Tuesday 9 June 2020 2:49 pm

Cheer up, crisis and trauma can spur positive growth

Dr Paul Marsden is a chartered psychologist working with WPP digital agency SYZYGY

Do you have a corona-buddy — someone you can talk to about your experiences during the pandemic and its aftermath? 

Psychologists suggest that a post-pandemic buddy system might help us get back to some sense of normality at work and in life.

For many of us, the pandemic has been a traumatic experience. Even for those fortunate enough not to have had loved ones touched by death or disease, we still have ample reason to feel stressed, anxious, confused, helpless, and overwhelmed.

The world does not seem as safe, as just, or as predictable as before.

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The good news from a psychology standpoint is that it turns out that most of us are surprisingly resilient. 

If research into previous epidemics — Sars, Mers, Avian and Swine Flu, for example — is anything to go by, most people will rise to the challenge, adapt, and bounce back relatively swiftly to our pre-pandemic selves and lives. 

So, ignore those who warn that coronavirus has changed everything — including you — forever. They are probably selling you something, and there is little evidence or precedent to support their catastrophising. If you are going to bet on anything, bet on human resilience.

That’s what makes having a corona-buddy so useful — someone with whom you can chat and let off steam about your pandemic thoughts and feelings. Having an outlet for your emotions may even help you focus and function better at work by reducing the risk of intrusive thoughts, feelings and flashbacks that get in the way when you are trying to do something else.

Coming together is a way for us all to build up resilience and the ability to thrive in the emerging “new normal”, through sharing our experiences. Far from being socially distanced, we could in fact end up closer together than ever before.

The other good news from the psychology of pandemics is that some of us may even experience what psychologists call “post-traumatic growth” (PTG).  

Think of PTG as the opposite of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whereas a small minority of us may be psychologically scarred or weakened by the pandemic, many will instead grow. 

PTG is about the experience of positive change as a result of the struggle with a highly challenging crisis. And as a result of PTG, we become “antifragile” — stronger, wiser, and more purposeful.

PTG occurs when a traumatic experience results in us shifting our priorities based on a greater appreciation of life. Having made it through the pandemic, we then experience an emboldened sense of personal strength that can empower us to see and seize new opportunities. 

Another sign of PTG is experiencing warmer relations with others or finding that we have greater faith in the human spirit.

Although PTG applies primarily to us as individuals, it is possible that businesses can experience this type of post-crisis growth too. 

So, as the UK economy grinds into gear, there is an opportunity to reset business priorities based on an increased appreciation for human life, happiness and wellbeing, to build on our business strengths, seize new opportunities, forge warmer relationships with our colleagues, clients, customers and communities, and to find positive purpose in the work we do. 

The future is positive. The future is growth.

Main image credit: Getty

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