“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor E. Frankl
Recently, I have talked about ways to manage the stress and anxiety prevalent in our world as we enter the third year of a global pandemic amidst the war in Ukraine, civil unrest, inflation, cybersecurity threats, and countless other crises. Since I have spoken to many clients lately who feel very isolated in their personal reactions to the pandemic, I’ve decided to discuss some of the universal reactions to COVID as well as opportunities for personal growth.
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association showed that the majority of Americans (87%) feels that there has been a constant stream of crises over the past two years. And, over 70% of those surveyed feels overwhelmed by the number of current world crises. Key findings from the APA’s 2021 Stress in America poll, which surveyed 3,013 Americans, showed that since the start of the pandemic in March 2020: 61% of Americans have experienced undesired weight changes; 67% have had changes in sleep patterns; 47% delayed or canceled health care services; parents experienced increased stress levels as their children shifted to remote learning. In addition, many people have resorted to drinking more alcohol as a way to cope with the additional stress. Despite appearances to the contrary, whether they were vaccinated or not, almost half (48% and 49%, respectively) of those polled were anxious about resuming in-person interactions after the pandemic.
Due to the onset of the pandemic, we lost many of the healthy coping mechanisms we used to manage stress. Personally, my gym shut down for the better part of a year. I shifted to at-home workouts but missed the social aspect of my regular training sessions. Losing my very long-time routine felt like a tremendous loss just when I needed it the most. People postponed regular check-ups, stopped gathering for religious services, had virtual holidays or skipped them altogether, and greatly reduced or canceled in-person meetups. Since humans are hard-wired for connection, limited social interaction is a major stressor which impacts mental and physical health.
Despite all of these negative consequences of the pandemic and recent world events, there is the opportunity for post-traumatic growth – a coin termed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s. Post-traumatic growth refers to positive psychological change following trauma or crisis. It is not meant to deny the distress that accompanies trauma. Rather, it refers to the possibility for significant personal growth as a result of having experienced trauma. Such growth may include enhanced appreciation for life, improved relationships, a shift in perspective, spiritual development, and greater awareness of personal strength.
While we continue to witness drastic world changes, our first priority needs to be establishing a healthy baseline. There does not need to be pressure to experience post-traumatic growth (which may occur further into the future). Let’s try not to stress about our stress. Such post-traumatic growth may be a natural consequence of personal reflection and openness to change and growth.
If you are experiencing serious mental or physical health consequences, I urge you to seek professional help immediately. My purpose here is to point out the opportunity for personal growth that exists in the challenges we have been collectively enduring.
If you have a success story or challenge you would like to share, please send me a message here. (Due to excessive spam comments, I have disabled them on my blog.) I’d love to hear from you!
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