Growth From Adversity: Post Traumatic Growth During The Covid-19 Pandemic
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger…” as Kelly Clarkson sang, and which has now made it impossible for me to say the phrase without singing the song! Although apparently the phrase originates from something Nietzsche wrote.
Be that as it may, it’s all about going through difficult and challenging experiences and coming out the other side of it with more strength and resilience because of what you’ve been through. Going through difficult times can lead to personal growth as we learn what we can withstand and get through and develop more robust coping skills for whatever comes our way next.
Certainly all of the evidence shows us that for many people, the Covid-19 pandemic has been traumatic. Yet whilst there has undoubtedly been an impact in mental health, such as anxiety, stress and depression, there have also been more positive aspects that have been gained. Bad stuff can be painful and it hurts, but we can also gain insight, learning, knowledge of ourselves and psychological resilience for future events (although if you’ve been affected by a traumatic event, you may benefit form therapeutic help).
Growth from adversity (post traumatic growth) describes the positive changes experienced by people as a result of their efforts to deal with challenging circumstances. There can be elements of personal growth, such as positive, healthy changes to your lifestyle or developing coping skills. Coming through adversity can lead to improved relationships with others and a renewed appreciation of the people in your life. And you may experience a greater appreciation for life, new perspectives and more gratitude for things.
It isn’t necessarily from the challenging events that we can gain positives, because many of these things can be painful and stressful, yet we can grow because of and as a result of these things. Through the traumatic events I’ve had to face in my life, from anxiety and bullying, to illness and bereavement, the result has been greater understanding of myself, the development of resources, a clearer perspective and focus on what’s important to me, and more appreciation and gratitude for the things I value in life. The events themselves were painful, hurtful and at times even unbearable, yet there have still more positive aspects that have benefited me and my life.
So has the pandemic led to any positive outcomes and how can you benefit from growth from adversity you may have faced?
Post Traumatic Growth During The Covid-19 Pandemic
There have been a lot of negative effects on mental health due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I’ve written a lot about that topic in earlier articles. Yet there have also been positives in some aspects of our lives, such as reappraisals of what we value and gratitude for people and things that we may have taken for granted, or not appreciated as much as we could have, before the pandemic.
Post traumatic growth is regarded as a positive, adaptive process that follows a disruptive physical or psychological trauma that challenges an individual’s perspectives, values and roles. The way someone processes the event leads them to reassess priorities and to understand what they can and can’t control. This can result in positive changes in how you relate to others, a greater sense of your own personal strength, positive spiritual change, a greater appreciation of life, and discovering and embracing new possibilities.
Stallard, Pereira and Barros (2021) carried out a study to assess anxiety, well-being and post-traumatic growth in carers of children aged 6–16 years in Portugal and the UK. Carers have been hit with a whole range of things by this pandemic, including stresses arising from uncertainty, disrupted work, reduced personal finances, less social support, health concerns, maintaining family life and educating their children (of course, many of these stresses and demands have also been present for many of us in varying amounts since March 2020). To assess post-traumatic growth, participants were asked whether they thought there were any positives to come out of the pandemic and the social distancing restrictions.
They found that, despite this adversity, the majority of participants identified positives arising from the pandemic and lockdown. There was evidence for positive change in how they related to others, their greater appreciation of life, positive spiritual change and the discovering and embracing of new possibilities. In addition, the positives that participants identified as arising from the COVID-19 pandemic were associated with less anxiety and improved well-being.
When we delve into the results, we can see that many of the things described in this research reflect what many others of us have highlighted over the many months of the pandemic. The unique demands and restrictions placed upon us have, in many cases, allowed closer relationships and a better understanding of others to develop. Whilst home schooling has been challenging at times, it has also allowed for more time with the children and to be more involved in their lives that would usually be the case.
There has been the opportunity to pause our usual busy lives and the constant treadmill of demands upon us all and to think about what is really important in life, and to value and appreciate more the smaller, more simple things in life. And many people have also taken this opportunity to adopt a more healthy lifestyle, whether through exercise, diet or getting enough sleep. Particularly in lockdown one, there were wonderful examples of people helping and supporting each other, as well as a sense of gratitude for our wonderful NHS and keyworkers.
And you may also have experienced other positives from the pandemic beyond those listed here. Many of the things mentioned above reflect the value of kindness, gratitude and appreciation. I’ve written before about the evidence that shows that gratitude and kindness practices are linked with positives for your mental health.
Perhaps the key thing here though, is that even when faced with trauma, stress and demands of the kind that impact on every sphere of life (during a pandemic), there is still scope for learning, growth and positive outcomes that can be taken forward from the experience.
Growth From Adversity
Although traumatic events can have many negative impacts upon your physical and mental health, as highlighted in the research above, there is growing recognition of the possibility of positive growth from adversity, that could potentially mitigate some of the adverse consequences.
Back in 1996, Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996) described how at least three broad categories of perceived benefits following traumatic events have been identified: changes in self-perception, changes in interpersonal relationships, and a changed philosophy of life. Someone who has lived through trauma may consider themselves stronger and more confident, and feel more capable of handling difficult situations. There is scope for learning to be more emotionally expressive, more willing to accept help and more open to social support. And there is the opportunity to re-evaluate life, what is important and the meaning of things.
Post traumatic growth follows the occurrence of a major life crisis that severely challenges and perhaps even shatters your understanding of the world and his or her place in it. However, experiencing growth does not mean that all pain and distress has come to an end and it certainly does not mean that you view the trauma itself as something desirable or that you wanted to occur. However, despite this, some good can come out of having to face these challenge (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004).
Indeed, research suggests that finding the benefits from traumatic events is related to better mental health outcomes, such as less depression and more positive well-being (Helgeson, Reynolds and Tomich, 2006). Although it may take some time, negative experiences can also add to your sense of your life having meaning, as you seek to understand what these events mean for you, your relationships and your world (Vohs, Aaker and Catapano, 2019).
Based upon a sample of over ten thousand people, Wu, et al (2019), found that nearly half of those who had experienced traumatic events reported moderate to high post traumatic growth.
All of the evidence suggests that, while traumatic and negative events are unwelcome in our lives, there is the possibility of positive learning and growth from having experienced them. For many, these events provide the impetus to re-evaluate goals and priorities, to appreciate and to find more meaning in aspects of your life. There can be positives in your relations with others, your personal strengths and self-perception, new possibilities and an appreciation of life and wider changes to your thoughts and feelings into the future.
Growth From Adversity
Now everybody is very different in how they respond to negative and challenging events, albeit that we all have the potential for learning and growth as a result of having coped with, and struggled gone through those things. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or trauma then please do seek professional help to assist you.
For more moderate challenging or negative events that you have experienced (not major traumas), here is a process to help you to gain positive growth and learning from what you have experienced (which, as the evidence above shows, can support your mental health and well-being).
1. Sit somewhere quiet, take a deep breath and close your eyes. If you know self-hypnosis or meditation techniques you could incorporate these here. Start to extend your out breath and say the word ‘relax’ to yourself on every breath out. You could tense and relax each part of your body or tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. You could imagine a calm colour or sensation spreading through you or fill your mind with a relaxing sound. You could engage your imagination and imagine being in a remembered or created place of calmness, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Or you can draw upon and utilise any other ways that allow you to feel comfortable, calm and relaxed. Your aim here is just to feel as safe, calm and comfortable as you can right now.
2. As you relax, bring to mind a negative or challenging thing that you have experienced. Start to think and reflect upon how that event helped you to develop and grow. We all learn from experience and, in many ways, we can learn more from reflecting upon negative things and finding ways to cope with and get through challenges. Remember this doesn’t mean that you wanted this thing to happen, or even that you are pleased it happened, yet some good can come out of having to face these challenges and then learning from them.
Spend some time here thinking about the positive consequences, things you can be grateful for, things you value more as a result and any things you perhaps now appreciate more in your life as a result of this challenge. You can reflect upon any changes to your priorities and values. There may have been positive changes in how you relate to others, a greater sense of your own personal strength, positive spiritual change, a greater appreciation of life, and the discovery and embracing new possibilities.
3. As you continue to think about and reflect upon this experience that happened to you, start to contemplate the kind of growth and positive aspects that the research suggests are beneficial (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1996). Depending on the nature and type of thing you are thinking back upon, you may have experienced one or two, or a much greater number of these aspects of growth from challenges.
You can think about how this previous negative thing may have had a positive impact upon how you relate to others that you can be grateful for and appreciate. Perhaps you learnt that you can count on others in times of trouble or you developed a sense of closeness with others and a willingness to express how you feel. You may have grown by developing more understanding for others and have invested more time, thought and energy into the important friendships and relationships in your life.
You can consider how new possibilities may have arisen from what occurred. You may have developed new interests, established a new path for your life or feel more able to do better things with your life. As a result of what happened, new opportunities may have become available to you and you may have made other positive changes that you can appreciate and feel grateful for.
Many people experience a sense of personal growth as a result of negative experiences. You may have developed a stronger feeling of self-reliance, a belief in your own ability to handle any other difficulties in your life and have discovered that you are stronger and more capable than you thought you were.
And you may have experienced a greater appreciation of life, such as becoming more aware of your priorities about what is important in life, an appreciation for the value of your own life and an appreciation for each day.
4. Having spent some time thinking about how that thing may have have helped you to grow and develop, start to think about what you now do and how you do it. Maybe recognising how you have applied this growth and learning into your life since that thing happened. Mybae you can consider ways you can enhance, appreciate and develop these positive things further in your life to experience more benefit. Really reflect and explore how you have developed and the lessons you have taken, as well as the these things you can be grateful for as a result of this experience.
Mentally rehearse taking the positive things you have been thinking about here into aspects of your life from now on with more strength, confidence, gratitude and appreciation. Think about how you’ll apply these things in your life both now and in the future, maybe in aspects of your faily life, in certain situations, in the thoughts you think to yourself and the actions you take, or perhaps how you will bring these things to bear when you encounter future challenges to handle, deal and cope with.
5. Then, when you are ready, and to bring this process to an end, take a deep breath, count up from 1 up to 3 inside your mind and then open your eyes and reorient yourself to your surroundings.
Remember, no-one wants negative things to happen yet we all experience challenges through our lives. By taking the time to reflect and think about what you have learnt and the positive aspects of things, you can support your own growth, inner strength and resilience.
Just like with the Covid-19 pandemic, there is scope for us to consider and change our priorities about what is important in life, to gain a greater appreciation for the things in our lives, to feel more optimistic about the future, and to strengthen our connection with others. You can also reflect upon and bolster your strength to handle difficulties and to follow the path that’s truly important to you.
And to really benefit and grow from something negative that happened to you, get yourself a copy of this awesome Growth From Adversity hypnosis download where I guide you through this process: Growth From Adversity
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Cann, A., Calhoun, L.G., Tedeschi, R.G., Taku, K., Vishnevsky, T., Triplett, K.N. and Danhauer, S.C., 2010. A short form of the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 23(2), pp.127-137.
Helgeson, V.S., Reynolds, K.A. and Tomich, P.L., 2006. A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 74(5), p.797.
Linley, P.A. and Joseph, S., 2004. Positive change following trauma and adversity: A review. Journal of traumatic stress: official publication of the international society for traumatic stress studies, 17(1), pp.11-21.
Stallard, P., Pereira, A.I. and Barros, L., 2021. Post-traumatic growth during the COVID-19 pandemic in carers of children in Portugal and the UK: cross-sectional online survey. BJPsych Open, 7(1).
Tamiolaki, A. and Kalaitzaki, A.E., 2020. “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”: COVID-19 and Posttraumatic Growth. Psychiatry research.
Tedeschi, R.G. and Calhoun, L.G., 2004. ” Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence”. Psychological inquiry, 15(1), pp.1-18.
Tedeschi, R.G. and Calhoun, L.G., 1996. The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of traumatic stress, 9(3), pp.455-471.
Vohs, K.D., Aaker, J.L. and Catapano, R., 2019. It’s not going to be that fun: Negative experiences can add meaning to life. Current opinion in psychology, 26, pp.11-14.
Wu, X., Kaminga, A.C., Dai, W., Deng, J., Wang, Z., Pan, X. and Liu, A., 2019. The prevalence of moderate-to-high posttraumatic growth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of affective disorders, 243, pp.408-415.