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Post Traumatic Growth – From Surviving to Thriving in a Post-Pandemic World

Most people will be both relieved and thrilled about reentering post-pandemic life. For many, the past 15 months have been a time of ongoing stress, isolation, and anxiety. For others, it’s been a time of loss, trauma, and distress, particularly for those who suffered a job loss, contracted the virus or lost loved ones as a direct result.

As mask restrictions are lifted and regular social events return most people will bounce back quickly and without hesitancy. There will be a small number of people however, who will continue to feel the impact of the pandemic long after the rest of us try to return to a new normal. In fact, researchers estimate that likely 20% of Americans will need some help with ongoing mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

For those who feel anxious about resuming public interactions and increased social activities, it is completely normal to feel some trepidation and hesitancy about re-entry. After a year of living with the fear of contracting COVID-19, while abiding by “stay home, stay safe” mandates there is certainly some risk of returning too quickly. And no doubt, there will be a period of adjustment in the months to come for those who remain reluctant and cautious about increased social interaction.

Post-traumatic Growth

We can all relate to the negative impact the pandemic has brought upon our lives. The result of acute and ongoing stress related to COVID-19 has left a small population of individuals suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress. On the other hand, we don’t often hear about the concept of Post-traumatic Growth - the experience of benefitting or finding positive psychological change as the result of adverse events and life challenges.

The outcome of Post-traumatic Growth demonstrates that “People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to others, the kind of future they might have, and a better understanding of how to live life” explains Richard Tedeschi, PhD Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina.

A recent study, examining post-traumatic growth among 893 people during the pandemic asked why some of us emerge stronger from difficult times. Approximately 77% of participants reported moderate to high growth related to COVID-19 in the areas of – greater appreciation for the value of one’s life, greater appreciation for friends and family, and a shift in priorities about what’s important in life.

Another study conducted by Renee El-Gabalawy, clinical psychologist at the University of Manitoba, Canada, measured post-traumatic growth both during and again at six months, found there were distinct “silver linings” of the pandemic.

The majority, (85% of participants) identified at least one or more of the following themes as a silver lining:

  1. Gift of time – this includes the benefits of slowing down, parents spending more time with their children, and time to focus more on mental hygiene and self-care.

  2. Finding appreciation for what matters most – discovering priorities for the small things in life we take for granted, the importance of loved ones and social connection.

  3. Enhanced creativity and learning – finding new ways of connecting (Zoom video) with others and strengthening close relationships.

  4. Sociocultural shifts – the culture of working from home, facilitating their children while also schooling from home, and increased work productivity.

  5. Positive health impacts – increased health habits and greater feelings of self-reliance.

It’s important to note, however, that Post-traumatic Growth generally occurs among those who experience a moderate level of stress over an extended period of time. For others, such as front-line healthcare workers, exposure to extended periods of extreme stress and trauma can interfere with personal growth during a time period when survival is crucial.

Interestingly Renee El-Gabalawy’s results revealed areas typically used as a common measure of personal growth were not relevant. The least common types of growth people reported included: a greater willingness to express emotions, being a more positive person, finding new opportunities, and establishing a new path in life.

In the coming days and months, the majority of us will certainly notice our ability to thrive in a post-pandemic world. Despite such a long and difficult year, what are some of the positive takeaways you experienced as a result of the pandemic? How can you apply this awareness to discover and create a more meaningful and intentional life?

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