Blog Articles and Resources
Research demonstrates our memories are not as accurate as we believe.
While most people think their memories represent the truth, the evidence demonstrates that our memories depend very much on the circumstances we are experiencing at the time and that they shift over time. A large body of research shows that emotions, especially those provoked by negative events, can lead to inaccurate or even completely false memories.
Depression, anxiety, and stress—three mental health problems linked to the COVID-19 pandemic—consistently lead to false memories, said Charles Brainerd, a Cornell University psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts in false memories. “Continuously being in a dark mood makes it difficult to remember the details of your life,” he said. “Things that substantially elevate people’s stress levels lead to poor encoding of events as we experience them, which in turn elevates false memories.”
Brainerd and his research partner, Cornell psychologist Valerie Reyna, have developed the fuzzy-trace theory of false memory, which says that there are two types of memory: verbatim and gist.
Verbatim memory is a vivid, literal record of specific details. Gist memories are fuzzy recollections of past events, which capture their meaning and have a much more powerful influence over longer periods of time. In other words, if you are remembering an event from a year ago, you are more likely to rely on the gist of what happened than remember specific details. False memories occur when your brain attempts to fill in the blanks of a gist memory.
“Fuzzy-trace theory predicts people who experience persistent negative moods are at elevated risk of forming false memories because the memories are distorted to fit a negative take on life,” Brainerd said. “Prolonged levels of high stress from continuing financial, educational, and social uncertainty are a major cause of persistent negative moods. Thanks to the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire country has been experiencing such prolonged levels of high stress for many months. Worse, those uncertainties have been heightened by the lack of clear federal policies to contain the pandemic.”
There is another dynamic taking place this year that may also lead to false memories—the increasing incidence of misleading or false news stories.
A recent study by Irish researchers, which included more than 3,700 participants, examined how fabricated news stories about COVID-19 affected the accuracy of participants’ memories about the virus itself. People who were able to objectively assess knowledge about COVID-19 were less likely to create false memories and more likely to tell the difference between true and false stories.
On the other hand, participants who believed themselves to be very knowledgeable about COVID-19 were more likely to report a memory for any story, true or false. Those who reported high levels of “media engagement” or anxiety about COVID-19 were more likely to recall both true and false stories, but also demonstrated heightened sensitivity to the difference between true and false stories. Surprisingly, participants who felt more anxious about the pandemic were less likely to report false memories.
The researchers concluded that a person’s knowledge about COVID-19 and his or her tendency to think critically are important indicators as to whether or not they create false memories related to the pandemic.
The take-home message: Our memories are malleable and our circumstances have a surprisingly important effect on them. The experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic—including social distancing, isolation, and anxiety about the virus—are all elements affecting our memories during this time.
Many parents have been dreading the upcoming school year all summer, and regardless of what stage you're at in your parenting journey, it may feel like a big looming cloud of uncertainty is hanging over our heads. As many of us are in the midst of the transition back to school, it’s time to really sit with and acknowledge our feelings in order to consciously choose how to model the behavior we want for our kids and teens
No matter what, this fall will not look like anything we’ve ever seen. While it’s stating the obvious, it’s not “normal” back to school and the various nuances of this reality will have a significant impact on all of us and our children. We will have to make an effort to accept that there are no great choices, and adjust accordingly to whatever choices we will have available.
But, how do we do this?
Start by sitting with your emotions. Acknowledge all of the feelings that arise. You may notice that you have anxious, fearful or feelings of frustration, and that there are ways that these feelings are also showing up in your body. Be still with what makes you uncomfortable and become aware of the thoughts about your current situation that are creating your feelings. When you start to notice and accept all of your feelings, you can begin to become more proactive rather than reactive in managing them.
One of the ongoing themes that I focus on with my clients is how to learn how to manage our minds, by accepting what we have control over and what we don’t.
Worrying is the mind's way of trying to protect us from a perceived danger, and it mistakenly believes that worrying is useful. Pervasive worry leads to a spiral of anxiety that at best is a waste of time, and can lead to additional suffering if we do not learn how to focus on controlling the controllables.
Not everything that you encounter can be changed. For many of us, this global pandemic is an opportunity to accept that much of our lives is not in our control, and resisting this reality creates additional stress and anxiety. Focusing on all of the uncertainty can be overwhelming and can make you feel like you have no control. Think about how you might feel if you're in a spinning room. Reaching out to grab hold of something to stop the movement is your first step. This also goes for your anxious feelings. Look inward, and try to name and understand what you are feeling. Notice what thoughts have created these feelings based on the situation at hand. Just this simple act of naming and noticing our feelings already helps to calm our nervous system a bit.
After you’ve acknowledged your emotions, start thinking about what you actually can control. For instance, you may not know what your child’s school environment will look like, but you probably know that there is the possibility of some distance learning. Start thinking about the work schedule(s) in your family and how you can adjust the times to include shared instruction or support for your children. Perhaps you know that your child will use certain devices to accommodate online learning. Look into purchasing, or obtain access to any necessary devices or equipment, or start emailing your school administration to find out what technology is available from the school. We all know that kids going to school will likely need a mask. Use these last few days to find comfortable, breathable, or fun designed masks that fit properly and that they find comfortable. Taking the first step by controlling what you can will help ease your anxious feelings. For teens, approaching the upcoming school year in a collaborative way that includes their thoughts and feelings will likely yield less power struggles and more buy-in to the shared goal of creating habits and life skills that are the foundation for creating both personal and academic success.
Another way to maintain a warm and supportive connection with your child or teen is to approach conversations about the school year in a calm and open way. Check in on them. Ask open-ended questions periodically to see how they’re feeling. What feelings are they noticing? Remind them that you are a resource for them, available to discuss anything that they may feel concerned about or feel overwhelmed by. You can guide them to become aware of and to acknowledge their own feelings, and help them learn how to control their controllables. For instance, if they’re feeling nervous about the virus, talk with them about what measures they can take to avoid it, what they think might get in the way of them doing the things that they know will protect them, and by reminding them to limit their news intake as needed. Beginning to gradually shift routines and habits that have likely been more flexible during the summer will help. Planning a work area that includes the essential ingredients that your child or teen needs for focus and support will also be especially important this year for distance learning success.
It’s also okay to share some of your feelings. It might be helpful to them to know they are not alone. Kids and teens tend to feel more secure when they know what to expect. Try to discuss these differences when you’re emotionally available to answer their questions calmly and thoughtfully. Ideally, these conversations should not take place before bed when kids and teens might tend to ruminate and become more anxious.
Parents are the best teachers for modeling behavior. This pandemic has been really challenging so far, and it will likely continue to challenge us in new and unforeseen ways. As everything else does, this too shall pass. For now, practice managing your mind and help your children to do the same.
If you notice your child is struggling more than normal, consider connecting with a therapist or life coach. A coach can help your child develop the skills that enable them to be more emotionally flexible and the tools that they need to navigate the challenges that they are facing both during the pandemic and beyond. Do you know a teen or a college-aged girl who could use some guidance in this connective process? Visit my website WillseyConnections.com for more information and let’s connect.
Trapped in Adolescence
by Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D.
YOUNG CHILDREN MAY get a little stir-crazy and fractious with one another while being captive at home to prevent exposure to the coronavirus. However, at that age, they are more used to their lives being family-centered than are adolescents, for whom sheltering in place can be more severely disruptive on two counts.
First, adolescence is about gathering more social freedom out in the world, but this offline experience is now forbidden. Second, adolescence is about growing apart from parents and spending more time with one’s peers, but while trapped at home, family members become the only physical company they have.
With offline social life restricted by quarantine, it is only natural for homebound adolescents to seek more online options for compensatory contact and freedom with friends. Some parents may believe that this virtual contact provides a sufficient alternative to actual connection with friends, but it does not. Electronically mediated communication leaves out a lot of visual, nonverbal, and affective information that face-to-face contact more richly conveys.
Understanding Their CrisisThe pandemic represents a crisis, a simultaneous multiplicity of life-threatening changes that must be coped with and, we hope, survived. Crisis can be operationally defined as four concurrent kinds of change:
Just as childhood teaches the importance of building a trustworthy dependence, adolescence teaches the necessity for growing independence, and family teaches the lasting power of interdependence. As important as peers are to adolescents, it must be remembered that they are mostly of passing value when compared with family connections.
Confinement Creates IntimacyThe current crisis is a time to bring family members together. This can be a hard transition for adolescents to make, as they have been focused on growing their independence and individuality. To that end, a first unifying message from parents might be: “As stressful as it can be, a crisis is not a time for us to grow apart. It is a time to strengthen family because none of us are as strong as all of us.” Another hopeful unifying message might be: “We all have something to offer one another to weather this hard time. Let’s talk about what special contributions each of us can make.” Moving forward from these principles, specific tasks can assume a larger symbolic meaning for adolescents: Doing this shows how I’m helping my family carry on.
At a period of growth when adolescents need more privacy and separation, parents ought to consider what their teens might be observing of family life during quarantine, such as: It’s like taking a trip together in the family car, except it’s not a vacation; I feel marooned on a desert island with only my family; or Everybody’s getting on everybody’s nerves even more.
However it’s approached, prolonged confinement creates forced familiarity and more exposure to one another’s behavior. For this reason, the management of family quarantine is really the management of increased intimacy—the sensitive and vulnerable process of becoming more deeply knowing and being more deeply known. How best to manage that? I believe the best advice for parents and their adolescents remains to treat others as you would like them to treat you.
They Can Go Home Again
by Susan Newman, Ph.D.
FAMILY HAS ALWAYS been a lifeline, and the coronavirus has led thousands of young adults to grab on tight. Whether just out of college, newly furloughed or laid off, or a few years into their first jobs, sons and daughters have returned to their parents’ home to wait out the spread of the virus and its damage to the economy. For most, this wasn’t their first choice, but their parents—even those who have lost jobs themselves—have few reservations about offering adult children the comfort and emotional security of home. They see this time together, while it comes with enormous uncertainty and challenge, as a rare opportunity to fast-forward their parent-child relationship.
“My parents are psyched to have me back; they didn’t expect it to ever happen,” says Jenna*, 24, now working full time from her childhood bedroom for a nonprofit organization. “The pandemic has delivered them a gift, although under unfortunate circumstances, of more time together.”
Security and Support
The crisis has frozen the dreams of young workers across the world. “It hit me when I was unpacking my belongings from college,” says Lawrence*, who graduated in May without pomp or circumstance. “I don’t know when I will be able to leave my parents’ house. My plans to find a job have been put on hold, and nobody knows for how long.”
Disheartening prospects can make young adults feel like failures before they have even had a chance to show what they can do. But living with parents early in one’s career is not new; in fact, even before the pandemic struck, it had become the most common living arrangement for 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States, according to data from the Pew Research Center. It’s an arrangement that seems to work better for families today than it did in earlier generations, experts suggest, because parenting styles have changed. Research by Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, has identified the shift: Parents have become less autocratic than their predecessors, they have more frequent contact with children because of communications technology, and, in general, they have developed closer ties that make them more appealing roommates. Living together doesn’t appear to jeopardize family relationships, either, she found: “Intergenerational co-residence does not undermine the grown children’s ties to parents or their daily mood.”
Getting to Know You Better
“When I was furloughed from my first job, I chose to go home even though my apartment is only a 40-minute drive from their house,” says Willa*, 25. “I wanted to be with my parents. I felt that if I were home, I could serve a purpose: I’m company for my mom during the day while my dad is at work, and I help out around the house—and yes, there’s more space inside and out at home than in my apartment. When I look beyond the ordeal that is the virus, being home is gratifying.”
Many who have returned home are consciously using the idle time to deepen their connection with the people who, along with siblings, represent their closest and longest relationships. “I can talk to them more as a friend would and less like their child,” Willa says. “I ask them questions and expect their answers to be advice rather than telling me what to do. And they see me more clearly as an adult and better understand my choices. There’s more respect on both sides.”
Alexandra*, 23, is the only one of the four children in her family who has returned home, from which she now works remotely. She’s taking advantage of the time to ask her parents questions about their early jobs and their lives before they met and before they had kids. “I’ve learned so much about them—things I never knew. They have been very forthcoming.”
And yet, there are glitches and conflicts, as one always encounters in close quarters. In the two years she lived on her own, Alexandra became quite strict about her diet and exercise routines, which her parents didn’t understand at all. “In the beginning, it was a struggle,” she says. “My regimen drove them up the wall; it was a learning curve for them. It took a month or so for them to catch on. Now when we’re having dinner, my mom knows what I need, and she’ll notice and admit that there aren’t enough greens in the meal.”
The Ground Rules
Families that have made this new arrangement work credit the understanding of some core concepts. First, simply living together doesn’t mean you can read one another’s mind. Both parents and adult children need to put what they want into words, whether it’s help around the house or more emotional support. Parents need to be understanding of the pressures and fears their adult children are experiencing—and children are equally obligated to acknowledge their parents’ real anxiety about the crisis.
Sharing chores and perhaps expenses is important, but so is respecting one another’s boundaries, especially involving potentially sensitive topics of conversation. Issues like these are compounded when parents and children revert to earlier dynamics. Parents must resist returning to default supervising behavior, and children can’t go back to their teen habits and start leaving clothes and dishes all over the house for mom and dad to pick up. Still, some habits are hard to break, and twentysomethings who’ve been living on their own for years should allow themselves to appreciate the humor of parents telling them how to measure flour or clean a bathroom.
It’s a difficult time. But young adults who have returned home and made it work have been surprised at how smoothly it has gone and how grateful they are for people they long took for granted: “I love my parents,” Lawrence says, “and we’re telling each other that a weird amount.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
A Pause That May Refresh Childhood
by Peter Gray, Ph.D.
A PANDEMIC IS a terrible thing, but it never hurts to look for silver linings. I have written for years about the harm created by our overscheduling of children’s lives. Over decades, we have increased the time that children must spend in school and on their schoolwork at home, while at the same time replacing out-of-school free play with ever more adult-directed activities. The consequences have included gradual but dramatic increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide among school-age children, as well as a decline in their sense of control over their own lives, as has been documented by much research, including my own.
Then, along came the coronavirus, which closed the schools and canceled the after-school activities that have kept children so busy. Suddenly today’s children acquired what children had decades ago—free time in which to get bored, daydream, play, discover and pursue hobbies, figure out for themselves what to do, and think about the meaning of life (children can be great philosophers).
Families are still adjusting to quarantine and trying to figure out how to deal with so much together-time at home. But I have already heard some very encouraging stories from parents and children. I have heard about kids picking up musical instruments they have long wanted time to play, painting pictures for the first time in years, riding bicycles, discovering nature in the dirt and trees of their own yards, voluntarily cooking family meals with great pride, reading for their own enjoyment and interest rather than for homework, and on and on. I have also heard from families who are reading aloud together, playing games, and discovering the pleasures of just being together with no place to go and not much needing to be done. All of this is real education, and it had been sorely missing from children’s lives. I have also heard from at least one child psychologist who has said that, since schools closed, she has seen a sharp reduction in anxiety among her clients.
I don’t want to mislead anyone: Many children and families are suffering, whether cooped up with people who don’t get along well, feeling the crush of poverty in a collapsed economy, or deprived of the opportunity to gather physically with friends. But in our recognition of the negative, let us not deny the potential positives.
My fervent hope is that this pause in the busyness that we have imposed on children will lead us, as individuals and a society, to gain a renewed recognition of what childhood is all about. Children are designed to play and explore in their own chosen ways. That’s how they learn to take initiative, be creative, and solve their own problems. In short, it’s how they learn to become adults. When we deprive children of such opportunities by constantly directing them, we prevent them from developing the self-confidence required to face the world. That is why today’s children and young adults were exhibiting record levels of depression and anxiety, even before the pandemic arrived.
There is also a lesson to be learned about schooling: As a society, we have gone nearly berserk in our obsession about test scores and what we call “academic achievement,” which has very little to do with actual intellectual development. Children spend much more time at school and on homework than in the past, but they are not learning more. They are, however, burning out earlier. They are learning how to cram for tests, but that doesn’t equate to real education in any meaningful way. One thing I believe that parents will take away from their children’s missing a few months of school is that it didn’t much matter. They will not be behind. The truth is that very little is learned and remembered in a few months of school. What children learn outside of the classroom tends to be much more valuable.
I’m hoping that this pause will help us realize that policies that make children unhappy are cruel and need to be changed. Children need much more free time for play and self-directed pursuits, in school and after school, than we have allowed them. They learn best when they are happy and have some say in what they are taught. And their happiness should be the number-one priority of parents and school personnel. Their real education depends on it.
by Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D.
COLLEGE, ESSENTIALLY, is all about individuating from one’s family of origin and forging a new path. How is that going now that most students are trying to do college far away from campus? For many, not very well.
“When you think of college you don’t think of sitting at home with your family all day,” my student Eliza* tells me. “There is no freedom. I have all the same rules and restrictions I had before. I went from being independent right back to high school.”
It’s not that life at home is necessarily bad, although it certainly can be for students with a difficult relationship with their parents. It’s that this is not how it was supposed to be. Students had made the transition to adulthood and put their childhood behind them. Now it’s in their face, along with the awkward reality that their parents may have begun to move on from those days as well. “I feel as if I don’t belong,” Eliza says. “The bedroom that was once mine is now decorated as a beachy guest room. It makes me sad when I reminisce about the days when I was in high school and had pink walls and glitter lamps and postcards and Polaroids decorating the whole room.”
College is supposed to be about educating a new citizenry and socializing for, and toward, hope. A sixty-something friend and fellow academic, Kathryn Feltey of the University of Akron, recently posted a photo of her 18-year-old self online with the caption, “I am leaving my childhood behind as I search for my life and who I will be.”
This is a generation of students now blocked from taking those steps. The various crises in which they have come of age have never made it easy. Toddlers in 2001, they have been largely over parented in a culture of fear in which worries have ranged from terrorism to school shootings. Conversations about safety and protection dominated their childhood. They emerged from it all more tethered, less comfortable with solitude, and by all accounts lonelier. After growing up hyper scheduled, they demonstrate less ease with creative risk-taking and unstructured assignments.
They want to live out Feltey’s ethos but also feel rigidly confined. The generation that might have the most to gain from firmly breaking away from their families of origin have been driven right back, where they are likely experiencing a resurgence of surveillance.
College students returning home may have expected that their parents would acknowledge a changed dynamic and respect their privacy, but for many, the reality has been disappointing. Eliza tells me that her mother has been scrutinizing her every move, from whom she texts to what she eats to what she watches on Netflix.
Some parents who grew used to monitoring their children’s academics seem to forget that their kids have been doing it on their own for quite a while; others, relieved to be unburdened of responsibility for their children’s grades, have become distractions. “My parents do not fully understand the quiet I need to write a paper or take a quiz,” Tess* says. “I was working on a project, and my mom walked in the room in the middle of an interview. I even explained to her what I was doing and asked her not to bother me, but she still proceeded with the conversation.”
If the dynamics of sheltering in place are awkward, though, students have to bear some of the blame. Specifically, a childhood spent allowing their parents to do everything for them is coming back to haunt some. “When I come home for school breaks, I’m used to not doing anything productive and letting my mother do everything for me,” Eliza admits, “from making my bed to making my coffee and doing my laundry.” Now, her mother questions why she drinks so much coffee and sleeps so much.
Even those who may appreciate the comforts of home overwhelmingly strive to recover the freedom they’ve worked hard to achieve. “I love being with my family, but I can’t do this every day. I feel trapped and irritable,” Faith* says. “I actually miss the uncertainties of my college life. I had something to look forward to every day.”
“It feels like I’ve reverted back to high school,” says Sydney Ocampo, 20. In December, she came home to West Suffield, Connecticut, from New York University Shanghai to spend holiday break with her parents, George and Karey. When conditions ruled out a return to China, she was able to shift to NYU’s Manhattan campus. After six weeks, she returned home to finish the semester remotely. “I'm technically independent here, but I can’t go anywhere. My mom says that when I was at college I talked to her more than I do now. I was calling her once a day or every other day, mostly just to complain. Now there’s obviously a lot to complain about, but there’s not much to update her about. Without the structure of class, I’m really just not doing much.”
Some family situations pose sterner challenges: Megan*, for example, discloses that between her hypercritical mother, who slams her appearance and tells her she needs to lose weight, and the presence of her alcoholic stepfather, she feels trapped, insecure, and depressed at home.
Other students can’t even go home. Having grown up in an abusive family where he sometimes fantasized about death as a route to happiness, David* successfully petitioned to remain in his dorm, but he knows that’s only a temporary fix. “I have been thrust into an unknown world before I was prepared for it,” he says. “I have no money, no job, and my housing situation is not sustainable.”
Despite a loving but now long-distance relationship with Faith, David says, “Daily life is unrecognizable. I have lost hope, drive, and motivation. I go to bed in the early hours of the morning, sleep until noon, wake up, eat, and climb back into bed, only to emerge a few hours later to eat again. I feel my mental health is deteriorating.”
I identify with his fears; had I been forced to return home because of a pandemic while I was a student, I would have been terrified of witnessing my parents’ blowout fights; the stress of their marriage became even more apparent to me once I left for school. Going to college, for me and so many others, has been a ticket to a new life, a new place, and a new self.
Campus becomes not just a new home, but an oasis where we can grow intellectually, emotionally, politically, sexually, and creatively. The forced return to families of origin, Eliza says, “stifles the newly discovered parts of us. Those of us who have been kicked off campus and have smothering parents are forced to hide what we have discovered with higher education.” For David, “College gave me a sense of self-expression, freedom, and independence from the constant fear that had shackled me my entire life.”
How parents handle this sensitive moment—ideally by allowing their children to do the serious work of becoming an adult—will have a tremendous effect on how a generation is able to move forward whenever campus life resumes. College is a dwelling of, for, and about hope. Conversations with my students tell me that overall, the kids are all right. But they’ll be much better off when they can truly fly back toward that structure of hope.
A 30-Minute Morning Routine that Will Clear your Mind and Banish Stress
What you do the moment you open your eyes has more impact than you may think on setting the tone for the day.
By Nicole Spector
Better by Today
Morning routines can be a struggle even for those who are naturally “morning people.” If you’re facing a busy schedule and/or managing a family, the impetus to get up and get going stat can be extreme — but for an optimal day of productivity and positivity, it’s best that we take some time to ground ourselves and start the day on a good note.
How much time? While it does depend on how early you rise and what sort of relaxation methods you prefer, we’ve determined, through conversing with mental health experts and life coaches, that a half-hour should do the trick.
We’ve broken this 30-minute routine into two, five- and 10-minute intervals. Here’s what to do, starting with the moment you open your eyes to get your day on the best possible track. You can do this all before a workout, shower and breakfast, or build these activities around those essentials.
First two minutes: Positive thoughts and no phone
Many of us (myself included) use our phones as our alarms. That’s fine — so long as you can resist the urge to read any missed messages or emails once you’re awake. If not, get an old-school alarm and keep your phone elsewhere. It’s critical that you’re not distracted at all during this routine.
“That split second when you wake up counts the most, because right then and there you can set the tone of your new day for how you want it to be,” says Jacqueline Pirtle, an energy healer, mindfulness-happiness coach, and author of “365 Days of Happiness: Because happiness is a piece of cake”. “Your first thought should be something like, ‘this will be and is already the best day ever,’ or ‘I am healthy, abundant, successful and happy,’ or ‘life loves me,’ and so on.”
These thoughts may not come automatically to you in the morning, so try rehearsing them while falling asleep the night before.
Next five minutes: Mindfulness techniques and deep breathing
Next, implement some mindfulness techniques to clear your mind. This can be in the form of meditation, prayer or affirmations of gratitude.
“I recommend that all my patients engage in some sort of meditation or prayer first thing in the morning,” says Dr. Nicole Bernard Washington, a board certified psychiatrist and the chief medical officer at Elocin Psychiatric Services. “The benefit is to clear your thoughts and allow you to start the day with a clear mind.”
“Gratitude affirmations are a great way to start the day as well,” Washington says. “By starting the day making gratitude statements you allow yourself to focus on the positive things in your life. In a world that tends to highlight the negative, starting your day off on a positive note can have positive effects on your mood.” You can also incorporate breathing exercises to help achieve clarity.
“While laying in bed, breath in through your nose, hold it for five seconds and then release the air through your mouth,” instructs Dr. Erlanger ‘Earl’ Turner, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown. “Repeat these steps several times. It should help to relax the mind and body.”
Spend five minutes journaling, which can also be done in bed. The urge to pick up your phone or laptop is probably powerful now, but hold off for just another five minutes and instead take to pen and paper (ideally you should keep a journal on your nightstand).
Christie Tcharkhoutian, M.A., MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist finds “writing upon waking” to be beneficial.
Writing continues that creative flow from your dream life into your day as opposed to automatically waking up and looking at your phone, which can put a creative block and interfere with your ability to stay present.
“Some brain research suggests that this practice is helpful for brain integration because it helps to integrate parts of the brain that involve linguistic and creative capabilities, setting a tone of creativity and balance for the rest of the day,” she says. “Writing something positive — such as three things you are grateful for or a positive intention for the day — can help to improve mood throughout the day. Our dream life and subconscious work overtime in our sleep and channeling that stream of consciousness as soon as you wake up into writing helps to feel more connected and mindful throughout your day. Writing continues that creative flow from your dream life into your day as opposed to automatically waking up and looking at your phone, reading and consuming information which can put a creative block and interfere with your ability to stay present throughout the day.”
If journaling isn’t your thing, listen to positive messages you recorded Journaling may be a practice you’re not into, or prefer to do at night. If either is the case, consider making a recording of yourself reading daily affirmations aloud and listen to them instead.
“To implement daily affirmations into your morning and set an intention by reading them aloud to yourself, or listening to a recording of yourself reading them every morning,” says Tcharkhoutian. “If positive statements about your identity are replaying like a broken record, they will combat the negative beliefs that can creep in and sabotage your day.”
Spend 5 minutes writing down the essential tasks for the day. Once you do the aforementioned practices, you can get down to the business of the day — but before your mind starts buzzing with to-dos, use these five minutes to itemize, prioritize and be super specific with what you want to achieve today in list form.
“Don’t just [write] ‘check emails.’ Write down, ‘check 20 emails in 30 minutes from x to x time,” says Stephanie Lincoln, a licensed mental health counselor, certified fitness trainer and the Founder/CEO of Fire Team Whiskey. “We all have hundreds of items on our to-do lists, and this helps us prioritize just five essentials for that day to not feel so overwhelmed.”
“Make sure your essential tasks are focused on your current priorities,” adds Lincoln. “We all suffer from ‘shiny object syndrome’; the thing that is the loudest and most flashy is the thing we will focus our attention on, but step back and ask yourself, ‘Is this really a priority, or is it just the most appealing one I want to work on because its shiny?' Identify the one task you are dreading the most and make that #1 on your list. Get that done first because most likely, the most dreaded task is usually the most important one.”
Check off each item as you go through the day so that later you, you can relish the accomplishments.
Ten minutes: Time with family (including pets)
You’ve now devoted 17 minutes to grounding yourself, meaning you have 12 minutes left. Now is the time to enjoy quality time with family.
“Set aside ten minutes for family,” advises Forrest Talley, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist. “Parents with young children will find this challenging in that they are busy getting them into their school clothes, organizing school lunch bags, etc. But for those with teens, or empty nesters, this can be a great time to connect before the business and stress of the day take on a momentum of their own.”
If you have pets, make them a part of this time.
“The bond between [pet] owners and their pets is often very strong, and a source of significant happiness,” says Talley. “Including a little quality time in the morning insures this bond is not neglected.”
What to do with those two extra minutes? You shouldn’t have a problem using them now that you can get your phone back.
At a Loss By Hara Estroff Marano, published June 19, 2020 - last reviewed on July 8, 2020 Psychology Today
It was five o’clock on a lazy Sunday afternoon two weeks into pandemic lockdown in Oakland, California, and Keeley Mooneyhan was binge-watching movies in the family room with her daughter, newly COVID-furloughed from college. Mooneyhan herself was semi-quarantined, having recently returned from a trip to Africa. Suddenly, her husband appeared in the doorway, looking lost in his own home. Even the words he issued seemed to come from a distant place: “My sister’s gone,” he said. “She’s dead. We don’t know what happened. That’s all I know.”
Raw and shocking, the news drew the three into a long, emotional embrace that dissolved only when Mooneyhan moved to lay some groundwork for grieving. There were just so many layers of loss; the woman who died so suddenly was not only her husband’s sister and her daughter’s aunt but also her own best friend from college, the one who had introduced her to her husband in the first place. Every one of those now-ruptured links was exposing the normally unimaginable fragility of life.
Mooneyhan, who runs a boutique mergers and acquisitions consultancy, first had to face the challenge of getting to the funeral, across the country in South Carolina. It took days to reach the difficult decision that gathering with extended family could be more curse than consolation, possibly compounding the loss, certainly adding to upset by potentially exposing all to the novel coronavirus during travel and transfers. Even if Mooneyhan’s family took the risk, there was no guarantee that they could get back home; California was set to impose restrictions on movement. A service in South Carolina was planned to be conveyed by camera from the funeral home, but it was not interactive. Mourners could observe the event from afar, but not share memories or musings.
Unable to assemble with others pained by the loss, struggling to understand the sudden death, feeling the acute awkwardness of asking disquieting questions from afar, Mooneyhan and her family settled into an uncomfortable state of estrangement from events. All the anomalousness shrouded the death in disbelief. “What you’re trying to do is get some human understanding here,” says Mooneyhan. “Having so many unanswered questions and the filter of distance make the death feel like a bad dream. It could just be that we’re in a prolonged nightmare together.” She is certain that the death will become more real when they eventually gather with her husband’s family. “Then we can have the kinds of conversations that allow you to heal together.”
Grief has always been a difficult emotion in America, disenfranchised in a culture fixated on happiness and positivity. But the COVID crisis has thrown into bold relief what happens when grief has literally nowhere to go, when for any reason at all it is deprived of expression—especially now, when the public good discourages even small gatherings and condemns companionship, that most human of antidotes to raw absence.
The pandemic has also forced into the open the awareness that there are a multitude of losses that garner no memorial placard yet beg for acknowledgment and attention—from the extraordinarily abstract loss of certainty and security to the more concrete loss of a business or a job, without which so many also lose that most ethereal but essential of things, their identity. Then, too, there are feelings of sadness or slowness that are not even recognized as grief, because disruptions of life can disorient anyone, and there is nothing specific to pin that mood on. Nor are there rituals or routines through which to channel grief for such losses. And so, for many, grief itself goes underground, where the pain of loss cannot be ameliorated or probed for meaning, as it must, and, too often, lurks in the shadows as a sense of alienation.
Pathways of PredictabilityAny loss presents a big challenge, affirms psychiatrist Wendy Dean. The compound losses occurring now add to that. “We don’t do a good job tolerating loss or discomfort of any kind,” observes Dean, who runs the organization Moral Injury in Healthcare. “We tend to look away from it. It’s hard to sit with it and process it. Our everyday rushing leaves us no time to assess what we really want, and now we are all being asked to reassess our priorities and values. How do we relate to loved ones versus material possessions? What are the things we value most?”
With two sons on the cusp of adulthood, Dean is particularly concerned about the many young people who have been deprived of the experience of graduation ceremonies this year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, that’s approximately 1 million candidates for an associate’s degree, 2 million for a bachelor’s degree, and just over a million for an advanced degree. “You graduate to a job, to getting an apartment,” observes Dean. “These students are not just missing out on a ceremony. They’re losing a predictable pathway to finding a future.” The loss of predictability may be one of the most unsettling experiences of all.
In addition to the collegians, there are the 3.7 million who were scheduled to graduate from high school this year. Max K. is one of them. He was happy at the prospect of leaving home in Michigan for college. But before he found out that he was accepted at every place he applied, graduation disinvited him. No ceremony. No celebration. No pranks. And of course, no prom. He felt sad, he says, about not having a formal graduation—but then he stops, and after a long moment, he adds that he feels guilty for saying so because so many people have died from coronavirus infection.
There’s plenty of reason to feel personal privation over the absence of graduation ceremonies. After all, they’re an emblem of achievement, an opportunity for accolades, an occasion for pride. Life needs such events under all circumstances. Also they’re a milestone of maturity, and taking the time to acknowledge them as such works as a kind of push-off to the challenges ahead. The future feels less certain, more rocky, without the landmarks.
Of course, Max knows that his life will go forward, that he has a future, if with a little less clarity for a while, because he did what loss forces us all to do. It compels us to reflect on what is meaningful so that we can emerge with a perspective on life that more closely fits the new realities created by the loss.
Name the PainFor the first time in the lifetimes of so many, the entire world is in communal grief. “We all lost what we thought our life would be on a day-to-day basis,” says New York psychologist Susan Birne-Stone. “There’s so much devastation right now that you just have to take a moment to acknowledge your own pain: I’m allowed to feel what I feel. Then it’s necessary to understand what’s lost and to name it.” Yet, like other psychotherapists around the country, she finds that clients are experiencing such a pile-up of losses that it is hard for them to identify and articulate all that is missing.
But once they do, they are able to know what’s required to make life feel whole again. Or to take any number of measures, from deep-breathing to writing, to self-regulate their feelings. What makes the abstract losses so challenging is that it’s difficult to know what action to take. But only then, says Birne-Stone, can anyone move on to thinking about what’s ahead. Of course, life can never be whole again the same way. “It might even be better,” she notes. “But at least you know what your life needs.”
When orders to shelter in place were enacted in urban areas, a client of hers became one of the many who were able to maintain their job and their income by working from home. Yet the man found himself increasingly unhappy. It took a couple of conversations to recognize that he was missing his daily commute. He lived alone, and his regular trips to and from work were important points of socialization.
It might mean nothing to someone else or even be an annoyance to others, says Birne-Stone, “but if a commute is your only social event of the day, it can be a significant loss.” It’s that identification, the understanding of exactly what is lost, that allows replacement in a fulfilling way—rather than with food, or drugs, or work. While loss is universal, grief is always individualized and idiosyncratic, even with the death of a loved one. There’s no formula determining which facet of an event or person is missed the most. Each life fits itself to experience in its own way.
Pain vs. SufferingTo deny the feelings of loss that suffuse so many lives right now, or to deny the validity of those feelings, she observes, risks turning pain into suffering. Pain is an unavoidable signal of distress that gives the lie to the mind-body divide: It’s an inextricable mixture of biological and psychological sensations in response to harm, and the perception of pain is influenced as much by cognitive and cultural factors as by purely neurological ones.
Suffering, on the other hand, is solely psychological, a product of the existential meaning we give to the experience of pain. As the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami succinctly puts it: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Unless acknowledged, says Birne-Stone, the pain of loss just festers within and, absent conscious awareness, subverts decision-making and every other element of functioning.
Grief gives us a job, says George Bonanno. It’s a command to slow down, to turn inward, and to recalibrate living in a world without—without our partner, without our friend, without our plans, whatever it is that’s gone. “You can feel grief for anything that is part of your identity,” says Bonanno, a professor of psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, where, as the head of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab, he studies how humans cope with loss and extreme life events.
Another distinguishing feature of the ongoing pandemic is that there is no way to know what will be permanently lost. New York psychotherapist Esther Perel sees an “invisible current of dread” running through lives right now. “We want to know: Will we ever be back to normal? When can I see my friends again? When will it be safe to open my business?”
That so much is in flux makes any loss even harder to bear, Bonanno says. “You have both the fear that your loss of livelihood is permanent and the anxiety from the continuing stress of the loss. There are so many ways people are just stuck.”
And yet, Bonanno is certain that the vast majority of people—probably 90 percent—will come to terms with what’s gone and resolve their loss, sooner rather than later. “We’ve documented how resilient most people are. Unfortunately, there is a percentage of people—around 10 percent—who don’t get over loss, at least for a couple of years.”
Waves, Not Stages“Grief is undeniably difficult,” Bonanno writes in The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss, but contrary to common belief, it is not always overwhelming. For sure, grief knocks us sideways, takes us out of the normal path of functioning for a while, but it rarely flattens us. For too long, he says, grief has been understood only through a clinical lens, narrowly focusing on the people who couldn’t get over a loss. That has become the norm for the grief response.
I am no stranger to loss. Some time ago, my husband died. We’d been close for 23 years. I remember one moment more than six months later when I wondered whether there would ever be a day when I didn’t cry multiple times. The pain was most acute each time I saw something or resumed an activity we had enjoyed together—going to the theater or the ballet or a concert, driving to our summer spot in Maine, seeing a whole roster of friends. Each resumption promised pleasures, but each was also a fresh reminder of what was missing.
The first time I traveled to a distant conference and retired to my hotel room for the night, I opened the door and just crumpled. There was no good-night message blinking from afar; I was blindsided by its absence. I felt completely untethered from the universe. But six days after the death, I had kept a longstanding lunch date with the publisher and publicist who were shepherding my next book into print. I told them not to mind, that I’d be fully present, but that there’d be moments when tears suddenly moved in like a squall in the rainforest, and just as quickly the sun would come out. For a long time, I told no one about this meeting or others I had in the weeks following the death. I was afraid of being thought uncaring. But when I recounted them to Bonanno, he smiled acceptingly.
Forget the idea that grief comes in more-or-less predictable stages that you move through over an extended period of time. Bonanno’s studies of the bereaved shift the paradigm. They show that “we have these profound emotional experiences that come in oscillations, or waves. In a book about his wife’s death, C.S. Lewis likened it to an airplane bombing—a big plane circles around, drops its load, takes quite a long time to come back, then bombs again.” Grief doesn’t take forever, Bonanno says: “The meat of the process occurs pretty quickly.” Turning to me, he adds, “You already went through something to get to the point that you could meet with your publisher in six days.”
The brain is a predictive organ, he explains. When we’re so deeply attached to someone that the attachment is part of our identity, our brain is geared toward predicting interactions with that person and relying on those interactions, even though most of the time we may not actually be in his or her presence. When somebody dies, or after the breakup of a significant relationship, our brain has the task of recalibrating the relationship.
The person is no longer physically in the world but is still in our head; we carry a mental representation of the person as part of our cognitive currency. “Your brain has to recalibrate what it means to never see the person again—without completely erasing the image within,” Bonanno says. “I just saw something that he would love. Or I want to tell her about what just happened.” The mind keeps rubbing up against the absence, and the reminder of the loss is sad and painful. The mental resetting is not an easy job, and in the first days after the loss occurs, it is hard to believe.
The sadness serves an important function. It takes the focus of our attention away from the world around us so that we can begin the mental reset. The sadness seems to slow the world down. And it sharpens our cognitive capability. A whole body of research demonstrates that sadness makes our appraisals of the world and of ourselves more accurate than usual.
Most of us have a desire to take away the pain of others, but some pain after loss is particularly useful, Bonanno points out, and many of the behaviors and rituals cultures have built around death are intended to augment the deep processes of adjustment. Funerals, for example, encourage a good cry in the presence of supportive friends. People come together to honor the dead person, which not only fosters acceptance of the death but also helps in the creation of an idealized internal image of the deceased, one in which the rough edges of everyday life have been smoothed over. Further, it connects everyone who knew the person and reaffirms social bonds in spite of the loss: He’s dead, or she’s dead, but you are still connected to us.
AdaptationIn his studies, Bonanno reports, people who are resilient cry when asked to talk about the loss early on, but they haven’t lost their ability to laugh. In fact, minutes later, the majority are able to laugh, and he knows that the laughter is genuine because his team video monitors the conversations and analyzes facial muscle movement to identify Duchenne, or real, smiling.
For all the research, don’t expect a handbook on resilience in the face of loss. “There’s no Do this or Do that and you’ll be resilient,” says Bonanno. Yet, he has identified a mindset that characterizes those who adapt to the loss without drowning in despair. They’re optimistic. They display a so-called challenge appraisal, which enables them to think, Okay, I didn’t want this to happen. It hurts like hell. But what do I need to do to get beyond it? They have a repertoire of self-regulatory strategies at their disposal that they deploy with a certain amount of flexibility. And elements of that flexibility show up as a distinct neural signature on brain scans.
But first, before everything else, they engage with the stressful event that occurred. It’s happened to me. What do I need to do? That involves optimism, challenge appraisal, confidence in coping. All are things that Bonanno and his colleagues can and do measure. And he uses the term “flexibility mindset” to sum up the process.
With sensitivity to context, those who adapt to the loss can call on a repertoire of strategies for managing distress. What do I need to do? What am I able to do? At one point it might mean leaning in to the emotional intensity of the loss, at another time and place it could mean distracting themselves. Each time, they are monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness and appropriateness of each strategy and adjusting their behavior to ease the emotional pain. Does this help me get through the day? Maybe it helps in the morning but not all day. Or I’m going to try talking to people more online. They are flexible in the self-regulatory strategies they muster and choose.
Brain imaging studies of people who are profoundly grieving show considerable activation of the corpus striatum, a major component of the reward circuit. “This is the desire part, I want this person,” says Bonanno. The activation occurs even when they’re not looking at images of the deceased or while they are doing a task that requires attention. They’re getting interfering thoughts; activation of the striatum is the brain marker.
Those who recover from grief also show that same brain signature of thinking about the person. However, they also show activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that exerts executive control over memory and attention networks. It’s the region that brokers cognitive flexibility. But when researchers asked the bereaved study subjects about their experience, they reported that they weren’t thinking about the person. “It’s not that they don’t have thoughts about the person. The mind is going to go there a lot. But they’re able to put the thoughts aside. They’re able to shift attention away from those interfering thoughts,” explains Bonanno.
Acceptance of death turns out to be one of the predictors of successful outcome. People who are strongly dependent on the relationship for their identity have difficulty grieving the loss because too much is lost with the death. Bonanno points to the story I told him about my publishing meeting days after my husband’s death. “It indicates that you have other aspects of your identity so that you can still go on. It’s as if you’re saying, A piece of me is gone with this loss, but I’m still here because I’m still a writer who writes books.”
Bonanno finds himself in the curious position of trying to persuade people that they have mental resources that can get them through loss. “It’s a message that people are suspicious of,” he says. Mental health clinicians “may overestimate the prevalence of unresolved loss because they are around people who are hurting all the time.”
Psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s work on affective forecasting offers a reason why nonclinical people may be resistant to the idea of their own resilience. Bonanno, elaborating on Gilbert’s conclusions, explains, “When you feel pain, it’s hard to believe that you won’t always feel pain.” Moreover, he says, “One of the things that people hate when they’re grieving is for a person in their life to tell them that they’ll be OK. What do you mean, OK? I hurt like crazy. How can you tell me I’m going to be OK?”
But Bonanno tells them anyway. There’s definitely a period of adapting to loss, whatever the nature of the loss. “It’s all about getting engaged with the stressor,” he says. “When something happens to us, we need to think about it a little bit. That’s imperative. It’s an unusual situation. It’s dangerous. We need to actually talk to ourselves a little bit about it. What’s happening? What’s happening now? How do I deal with this? What do I do? We can answer those questions. We’re capable of it. I’m making the case that, hey, you’re not this basket case of grief. You’re resilient.”
As the pandemic grinds on and losses of all kinds mount, we can, and must, allow time for the anguish and sadness to course through us and to identify what is missing. We also have the opportunity to consider the bigger questions that get buried in the rush of everyday life: How can we move forward, honoring the losses we have sustained?
Life as we know it has changed. This past weekend I attended a socially distant cookout complete with masked grilling, BYOB, plastic wrapped utensils, and chairs spread around the yard. Coronavirus cases are climbing in many parts of the United States. Most people I know are taking more risks than they have in the last couple of months, yet everyone I talk to is on a different page. Some are seeing family, some are seeing neighbors, others are seeing anyone who will see them. Still others have hardly left their houses since March and aren’t seeing people outside of their immediate family.
Now that summer is in full swing, people are testing the waters to find out if their friends are willing to see them and with what precautions. This article is about the social risks and benefits of seeing friends. My expertise is in communication. I am not an infectious disease expert. Other articles discuss the health and safety concerns of seeing friends.
According to CNBC, new standards for social etiquette are being set in real time and range from requiring friends to get a COVID-19 test before seeing them, taking party guests’ temperatures, or wearing masks while hanging out. When new social rules are made before our eyes, they can be hard to navigate. Below, I explain why conversations to determine how we will hang out with friends are difficult to have, what you should keep in mind if you are planning to hang out with friends, and what you should do if you and your friends are not on the same page when it comes to seeing one another in the new social world in which we live.
Why are conversations about gathering with friends during social distancing orders difficult to have?
These conversations are difficult in part because they are directly tied to our values. Some people are upholding strict precautions including not seeing friends at all, seeing them only outdoors and 6 feet apart while wearing masks, or seeing only certain people while avoiding all others. On the other end of the spectrum, people have resumed something close to pre-corona life, holding and attending crowded social events with no regard for social distancing or sanitation. Others fall somewhere in between. Our choices about the precautions we take and the way we see others reveal our values in regard to health, safety, and privilege.
A mismatch in values can challenge a friendship. Friendships are built on similarities in backgrounds, interests, and values. When people perceive a mismatch in values, they may question the fit of the friendship. Friends may judge one another for having less stringent values when it comes to coronavirus safety or for being too strict or unreasonable in their safety precautions. Friends may feel the need to explain their decisions for being strict or less strict which could involve disclosures they did not want to make about hidden health concerns.
How should people discuss seeing others during a time when exposure to friends/family should be limited?
Only do what you are comfortable with and recognize that those who are good friends will understand and respect your decisions. That said, there is a cost to continuing to avoid or limit exposure to your social network.
Friends who are spending time together are maintaining and growing their relationship while friends who are opting out are missing out. They may be doing the “right” and “responsible” thing, but they are losing out on something else. Take for example a large group of friends who all have kids the same age/grade in school. Those who are willing to hang out have just started up their in-person monthly trivia game again. They are learning about one another, spending quality time, and deepening their relationships. One couple has chosen not to participate due to coronavirus concerns. This couple will be included again in the future but conventional wisdom warns that those who do not show up, stop getting asked to attend over time.
Social network support is critically important during stressful and uncertain times such as the ones we are living in. If you are continuing to stay home and limit your exposure, be sure to keep up the virtual chats and game nights with friends to keep your sense of belonging and support intact.
What if my desire to see others differs from the people in my social network?
Find friends who are on your page and spend time with them. For those who are not, be willing to be the only person wearing a mask at a gathering or wear a mask to make a friend who is wearing one feel more comfortable. A good rule of thumb is to adopt the standards of the most health-conscious or strict person in the group. If one person wants to stay 6 feet away from others and wear a mask, it will be easier for that person to uphold their guidelines and they will feel respected if everyone at the gathering does the same. These types of behaviors will likely strengthen a friendship as people tend to appreciate when others are willing to make sacrifices for them.
My advice for navigating unknown boundaries? If you’ve set up a friend hang, err on the side of caution: Start by wearing a mask when entering another person’s space. If the default is wearing the mask, you’ll be all set if your friend turns up wearing a mask as well. You can then have a conversation about your comfort levels. If you show up sans mask and they are wearing one, you risk making them uncomfortable and put them at risk.
Post-Traumatic Growth During a Pandemic: Is That a Thing?
Can you grow your resilience while we face COVID-19? Should you try?
By Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.
We are living in the midst of the worst pandemic in modern history. COVID-19 has infected more than 4 million people and caused almost 300,000 deaths worldwide. In the U.S. alone, we are close to 80,000 cases. As a result of its life-threatening potential, high levels of contagiousness, and spread throughout the world, this novel coronavirus has severely disrupted life as we know it. As journalist Ed Young writes in The Atlantic about COVID-19:
It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed."
COVID-19 is a threat to our mental health
The mental health effects of the pandemic are yet to be fully determined. The lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers and other essential workers, the fact that COVID-19 disproportionally attacks the elderly, minorities, and other vulnerable groups, as well as the big pre-existing economic gap between rich and poor exacerbates its damaging psychological effects. Journalist Mike Levine, writing for ABC News reported that: "Last month the 'Disaster Distress Helpline' at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) saw an 891% increase in call volume compared with March 2019, according to a spokesman for the agency."
What is post-traumatic growth?
Psychological theories have long suggested that while prolonged traumas can cause untold psychological damage, there is a portion of people who report psychological growth in the face of trauma.
Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) define post-traumatic growth as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances” (p. 1).
Post-traumatic growth has five facets that survivors report experiencing:
In the U.S., we are still in the initial stages of dealing with COVID-19 and so there may not be all that much opportunity for growth yet. When the crisis is over and we finally feel safe enough to process what has happened, post-traumatic growth is more likely. If the economy recovers and people are able to get jobs, they may feel stronger because of mental shifts they made or social support they received that helped them endure. When you don’t have a job and don’t know how to put food on the table, or when you have to risk your life every day in a production line, growth may be the furthest thing from your mind and that is OK.
How to promote post-traumatic growth and resilience in your own life
For those of us who are not in the front lines, or who feel they are out of the most acute danger, it may be useful to think about how we can consciously promote post-traumatic growth in our lives. Below are some strategies for each of the five facets: a greater appreciation for life, closer social relationships, enhanced feelings of personal strength, spiritual growth, and the recognition of new life possibilities.
Greater appreciation for life
Realizing that your life and health are not guaranteed can help you appreciate each day a little bit more. Thinking about people who are worse off than you may help you feel gratitude for being able to work from home, for having a job, or for receiving a loan from the government. Reflect on the support of your colleagues, or of your family and friends, or the resources you find on social media or on podcasts or YouTube. Think about the leadership and hard work of your state’s governor and the protection that has provided you, about the wise guidance of health officials, or the courage of journalists who tell you the truth.
Closer social relationships
This facet of post-traumatic growth may be more challenging because of social distancing guidelines or stay at home orders. Nevertheless, you may begin to feel closer to neighbors, friends, or family who regularly check up on you or whom you are able to help. Working from home may give you a bit more time to talk to friends and family members via the phone or internet. You may spend more time playing and eating with your kids or talking to your teenager.
More personal strength
When you face a difficult challenge that you eventually manage to master or even just survive, you may feel psychologically stronger as a result. Perhaps you didn’t think you could stay at home for so long or face the daily fear of getting infected if you are an essential worker. Doctors or nurses may not have realized their own inner strength to keep trying to save lives in the midst of chaos and crisis. Or you may get up each day and take care of your family despite feelings of depression or severe anxiety.
As Bob Marley said, "You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice."
Stay-at-home orders present challenges to meeting with your spiritual or religious group in person, although Zoom can provide you with a piece of what you would normally get. If you are staying home, this could be a good opportunity to start a meditation practice, to do some spiritually oriented yoga, or to read books and listen to talks and podcasts that enhance your spiritual awareness. Perhaps you could take some time to reflect on the universe, on your sense of a higher power, or on the spiritual values that make your life meaningful. Acts of service like helping feed the hungry, making masks, getting groceries for your elderly neighbor, or helping your child can also deepen your spiritual wellbeing.
Facing a societal crisis like COVID-19 often facilitates a focus on what is most meaningful in our lives and what is less important. Reflecting on how you spend your time might help you realize that you are not making the most of life’s opportunities. You may decide you want to live a healthier lifestyle or be more present with your children. If you are struggling to survive, this may make thinking of new possibilities more challenging and so it may be something that you put off for when things are more stable.
“Although life is full of the experience of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” —Helen Keller
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.