By Aukahi Austin Seabury
We are living in a difficult time, a time of stress, uncertainty and loss. It is also a time of unprecedented innovation and resilience as we all work to adjust to our changed reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and how we changed in response to it, will undoubtedly be told in the stories handed down from this generation. Like Lonopūhā and the healers of his time, we are called to respond to this illness and find a way ahead. Beyond the direct impact the virus has on those afflicted with it and the families and health systems charged with caring for them, the social and psychological impacts are evident all around us.
Throughout our communities we see COVID-19 stress playing out as higher rates of anxiety, depression and conflict. The effects of isolation, constant worry, prohibition from gathering, job loss and changed daily routines show up in how we sleep, how we think and feel, and how we treat others. The most vulnerable among us are even further challenged. If you didn’t have a safe place to sleep before, it’s harder now. If you were having trouble making ends meet financially before, that’s harder now. If home wasn’t a safe and loving space for you before, it’s even less so now. If you have chronic medical conditions or need to see your doctor regularly that, too, has become harder.
The question of how Native Hawaiians are faring in all of this can be broken down into what experiences we have with handling system-wide adversity, how our strengths and resources prepare us, and what strategies we as communities, families and people use to respond.
We, as a people, have centuries of experience handling both system-wide adversity and health crises that threatened our survival. In the present day, our commitment to our land, culture and way of life frequently put us in the position of hearing distressing news of impending disasters on a regular basis. We know how to do that and how to remain resilient.
So how does a people who made a stand for Mauna Kea, and demanded that the world do better, face COVID-19? In much the same way. We use our experience, lean into the wisdom of our kūpuna and rise to the challenge.
What does that look like for handling COVID-19? It looks like leadership taking action for us with clear communication, cooperation, and data-informed decision-making. It looks like community and family groups feeding kūpuna and anyone who’s hungry. It looks like nonprofit organizations adapting quickly to reroute resources and create new programs to meet the changing needs of our community. It looks like parents holding the world steady for their keiki when they feel unsteady themselves. It looks like smiling at people at the grocery store behind a mask even when they can only see it in your eyes and saying “Mahalo, have a good day” to the folks working there. It looks like teachers figuring out a whole new way to reach children in an instant. It looks like music, humor and brave, hard conversations.
Each of us, individually and collectively, have to figure out how to make it work, how to not let stress and worry overtake us even when times are scary and caution is survival. That’s what resilience is. It’s continuing to try, to come back one more time and try again, even when it’s hard. So what could that look like?
Participate. Join the conversation as much as you are able in supporting the greater good. Expect our leaders and policy makers to act in our collective best interest. Push conversations to find better ways of responding than short-sighted approaches that leave the system unchanged.
Pale. Protect yourself and your circle. Rest enough, laugh enough, move enough, eat healthy enough. Access your spiritual and cultural practices. When physical movement is limited, it can change everything to be able to freely move in your mind and spirit. Limit your daily exposure to media. Consult trusted sources of data. Overcommunicate to maintain connection, support and uplift. Limit communication that magnifies stress and paralysis. Find and maintain your calm.
Persevere. Today, as with every day, choose to keep on going. Watch for your signs of stress then breathe, slow down and take action to restore your balance. Find ways to continue doing the things that keep you healthy and happy. They may not look the same during this time so you may have to find new ways to get it done. Take people with you as you carry on and ask for help when your load gets too heavy.
Perhaps by the time we’ve done all of that, our world will be changed for the better.
Dr. Aukahi Austin Seabury is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Executive Director of I Ola Lāhui. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UH Mānoa, completed her pre-doctoral internship with an emphasis in Community and Health Psychology and a post-doctoral fellowship in Child and Adolescent Evidence Based Practice. She is a member of Nā Limahana o Lonopūhā Native Hawaiian Health Consortium and sits on the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Health Workforce Advisory Board. She provides training to behavioral health providers on the use of culturally-minded evidence based practices.