn to all of the negative consequences and to feel emotions of anger, overwhelm and anxiety/fear. However, if we allow our thoughts to fixate on the negative, then we will miss the opportunity to develop skills to cope with our world in its natural, unpredictable state. The strength from within is always with us, so it is imperative that we get to know our true capabilities by pushing beyond what we feel is possible when life gets tough.


“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
Maya Angelou


I challenge you to consider the opportunity that presents itself now…choose to cope in a way that will serve as an example of strength and perseverance for years to come when you consider how you showed up for yourself during a difficult time. Resist remaining stuck and look for what may be possible. Consider the question “What good may come from my new reality?”


“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
William James



What does it mean to choose one thought over another?
You begin by acknowledging your emotions and understanding that they are not good or bad, but simply neutral….and incredibly helpful! Your emotions are your data source. They provide you with the information necessary to understand what matters to you at any given time. When things around us feel uncertain, we naturally are more vulnerable to our emotions and can become stuck or overwhelmed. With curiosity, not a sense of judgment, ask yourself what emotions you are noticing, and check in with yourself often. “What is my emotion telling me is important?”

Once you know what is important, you free yourself to take action in a way that is meaningful to you. For example, if you notice feeling helpless, it may help you to consider what actions are within your area of control that would allow you to feel you are of help. You may decide to call elderly family members who are not able to receive visitors, or set up video calls with friends you are not able to see because of social distancing. We choose one thought over another, when we see opportunity amidst adversity. We choose one thought over another when we decide to acknowledge the power we hold in our response, the action we take. “How can I find benefit in my new situation?” To know what action is necessary, you must know your unique values and needs.

I would encourage you to consider reflection on your personal needs. Ask yourself “What are my needs in a given day-emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, academic, etc.?” How have these needs been impacted by COVID-19, the need for social distancing etc.? Are any of my personal needs completely ignored due to this disruption? What options could I consider to remove barriers to meet my needs? Am I able to problem solve and find resolutions on my own, or are there resources that may be able to help me? Do I need any supports to help me feel more secure? Identifying your personal needs and any current barriers, will allow you the opportunity to develop an understanding of the elements that will be necessary as you establish your new routine. Your needs will not be identical to those of your friends or family. You have to respect your individuality and create a support plan that provides you a sense of security, knowing it is unique to you. Routines are important because, once again, we humans like a sense of predictability. Make sure to incorporate positive activities during times of stress. See below for some beneficial activities to reduce stress.

During this unprecedented historical event, you have the opportunity to move beyond your perceived limitations. When you choose to pay attention to your emotions respectfully, you take power away from the event, and give it back to yourself. You begin to recognize, “I cannot control the world around me, but I can control how I respond by taking care of myself when times are challenging”. You have the ability to consider opportunities during times of adversity. What will you do with this opportunity?

How do you want to remember 2020 and your response to the stress of a global pandemic?
My hope is that, despite the disruption and undeniable fears associated with COVID-19, you will dare to seek opportunity, and develop fortitude, by challenging yourself to attend to your unique emotional needs with compassion and kindness, seeking support from others when challenges feel too cumbersome to manage alone. You are not alone, and if you feel you need support, talk to a friend or family member, or consider resources such as the Crisis Text Line, by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK. For additional information about how to cope, please check out NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). There are also many helpful apps, including Headspace, Mindshift, Breath2Relax and ReliefLink.

While respecting the need to have “social distance,” try your best to not close your hearts to others. Find ways to connect with friends, family and your community. We do not have to be in physical proximity to feel the power and benefit of social relationships. Get creative and remain united!


“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
J.K. Rowling


Activities to calm uneasiness during times of stress:

    • Journal about how you are feeling or coping with the recent changes in your life.
    • Get outside: Make an effort to notice your environment. Pay attention to your senses. What does the air feel like on your face? What does the air smell like? Can you describe your surroundings with descriptive words, as if you were a reporter?
    • Play a comforting or soothing playlist.
    • Have a screen-free day.
    • Limit how much you watch the news or mindlessly spend time on social media.
    • Go for a walk.
    • Take a bath or shower, adding essential oils or even bubbles.
    • Talk with a friend or family member.
    • Do something creative.
    • Learn a new skill (a new hobby or interest, or even a foreign language or instrument).
    • Focus on breathing.
      • Try the box breath technique: Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4, and repeat.
      • Try belly breathing by placing one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in, careful to only activate and fill your abdomen (your hand on your belly should rise, hand on chest should not move), exhale release with pursed lips (hand on your belly should lower and can gently push in to help release all the air). Repeat 3-10 times.

Real Talk about Mental Health

October 10 is World Mental Health Day.  This is a sensitive topic, but one that demands our attention. 

I’ve struggled with mental health my entire life, whether I realized it or not. I remember moments in middle school when I had to go to the school nurse because I couldn’t breathe. I would try to take full, calming breaths like my mom had taught me but no matter how deep I tried to breathe, I just wasn’t feeling right. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I struggled to understand why I got so anxious, why I couldn’t leave my bed for weeks and why, no matter how much affirmation I received from teachers, friends, and family, I didn’t feel worth it. It wasn’t until I got to college and hit rock bottom that I realized I needed help. 

Depression and anxiety plagued my sophomore year and I was unable to get myself help. From the outside, I probably looked fine but to the people that knew me best, it was clear that something was wrong and that my academic and social life was starting to be affected significantly. They called a counseling center and made me an appointment, they sat with me while I was studying and talked me through some of the darkest times I’ve had thus far. It’s a scary reality, but a reality we can no longer ignore.

Talking about mental health can be one of the scariest conversations to have. For those with little experience on the topic, it can be even scarier, but the most important thing is to try. If I had not had the support of my family and friends, I truly would not be here today. It is because of the people that love me that I was able to get help and become equipped with the tools to help me handle my mental health in the future. 

~ Grace Guynn, 2019

From a parent’s perspective, listening to your child tell you they are struggling to hold their life together is frightening. So many questions surge through your mind. Did I do something wrong? What should I do to help?  Is my child safe right this second and where can she go to get help immediately? 

I don’t claim to have answers, just more questions. But in these questions, I have learned that positive mental health can be practiced and promoted. Socially and culturally, we need to view mental health as seriously as we do other physical illnesses. The harsh fact is that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds and, in 2017, there were 129 suicides per day in the United States. We can no longer be afraid to bring up concerns regarding a loved one’s mental health.  

Pebble Tossers strives to provide safe opportunities that promote positive outcomes for youth and teens, to foster positive relationships, and to equip youth with the support they need to grow and develop into healthy, active adults. We want youth to feel valued, respected, and to experience the joy of serving.

The World Health Organization website states that every 40 seconds someone loses their life to suicide.  They offer these tips of “40 seconds of action” to combat this:

  • If you are struggling, take 40 seconds to kickstart a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling. 
  • If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, take 40 seconds to start a conversation and ask them how they are doing. 
  • If you work in media, highlight the 40-second statistic in interviews, articles and blog posts. 
  • If you work in the arts or on digital platforms, interrupt your production or broadcast to transmit a 40-second message about mental health or preventing suicide. 
  • If you are an employer or manager, take 40 seconds to formulate a positive message of support to your employees about resources available to them in the workplace or local community in times of mental distress. 
  • If you want your leaders to hear your request for action, record a 40-second audio clip or video telling them the action you want them to take on suicide prevention and mental health. 
  • If you have a platform for communicating with a large audience (social media, television, radio), provide 40-second slots for sharing mental health stories and messages. 
  • If you are a parent, take 40 seconds to ask your kids about their relationship with their friends.
  • If you are a teen, scroll through your social media and pay attention to sudden changes in posts of your friends, take 40 seconds to send them an encouraging chat or message.

Remember to respect the privacy of friends, colleagues or acquaintances who may be struggling and never share any information about their mental health on a public channel without their consent. 

Helpful resources:

US Dept of Health and Human Services has two apps for parents:

Bark:  Internet safety app for parents to use on all family phones that monitors text messages, emails, and social activity for signs of harmful interactions and content related to signs of cyberbullying, depression, online predators, adult content, and more.  

TalkLife: Developed by folks at Harvard and MIT, TalkLife is a peer support platform that engages an online community when people just someone who’s willing to listen. Posting can be done anonymously.  

Koko:  Developed by researchers at MIT, this app provides help for people in all states of distress from bullying and harassment to suicide and self-harm. Koko provides evidence-based supportive interactions with users while referring users in crisis to international lifelines for immediate help. 

~Jennifer Guynn, 2019