By Magna Parks-Porterfield, Ph.D.
Have you experienced difficulties or hardships in your life? If you are a living, moving being you are probably answering this question with a resounding “yes”! Most recently, many of us have been faced with a very big hardship – the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has affected us negatively on many levels, financially, socially, and even emotionally. Many have been hit with challenging things – loss of jobs (temporarily or permanently), loss of connecting with others socially (due to the shelter in place orders), actual experience with COVID-19, and even loss of loved ones. The negative repercussions of these have been tough on numerous people. But, can we experience anything positive from all of this? For that matter, can anything positive ever come from any traumatic events in our lives, especially for each of us on a personal level?
Well, it can! And, there is actually a psychological concept that has been discovered over the past 20+ years that confirms this. It is known as “posttraumatic growth” which is defined as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging circumstances.” In a nutshell, when we deal with hardships it is actually possible for us to grow – mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Please do note the definition given earlier, which says that the growth is “as a result of the struggle.” Growing through adversity doesn’t come easily. We will have to contend with the difficulties that come our way and will often experience feelings of sadness, pain, hurt, and other related emotions. But, while we struggle with these emotions, we can also become better, stronger individuals.
So, how does this happen? Jane McGonigal, a game developer, reviewed the literature on this concept. She found that building resilience, defined as “toughness” or the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, is the key. In looking at the research, she categorized four different areas of resilience that we need to work on in order to experience posttraumatic growth: physical resilience, mental resilience, emotional resilience, and social resilience. What can we do to build resilience in each of these categories? Here are some things that are revealed in the research (as discovered by Jane McGonigal):
1. Physical resilience. It’s important to be physically active because those who are physically toughened are able to better withstand stress.
2. Mental resilience. We must change how we view adversity or difficulty. This includes things such as finding meaning in difficult situations, learning from mistakes, and viewing obstacles as challenges.
3. Emotional resilience. Learn to manage our emotions. For example, whenever you feel a negative emotion, do something to help you experience several positive emotions such as viewing a picture that brings joy, or listening to uplifting music.
4. Social resilience. Try your best to stay connected socially. This may include doing something to reach out to others, such as expressing gratitude through a phone call or a card.*
There is actually one other area that also helps build resilience that can lead to posttraumatic growth — having a spiritual focus. There is evidence that those who engage in spiritual activities, which include praying, reading the Bible, and participating in collective worship, tend to recover from adversity more quickly, which increases the likelihood that they will “grow” after a trauma or crisis.
If you would like to be a better person after not only COVID-19 but after any other hardship that you may encounter in life, make a conscious effort to do what you can to build up resilience. If you do so, it is very likely that you will grow after adversity!
*McGonigal, J. “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life.” Retrieved and adapted from https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_the_game_that_can_give_you_10_extra_years_of-life?language=en(2012, June).