What I Learned when I Joined a Latter-day Saint Emotional Resilience Group
After a year of pandemic quarantines, I was feeling emotionally drained. So when my stake of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints (LDS) announced that they would be hosting emotional resilience groups, I decided to give it a try. Here’s what I learned.
Teachers aren’t necessary. Unlike a typical church class, no one was assigned to be the teacher. Instead, group members would go through the curriculum together, which is available with accompanying videos at the church website and app, and complete activities by following the instructions in the manual. We did have “facilitators” whose primary job was to host our group of about 10 people at their home once a week for the duration of the 10-week course. The lack of a teacher-student hierarchy, combined with a manual that was heavy on group discussion prompts, contributed to a strong environment for open dialogue.
We try harder when someone is checking in with us. At the end of each session, we picked partners with whom we privately discussed goals for the upcoming week. Then we followed up with each other via text during the week to talk about our progress. This follow-up made integrating the course into our lives much more likely than typical church lessons (which I often forget soon after leaving the classroom, but I’m sure ya’ll are better at pondering your church lessons than I am).
We feel better about our lives when we put our gratitude into words. It works even if we’re just verbalizing our gratitude in a private journal—although actually saying thank you to someone is even better!
We have to take care of our bodies to have healthy emotions. Of course, I already knew that but I needed the reminder! Early in the group, I got back to tracking good habits like exercising and taking advantage of my standing desk so I’m not sitting all day. Which brings me to the next thing I learned…
There’s an app for that. Okay, that wasn’t in the manual, but because the course required me to make commitments, I looked for tools to remind me of my goals and help me follow through. I found some good ones. I like Grateful for gratitude journaling and Strides for goal tracking. Grateful includes prompts to make me think of more than the typical list (“My health, my family, blah, blah, blah…”). Strides makes goal tracking easy; I can track daily habits by just verbally saying to my phone, “I exercised,” or “I used my standing desk,” without even opening the app itself. It was also great for dividing long-term projects into smaller bits.
We have to overcome some aspects of our own culture to be emotionally healthy. I was surprised and pleased to see that the course addressed some of the most common pitfalls to emotional health within Latter-day Saint culture. We discussed the problems with perfectionism and “all or nothing” thinking. We practiced saying things like “This must be really hard,” instead of bearing our testimonies at people coping with adversity. A whole session was devoted to how to stop being so judgmental of others. (I would love to see more of that incorporated into our regular Sunday curricula as well.) There was even a segment that seemed to imply that bringing someone cookies was not always the best way to show empathy for them, but I am not entirely sold on that one.
It is important to distinguish between addictions and other behaviors. As recently emphasized by marriage and family therapist Natasha Helfer, the Emotional Resilience curriculum also discusses the dangers of incorrectly labeling people as addicts. (Unfortunately, the stake president who recently excommunicated Ms. Helfer for expressing this concern has clearly not received the memo.)
Honesty is related to addiction…somehow. The session on addiction begins with a discussion of honesty, but no explanation of why we were discussing honesty or how it relates to the topic of addiction. I talked to a friend who participated in a different emotional resilience group than my own and she noticed the same thing. Both her group and mine came up with a same ideas about what the connection might be through group discussion: hiding your behaviors and lying about them is the common sign of addiction; when we lie to ourselves and justify our actions we are setting ourselves up for addiction. But were those the right answers? The curriculum didn’t say. Even without a teacher, the rest of the curriculum flowed very well and it was easy to understand the connections between different concepts but this was the one exception. As church curriculum developers continue to make updates, this might be an area to look at.
People want to help. One of our activities was for the group to practice noticing the needs of others by actually choosing someone to help that week…and my friend’s group chose me! (I was having a minor crisis at the time because my husband was injured and I was on a tight deadline for a big yard project.)
Pray over that list. I love my to-do list, but I had never thought of making it as a spiritual practice. The curriculum features an awesome woman identified only as “Sister Benkosi” who teaches us how to take list-making to the next level.