Cliché or not, when it comes to COVID-19, the old saying stands: this too shall pass.
I’ve written about how classical Stoicism can be a philosophical tool to help create a resilient mindset. Now it’s time to start preparing for life after this pandemic. Yes, it feels like the novel coronavirus will never abate and widespread social distancing will never end. Yes, it’s very possible it will take months or years—and the creation of a viable vaccine—before people will feel truly safe to return to some semblance of “normalcy.” But, thankfully, nothing really lasts forever.
The one constant we can count on is change. The fact that nothing lasts may unsettle us as a species, but it also helps in times like these. The impermanence of circumstances can give us hope as well as anxiety. It may take a while, but like everything in life, the coronavirus can’t beat time, not to mention human spirit and ingenuity.
In the wake of traumatic events, it may seem our only option is to bear the burden of stress, grit our teeth, and “tough things out” until the passage of time lessens the impact of negative experiences. This is a passive approach to psychological recovery that has its place, but it doesn’t have to be our only option during the mental and emotional healing process.
Explore Post-Traumatic Growth
An ever-expanding body of research is exploring how we can actively and consciously promote post-traumatic growth. The evidence shows we have the cultivatable ability to make self-guided positive change following negative events. In other words, we don’t need to leave our mental and emotional health to simple chance and the slow march of the clock.
The human potential for post-traumatic growth (PTG) was defined by the research of psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. They describe it as “the experience of positive change that occurs as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life crises.” Tedeschi and Calhoun delved into the biological and behavioral roots of how we react to traumatic events, and they outlined ways PTG can be implemented in our lives. The remainder of this article offers a quick introduction to what they discovered, so you can start working on your own post-pandemic growth.
As always, remember to be kind to yourself, especially when it comes to negative emotions. Feel them, process them, and remember you can move beyond them given time, self-exploration, and help from others. Also, it’s important to note we generally experience post-traumatic grown simultaneously with post-traumatic stress. So don’t beat yourself up if it takes a good amount of time and self-care to work through your thoughts and feelings.
Make Some Meaning (and Purpose)
Human beings are hardwired to crave meaning and purpose as a survival mechanism. Meaning is the belief that one’s life has significance, and fits into a larger context. Purpose is often more concrete, since it involves the setting and achievement of goals. Pursuing purpose (or multiple purposes) can be a pathway to meaning.
PTG involves creating your own purpose and making your own meaning, rather than passively waiting for “things to make sense.” The bottom line: create your own meaning and purpose. Don’t wait for them to miraculously arrive. Think of yourself as a wizard, because you are the only one who can truly conjure the meaning and purpose of your life.
If you’re at a loss when it comes to creating purpose and meaning, a good way to cultivate them is to volunteer your time and skills to help others. Service to others is strongly correlated with a sense that one’s life is significant.
Write Your Own Story
We’ve all heard people refer to life as a story we write. But how often do we live in just “stream of consciousness mode,” without consciously considering the things that occur and the actions we take? This mindful consideration and framing of the course of one’s life is known as “redemptive narrative.”
Take charge of your life story. Reinterpret the events of your life, and your responses to those events, as part of a growth process, rather than just a disjointed mass of cause and effect. Once you get into the habit of reconsidering your story in the present, you can set a course of action for the future.
When thinking about your redemptive narrative, the following are a few questions you can ask:
– How have I become more skilled, resourceful, and resilient as a result of my experiences?
– What good things have I learned about myself and others?
– What do I appreciate more about life now?
You can also reshape your view of your past to reevaluate the path that lead to your present. If you practice self-compassion when you look back, you can often find ways to forgive yourself, take responsibility for your actions, and take charge of how you will act in the present and future.
Ultimately, people who craft a redemptive narrative experience greater well-being and are generally healthier overall.
Heroism and PTG
In mythology, literature, and life, the hero’s journey is often a journey of post-traumatic growth. Someone is pushed out of their normal existence by some disruption or crisis. For example, Luke Skywalker’s humdrum routine on Tatooine is irrevocably changed when his family is slaughtered by stormtroopers.
Again, this applies to real life, not just fiction. For instance, take someone who is berated by an inadequate boss on a regular basis. Eventually, they decide they’ve had enough and start looking for a new job. Their trauma has motivated them to escape their circumstances by taking a journey of challenge and change.
So What’s Your Better Normal?
In the end, post-traumatic growth is not a “return to baseline.” So, don’t worry about whether or not things will return to “normal,” or even an unknown “new normal.” Instead, think in terms of your personal “better normal.” Start your journey today!
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