What Is Post-Pandemic Growth? A Neuroscientist On This Mental Health Phenomenon
This unique reaction to shared trauma will impact 10% of the population.
Approximately 175 million people worldwide have been infected by COVID-19. There were over 600,000 deaths. Millions of individuals lost their jobs. And we experienced a year of isolation due to social distancing. Case in point: We've all been subjected to pandemic-induced trauma of some sort.
Trauma research shows that the vast majority of people who experience trauma—about 80%—will recover in just a few months. About 10% of people, however, will develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as flashbacks, hypervigilance, or feeling numb.
What about the other 10%?
Those are the lucky ones who will experience post-pandemic growth—my timely take on the term “post-traumatic growth” (PTG) coined by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. Essentially, for these individuals, going through a traumatic event has a lasting positive effect that makes them feel stronger and more alive. In this case, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research has found that PTG may involve any of the following five factors—represented by the mnemonic SPARK:
How to optimize a PTG response.
As we begin heading into post-pandemic life, think about changes you can make to nurture these five areas of PTG.
I generally recommend spending 10 to 20 minutes a day in meditation or prayer. Not only could this help you get in touch with your spiritual side, but they're also both fantastic stress-reduction tools. In fact, one brain-imaging study from UCLA researchers found the hippocampus (which is involved in memory and mood) and the frontal cortex were significantly larger in people who meditate regularly. I recommend this practice to all of my patients for better brain health and mental well-being.
I also advise focusing on positive thoughts as much as possible, to trigger a release of feel-good neurochemicals—this can help with the possibilities and appreciation aspects of PTG, among other constructive impacts on well-being. Establishing a consistent gratitude practice can be beneficial, as well.
These are just a few examples of useful practices, but this experience will, of course, look different for everyone. The important thing is to find what works best for you personally, and hopefully take steps towards a more positive, meaningful future.