It took a traumatic event to teach me one of life’s most important lessons which has helped me cope with every distressing experience that has come my way since. This includes the unprecedented reality we find ourselves living in today.
That lesson was to never underestimate the resilience of mankind. And let me tell you why.
Although nearly everyone experiences truly negative life events, a strange fact of human nature is that two people can experience exactly the same seemingly traumatic event and respond completely differently. The first might face years of struggles as a result of suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological fallout, while the second, after an initial period of being shaken up, bounces back completely.
Research has revealed a critical factor that separates those who suffer a disorder from those who never develop one. It is referred to as ‘mastery’- the degree to which individuals perceive themselves as having control and influence over life circumstances.
No one can know what situation will have this impact until after it happens. My sense of control was shattered the moment the second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre. As the day progressed, and stock exchanges around the world closed, and would remain so for days, I was convinced the financial centre of the world was destroyed along with my career.
I share this, not only to show that I didn’t just recover, but grew stronger, but also because I see so many similarities today in people’s psyche over Covid-19. There’s the same anxiety, anguish and fear of not knowing what might come next or when the crisis will pass.I speak with friends who appear to have lost all hope that things will ever get better.
The good news is we can increase our resilience by developing a stronger sense of mastery over our lives. Here are a few ways that research has proven to be successful in helping achieve this goal.
Cognitive-behaviorial therapy- (a type of talk therapy) promotes greater mastery by helping people regulate their distressing thoughts and emotions. Ruminating traumatic events can have a devastating impact on emotional and physical health. Learning to move through negative thoughts and memories, rather than getting stuck in them, is crucial to psychological and physical well-being.
On a personal note, one of the first things my therapist made me do was to stop watching and reading anything to do with the terrorist attacks.
Mindfulness training also strengthens mastery by helping you to immerse yourself in the peace that can be found in the present moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the ‘father of mindfulness’, has daily guided meditations and conversations Monday through Friday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. Visit his website for the link https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/
Expressive Writing- involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper, not to create a memoir-like masterpiece.
Finding Silver Linings- invites you to call to mind an upsetting experience and try to list three positive things about it. For example, you might reflect on how fighting with a friend brought some important issues out into the open, and allowed you to learn something about their point of view.
In a 2014 study, doing this practice daily for three weeks helped participants become more engaged with life afterward, and it decreased their pessimistic beliefs over time.
TED Talk – “Supernormal: Stories of Adversity, Resilience and Growth” – Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has spent over 2 decades studying adult development and listening to people in her clinical practice. Along the way she’s learned important lessons about resilience. One key takeaway? “Resilience is not a trait. It’s not something you were born with. It’s not something you just have,” she says.
These are indeed challenging times, but our resilience will overcome. Or as Bernie Taupin lyrics so perfectly express:
Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid
I'm still standing after all this time
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind
I'm still standing yeah yeah yeah
I'm still standing yeah yeah yeah