Now is the Time for
If I hear one more time about how hard the last few years have been, I think I am going to scream from the rooftops. As bedside clinicians, we have all seen and personally experienced more than our fair share of stress, fear, disappointment, death, violence, and depression. No one needs to remind us what we have experienced.
Can there be any good found deep within these times of unrest? Eventually, we will be able to look back on all this and see some good among all the bad. This positive outlook is a known psychological phenomenon called post-traumatic growth (PTG). University of North Carolina psychology professor Richard Tedeschi and many other psychologists studied this phenomenon for over 25 years to find negative experiences can indeed create positive change.
This may not seem like earth-shattering news, but we could all use this reminder when enduring traumatic situations like COVID for months or years on end. Some of these positive changes are personal strength, new opportunities, improved relationships, spiritual growth, and increased feelings of gratitude and appreciation. Despite the loss and negative emotions experienced during the coronavirus pandemic, we can all start to consider how it positively changed (and continues to change) our personal growth trajectory.
The good news about post-traumatic growth is that it most often occurs naturally without any formal therapy or interventions. To achieve this, we don’t have to pay for an expensive therapist or book an appointment with a counselor. According to her ANJ article on the subject of PTG, Anna Courie, DNP wrote that a means to achieving PTG is to “focus on growth rather than disorder.”
5 ways to focus on your growth
- Education – To move from post-traumatic stress (PTS) to PTG, we need to educate ourselves about what actually happened to cause it. We lived in a society where we felt safe. We thought highly contagious, deadly viruses were a thing of the past. We assumed things like this happened in other parts of the world, not ours. Well, 2020 showed us how wrong we were. Our assumptions created a sense of confusion and anxiety. Who do we trust now? As so many have been forced to reevaluate their work and home situations, we have learned we need to do things differently or with more intention. Since the pandemic, how many commercials have you seen for hotels and restaurants proudly claiming, “We have an intensive cleaning protocol to keep you safe”? I can’t help but wonder each time I hear it – shouldn’t that have been the case before COVID? Take an honest inventory of your life to educate yourself on what you can do better, do more thoroughly, or even do less often to improve your quality of life.
- Manage your negative emotions –We need to learn how to manage our anxiety, guilt, and anger. Instead of focusing on losses and worst-case scenarios, remember your wins and successes. How many COVID patients did you care for that DID make it back home? How many family members were able to talk to their loved one in the ICU only because you took the time to hold that phone? We need to work to manage negative emotions as they occur. Don’t put it off till later – think about it NOW. Things like physical exercise, meditation, and relaxation-focused breathing can all help. The important thing is that you discover what makes you feel positive and just do it.
- Disclosure – Be open when speaking of your struggles and how you manage them. Talk with friends and loved ones about how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic or other recent social issues makes you feel. Encourage frank and frequent communication with others about these feelings. Talking with people you’ve shared traumatic or difficult experiences can be a powerful form of therapy. The idea of disclosing your feelings or perspective about those events may sound daunting for some of us, but it can prove very cathartic. You and whomever you discuss it with will likely come away feeling less isolated and perhaps a little stronger emotionally.
- Keep a journal – Develop a narrative or journal that describes what the trauma has caused and what positive things can come out of it. The act of writing it out helps you to organize those random thoughts in your head. How has the trauma forced you to look at things differently? What new paths or opportunities have come from being removed from your comfort zone? There are many stories of famous people and large companies reinventing themselves after significant losses. You can do the same thing – channel the energy (AKA frustration, if we’re being honest) towards becoming a better, wiser you.
- Participate in service for others – During the aftermath of trauma, finding ways to serve others helps us get our own closure to the trauma. As healthcare providers, we are naturally service-oriented – however, helping someone heal from their trauma in a meaningful way will help you remember exactly who you are and why you chose to be a nurse. You don’t need to save the world, create a nonprofit organization, or find the cure for COVID. Little things can still help – things like supporting local restaurants or small businesses, teaching your child or grandchild a cherished family recipe, or volunteering at your local food kitchen once a month. Any action that benefits others and makes you feel grateful or fulfilled can help you achieve PTG.
Post-traumatic growth develops as you focus more on yourself and your feelings. Simply put, it is a state of mind. Take some time to see the good around you. Something as ordinary as acknowledging how good your morning coffee tastes can make a difference. Have a conversation with someone you haven’t talked to in years. Even for those who are usually quick to adapt (I’m talking to you, nurses and travel nurses!), growth still takes some time. It can’t be forced or rushed, but the healing done along the way is certainly worth the effort. The opportunity to achieve personal growth never be wasted. Let’s all strive to find something positive, even if it means working on ourselves to get there.
Angela Totora, MBA/HA, CHP, RN
Courie, Anna. The posttraumatic nurse Focus on growth rather than disorder. American Nurse Journal. November 2022.
Tedeschi, Richard. Growth After Trauma. Harvard Business Review. July-August 2020.
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