Bouncing forward – using adversity to become stronger and better

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

At the risk of stating the obvious, times have been tough for many of us. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020, in some way or other we’ve all faced challenges – challenges to our physical and psychological health, as well as our occupational and financial wellbeing.  

Although the pandemic and all that’s come with it, including social and activity restrictions, has affected different people differently, every one of us would have experienced some degree of psychological distress; if you’ve not felt as good as you usually would then this is totally appropriate and only to be expected.  

Under these circumstances, one might even expect the more extreme cases to possibly go on to develop post-traumatic stress; a psychological phenomenon in which those who endure life threatening, or severely negative life events suffer with a collection of symptoms including high levels physiological arousal, as well as (among other things) disrupted sleep and nightmares.  

But as bad as it can be, the research suggests that of those who experience severe traumatic events, only a small percentage actually develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Rather, most return to relatively normal functioning relatively quickly. This goes to show how resilient we humans can be, and illustrates how well many of us bounce back from adversity.  

But today I want to talk to you about something more than just bouncing back. Bouncing back is OK but what we know is that a significant percentage of people actually bounce forward; that is, they don’t just return to where they were before the hard times hit but more so, they become even stronger and better.  

If asked how they feel sometime after the disruptive event has passed, a significant number of people report, in some way or other, having grown wiser and more mature, having learned and grown or improved.  

This is what positive psychologists call post-traumatic growth, and it’s a fascinating construct from which we can learn and for which we can aim. At some point, despite Covid, we will begin to return to “normal life” again. When we do, we can just “bounce back” to the previous “normal” or we can try to “bounce forward” to something better!  

How? I’m glad you asked. And I’m happy to proffer the following tips which I believe will help you shape your better future… 

  • To begin with, make some time to reflect. It’s difficult to do this in the midst of high levels of distress so find a time when you’re feeling relatively calm and able to think clearly  

  • Following on from the previous point, make an effort to view the distress and disruption you’ve experienced, whatever it’s been like for you, as a learning opportunity. You don’t have to like what’s happened, but you can certainly choose to learn from it 

  • Think back on your life before all this happened and make two lists: what did you love most about your life and what did you least like about it 

  • Then, set some specific goals to maximise the things on your first list and to eliminate or at least to minimise those on the second list 

  • Similarly, think about the time you’ve spent in the thick of the current stressors and ask: what, if anything, have I enjoyed or loved about this and what have I not liked 

  • In the same way you did earlier, then, make a plan to maintain and maximise that which has been good and remove or resolve that which hasn’t been  

  • And finally, along similar lines, make another list, this time thinking of the future: in an ideal world, over the next 1, 3 or 5 years, what would you most like to do more of and/or achieve?  

  • Now, turn each of these lists into some specific, measurable and achievable goals 

By definition, stress and adversity are difficult and unpleasant. But this doesn’t mean they need to be all bad. If we can learn from the bad and become better as a result of the bad then in some strange way, that which has been bad can help you create that which can become good.  

  


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Please note: Dr. Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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