If You Aren’t Feeling Buoyed by Resilience, Post-Traumatic Growth May Be on the Horizon
By Kyra Hazilla
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative effects on our well-being. Most days, articles cross my desk (which is currently a pile of books, stacked on top of a rolling cart from IKEA where I precariously perch my laptop, next to a purloined kitchen chair) citing some new statistic or another about how much we are suffering. Traffic fatalities are skyrocketing, as are overdose deaths, broken heart syndrome (stress-induced cardiomyopathy) has quintupled, and depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and burnout rates are steadily climbing.
In the face of all of that bleak news, researchers are forecasting an “epidemic of resilience” because “resilience is the modal and normative response to trauma.” But what about those of us who have resilienced as hard as we can and are still exhausted and overwhelmed? For us, there is the concept of Post-Traumatic Growth.
Post-Traumatic Growth is distinct from resilience in the following ways: resilience is the natural state of human beings, both individually and collectively. We experience hard things, we bounce back. For some people who don’t bounce back as quickly or struggle to get through the crisis, researchers observe that the most growth manifests in individuals who don’t just right themselves in an instant. “[P]eople who experience post-traumatic growth are those who endure some cognitive and emotional struggle and then emerge changed on the other side.” Post-traumatic growth can be observed in improvements in five domains: personal strength, new possibilities, relating to others, appreciation of life, and spiritual change. In studies of veterans during the pandemic, those who experienced higher levels of stress and more PTSD symptoms also experienced the most post-traumatic growth. Across groups studied, it appears that more pandemic worries and pandemic-related social restriction stress, like reductions in family and social contacts, were strongly associated with the most post-traumatic growth. While lawyers weren't the focus of this particular research, we know that the legal profession experiences the same mental health challenges as the general population, often at higher rates.
I find this data both remarkable and hopeful. It lays bare that our default setting is to get through tough times and come out healthier and stronger. In fact, the harder we have to work at it, the more growth we experience. If you are not feeling yourself pop right back up from each change, frustration, or disappointment related to our current circumstances, that is ok, normal, and to be expected. When your pandemic puppy knocks your child into your pile of books holding your laptop and you totally lose it, you are not alone. Most of us find everyday stressors more affecting than ever before. And the research tells us that is a very good sign for our post-traumatic growth.