Post-Traumatic Growth in the Post-COVID Era
How our world and priorities have changed.
Posted September 29, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- Post-traumatic growth refers to bouncing forward after trauma to a new version of yourself and your life.
- Due to the pandemic, more people may be embracing self-care and pacing themselves.
- Tips for increasing post-traumatic growth include taking care of yourself, playing often, and choosing a positive perspective.
My friend Louise recently wrote a poem called “Me …” about how her life, priorities, and outlook have changed in the post-COVID world:
I’ve been wandering around and wondering who I should be,
The person I was before COVID or the person I now seem to be?
I remember the importance of getting dressed to impress,
But right now, I’m happy wearing elastic waist sweats
I’ve began giving lots of my belongings away,
Can that mean I won’t be who I was yesterday?
I’m being more natural now, if my hair starts to frizz,
There’s nothing I can do -- It is what it is!
Happy I now have Ginger and George, 2 new puppies I adore,
They make my days more meaningful than they were before
There is a change happening inside me which is hard to explain,
It’s almost like wanting a life more simple and plain
So many thoughts are going through my head,
Guess I won’t be going back to the life I led
I’m not very old and definitely not young,
What I would like to do is keep having fun
Looks like my new life has just begun.
— Louise Kornfeld
Louise’s poem echoes what I’m hearing from patients, friends, and family. Many say they’re surprised that despite the fear, loss, and hardships of the pandemic, in some ways, their life has changed for the better. Researchers are less surprised. Here’s why:
1. Post-traumatic growth is real
An American Psychological Association report1 found over 700 studies documenting post-traumatic growth. It usually refers to feeling more kindness and spirituality after a traumatic event, and a desire to put those new feelings into productive action, like Louise.
Resilience is real, but it is not the same as post-traumatic growth (PTG). Resilience refers to bouncing back to your former self and life after trauma, but PTG refers to bouncing forward after trauma to a new version of yourself and your life.
You can use this checklist to measure your post-traumatic growth:
- I feel increased appreciation of life.
- I am more open to experience.
- I communicate with more patience and less anger.
- I am developing new interests and perspectives.
- I recognize my personal strength.
- I am more spiritual.
Each “yes” answer indicates some post-traumatic growth. Dr. Richard Tedeschi2 estimates that about one-half to two-thirds of people who went through significant trauma, like Hurricane Katrina, the World Trade Center disaster, military combat experience, and the COVID pandemic, show lasting emotional growth.
2. Self-care is now embraced
Until last year, most of us only practiced self-care during downtime or as a reward after a tough week. Since the pandemic, however, surveys find that about 70% of us have planned more self-care in 2021 because the stress-reducing routines we started during the pandemic have become a permanent part of our new daily life.
Some popular pandemic stress-reducing activities include:
- Adult coloring books and jigsaw puzzles.
- Re-organizing closets, wallets, and car trunks.
- Having impromptu dance parties with family at home.
- Yelling when no one is listening.
- Longer showers and baths.
- Playing with pets.
- Watching movies to be fully distracted from the evening news.
According to an Oracle report3 of over 2,000 consumers, 70% of us say we started a “trendy” hobby during the pandemic—the most common being at-home workouts (46%), baking sourdough bread or banana bread (27%), making whipped coffee (23%), and filming TikTok videos (21%). Like Louise, we want to create more fun.
3. Pausing and pacing are now valued
As life as we knew it ground to a halt for many, so did the pressure of commuting, dressing up, FOMO, and over-exhaustion. We were able to pace ourselves during the day and pause at night to recoup, and we want to continue this in our new life.
According to the Oracle study3, 70% of us also say we read more and learned more during the pandemic and now feel smarter. Like Louise, many of us have rediscovered who we are, rather than who we thought we should be, and are happy we did.
4. Priorities are now changed
A survey commissioned by Parade Magazine and the Cleveland Clinic4 found that 78% of 1,000 respondents said that while quarantine and social distancing was difficult, it’s made them value their relationships, 65% said it made them re-evaluate how they spend their time, and 58% said it made them re-evaluate their life goals.
Many of my patients say the same is true for them. Many are now saving for homes rather than spending money on restaurants or vacations, many scheduled IVF cycles, egg donation, or egg freezing as soon as they could rather than waiting, and many have made their relationships more of a priority than before.
Increase your post-traumatic growth
If you want to increase your post-traumatic growth, here are some ways to start:
- Take care of yourself. We spend so much of our time worrying and caring for others without putting that same emphasis on ourselves. Self-care isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution—some meditate, others read, some emphasize beauty and wellness treatments, and others veg out and watch a favorite TV show—however you like to care for yourself works.
- Play often. Play is nature’s de-stressor. It also increases our immunity, reduces pain perception, relaxes our muscles, and increases endorphins, our innate natural mood enhancers. So don’t send the pets, partners, or kids out to play—mask up and go with them. They’ll never remember the laundry you did during the pandemic, but they’ll never forget the times you played with them.
- Try doing a vision board. A personal board for 2021 might include a postponed trip, wedding, or baby. It might focus on plans for a new business or charity venture. A visual display helps focus your hope for the future and gives the future shape and color.
- Choose a positive perspective. It’s not always easy, but we can choose to focus on what we have rather than what we have lost and what we can control rather than on what we can’t control. We can choose a mission to give us a forward focus and spirituality to give us emotional comfort. We can focus on the strengths we learned that we have and enter our post-pandemic new life with curiosity and hope.
Although the pandemic was not what any of us anticipated, its lingering effects on our priorities, well-being, and perspective are something to be appreciated. We can’t go back to a pre-pandemic world, but we can embrace this new one with open arms.
“Looks like our new life has just begun.”
Posttraumatic Growth, Richard G. Tedeschi, Jane Shakespeare-Finch, Kanako Taku, Lawrence G. Calhoun, First Published2018, eBook Published31 May 2018, New York, Routledge
The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook
Tedeschi, R.G., & Moore, B.A. New Harbinger Publications, 2016
The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: A Revision Integrating Existential and Spiritual Change
Tedeschi R.G., et al., Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2017
Monitor on Psychology//2016//11//Growth after trauma, By Lorna Collier
November 2016, Vol 47, No. 10
Oracle “86% of Americans Report a Change in Personality Due to the Pandemic”. Austin, Texas—May 10, 2021
Health Essentials, Cleveland Clinic , 9/25 2020, “Here’s How the Corona Pandemic has Changed our Lives”. (Results from a survey conducted with PARADE magazine)