Dr. Lauren Prest
Dr. Lauren Prest

In the short time since I moved to Moab in August 2019 to become the addiction psychiatrist at Moab Regional Hospital, I have been inspired by the warmth and resilience of this community.

As a psychiatrist, I often care for people who have endured incredible hardships. Seeing people show the strength required to seek and accept help remains one of the most awe-inspiring things about my job. People who have chosen to stay in Moab demonstrate a special type of grit, but even the most resilient among us are bound to feel a shift in our reserves during these frightening and uncertain times. Sometimes, however, the cracks that form can shape us in surprising ways.

Long before we had traditional medicine, it could be argued that our mental wellness is all we really had under our control. After all, our camp could be washed away by floods, a famine could destroy our food sources or a disease could sweep through our community and there was little for us to do about it. To cope with these uncertainties, early humans used rituals and ceremony to create connection and meaning, herbs and special foods to nourish our bodies and souls, and tests of physical endurance to challenge our spirits and fortitude.

So what can we do when the pressures of the modern world are stealing our security and dependability?

This is when rebuilding resilience and finding connection and meaning in our lives matters most. And perhaps this is when we start to rebuild a renewed sense of self-empowerment to face what lies ahead.

Resilience refers to a person’s ability to sustain health and adapt through periods of stress. Things that improve resilience often feel like they should be simple, like going to bed on time, limiting screen time, eating vegetables and getting a little exercise. But these are usually the first things we put aside when things get tough. Why would this be?

The answer probably lies in our most basic survival mechanisms. Simply put, our brains choose the most rewarding and soothing activity to get through the moment. Our stressed, tired brains want high calories, physical relaxation and mental distraction. Choosing instant gratification can happen spontaneously and without thinking.

When your spiritual, emotional and physical tank is low, the first step in rebuilding can feel like the most difficult, so start with the most manageable and realistic change. Take a moment to consider the pros and cons of taking a walk in the evening, calling your sister or playing with your kid instead of watching TV for another hour. Consider whether you have real balance in your life between work and play. Are you working too much and neglecting your family, pets, health? Or are you avoiding work and giving into distractions?

Prioritize one impactful change at a time and practice this daily. Websites and apps like Happify (www.happify.com), Ten Percent Happier (www.tenpercent.com) and Headspace can help you move forward.

Certainly, some people will have more on their plate than they can think their way out of. When this is the case, reaching out for help is best.

When you are overwhelmed, you can call Moab Regional Hospital at 435-719-5531 to see a medical professional or therapist. If you are drowning in bills for housing, food and health insurance, reach out to nonprofits that can help connect you to the appropriate services, like the Moab Valley Multicultural Center and Four Corners Community Behavioral Health.

Remember, those who have experienced the most chaos and trauma are sometimes those who come out the other side stronger, more thoughtful, more creative and with more appreciation of life than ever. It can take time and the creation of new, safer spaces in our lives, but sometimes a little self-exploration can lead to tremendous post-traumatic growth.

All in all, building resilience is a way to honor your humanity and your most basic needs. Setting boundaries by increasing balance in your life may help you feel a greater sense of control in an out of control world.

As Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

I know times are difficult, but there may be space between the hardships where we can find new meaning, greater connection, or finally take that step forward toward self-care.

Lauren Prest joined the staff of Moab Regional Hospital in August 2019 after completing a fellowship in addiction psychiatry at the University of Utah. She specializes in treating opioid addiction.