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Psychological Growth During the COVID-19 Crisis

Growth opportunities I see and questions for you to ponder during the pandemic.

We are many weeks into the COVID-19 crisis and it is far worse than most of us imagined. The amount of global suffering is mind-boggling and unprecedented in modern history. It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of this public health crisis and all the ripple effects.

Collectively, we are experiencing trauma and facing our own mortality. Emotions are heightened. We are normally busy and distracted and most of us think very little about death and how it will come. With the graphic images on TV and less work and fewer social activities, it is hard to avoid these thoughts. Many of us know people battling the virus at home or in a hospital. We are in a defining moment and we each have a choice of how to respond.

Source: Anne Bielamowicz, used with permission
Source: Anne Bielamowicz, used with permission

We are in an accelerated change phase and for many, this will mean growth. Much has been written about post-traumatic growth but less is known about growth that occurs during ongoing trauma. We find ourselves in a unique situation and we must “build it as we sail.”

Grocery clerks, truck drivers, pharmacists, police officers, firemen, health care providers and more have turned into heroes almost overnight. Facing a life-threatening situation requires tremendous courage and with courage comes growth. These individuals are now able to see themselves as part of a greater whole. They are putting aside their personal desires for safety and bravely stepping into a vast unknown. It is remarkable and inspiring how many men and women are rising to the challenge. We are indeed all part of humankind.

We are all transforming. Most of us have been required to change almost every aspect of our daily lives. We may have suspended our businesses, homeschooled our kids, or lost our retirement savings. The impact varies from person to person but no one seems immune from the effects of COVID-19.

Source: Anne Bielamowicz, used with permission
Source: Anne Bielamowicz, used with permission

Here are some of the learning opportunities I see, and some questions for you to ponder.

We must manage our fear. Fear can be your friend and alert you to an action you need to take. But prolonged fear can harm us. As this crisis is ongoing, we must learn the difference and gain skills to manage our emotions.

We must be patient. Most of us want to return to our “normal” lives. Our minds are gradually realizing that this may never happen. Instead, we must find ways to get comfortable in these uncomfortable circumstances. What techniques will help you move into acceptance? Can you reflect on what trauma or loss you have dealt with in the past and what helped you then?

We must forgive. Our concentration, patience, and energy levels may be decreased due to the stress so we must practice forgiveness both towards ourselves and others. Can you forgive yourself for your loss of a job or decline in productivity? Can you forgive yourself if you lost your temper with someone? Can you apologize to the person whose feelings you may have hurt?

We must learn. We must also develop skills to differentiate between what we can control and what we can’t control. Most of us must remain in our own homes, yet there is much we can control there. How can we find moments of joy and connection even when social distancing?

We must change. We are all in this together. The welfare of each of us impacts the welfare of all of us. If we embrace this lesson, how will we behave differently now and in the future?

We must be wise. If we choose not to go to the supermarket, a stranger will risk his or her life to help us out. This awareness of finite resources being procured at a potentially high cost can create positive changes in perspective and behavior. I know my food waste has gone to zero and there seems to be no place for “junk food.” Many of my patients have given up alcohol during these weeks. Out my window, I see more wildlife. The sky looks bluer. Mother nature appears to be thriving as we take a break.

We must adapt. Families are coming back together. Parents are becoming teachers, we are all becoming chefs and gaining experience at daily chores. Work has moved to home literally overnight and many haven’t even missed a beat. Creativity is thriving. Humor is allowing us to feel connected in these difficult times. We are adapting remarkably fast to our new and unusual lifestyle.

I hope we can embrace the learning and growth in the midst of this ongoing trauma. We must work together to stop the spread, to care for our sick, and to rebuild our nation so we can emerge from the COVID crisis stronger, kinder, and wiser.

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