Post Traumatic Growth and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Two Camps

May 13, 2021

We have all seen it and are living it in one way or another.

There are two camps, and individuals in each of these camps see the COVID-19 pandemic in a different light.

How people reacted and acclimated to the COVID-19 pandemic speaks volumes about the implications of Post Traumatic Growth.

The COVID-19 Pandemic: The Starting Point

The COVID-19 pandemic was sudden, painful, and full of turmoil — just like so many other tragedies we may face.

There’s no doubt about it. The pandemic has been traumatic.

Life Coach and Therapist Michelle Quarton notes that when you compare trauma and the pandemic, they are very similar.

When we first read the news or watched the news on television, our initial reaction was likely one of uncertainty, one that made us say, “Wow. We have a pandemic. What does that mean? What happens now?”

The change in our lives was sudden and unexpected, and one we had not experienced before. One day, it was life as usual. The next thing we knew, schools and businesses were shut down, and our lives changed dramatically.

“That subtle, shocking, abrupt uncertainty is much like what happens when you have a trauma, like a death,” she said.

Then the Fear Set In

After the initial shock, fear set in with every age group. Even though all age groups experienced this fear differently, there was anxiety across the board, along with isolation. Not being able to live life like we had been and not being able to go places led to this unexpected sense of isolation. Even handling basic needs like shopping at grocery stores was not the same.

The initial reaction to news of the pandemic was one of fear, shock, and uncertainty, and for many people, the subsequent isolation led to anxiety and depression throughout the year.

The initial reaction to news of the pandemic was one of fear, shock, and uncertainty, and for many people, the subsequent isolation led to anxiety and depression throughout the year.

The pandemic led to increased anxiety and depression in all age groups, even for young children we don’t typically see having depression or anxiety. Suicides, domestic violence, and substance abuse all increased, and chronic physical conditions worsened. People also experienced COVID weight gain and insomnia or other sleep disturbances.

These physical and mental health issues in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic are being studied extensively around the world. Researchers are comparing this pandemic to past pandemics or other large-scale tragedies, such as tsunamis, that change people’s lives.

At the heart of it all, Michelle notes that despite the increased anxiety and depression that you would have normally from a trauma, you also have Post Traumatic Growth.

Although they are facing the same crisis, people reacted in very different ways throughout the pandemic. In the face of COVID-19, how people reacted throughout the year and continue to react makes all the difference in terms of how they cope with trauma. In fact, Michelle said she has seen two specific camps.

The Two Camps

The first camp includes people who continue to feel anxiety and fear without adjusting or finding support. People who have not been able to adjust are more likely to have problems, which may even last long after the pandemic is over.

The second camp of people accepted what they cannot change and adjusted in positive ways. In essence, this is Post Traumatic Growth, so the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed us to see its implications firsthand.

Throughout the pandemic, many individuals bought bicycles or other exercise equipment and spent more time admiring the beauty of the Great Outdoors.

Throughout the pandemic, many individuals bought bicycles or other exercise equipment and spent more time admiring the beauty of the Great Outdoors.

For instance, when the pandemic first began, how the virus was spreading was not completely clear. At first, we were washing groceries, washing clothing before coming into the house, and doing many other things to mitigate the chance of getting COVID. Over time, we learned that it’s not as necessary to wash bananas or take your shoes off before entering the home, for example. By listening to science, studying, and adjusting, people in this camp have learned to modify their lifestyles as needed.

People in this camp also expanded their horizons in many different ways.

One way was an increased focus on healthy living and spending more time outdoors. They bought exercise equipment, such as the Peloton, which has the added benefit of a live trainer who may help users feel less isolated.  Bicycles have been consistently sold out throughout the pandemic, bought up by individuals who are getting outdoors to exercise. They also participated in online exercise classes.

People expanded their horizons by taking advantage of music opportunities that were being offered for free online. Others adopted pets from rescue shelters for companionship.

Additionally, the number of people offering helping hands to others or volunteering in their communities was beyond that of a typical year.

“So the goodness of people has really come out, and that’s part of that Post Traumatic Growth process. When you’re changing all those positive behaviors, you’re not as focused on that dread,” she said.

The fact that volunteerism increased during the COVID-19 pandemic has significant implications regarding Post Traumatic Growth and PTG research.

The fact that volunteerism increased during the COVID-19 pandemic has significant implications regarding Post Traumatic Growth and PTG research.

Others used their creative energy to start new and innovative businesses, such as those in photography, art, music, and writing. One researcher, for example, started interviewing students about their experiences and created a blog about it to help others see that they are not alone.

“People are doing great things, and that’s part of that Post Traumatic Growth mindset,” Michelle said.

It’s not that people in this camp are not feeling the effects of the pandemic, but how they are responding makes a difference in their current and future mental health.

Along these lines, people who are motivated to accept what is happening and adapt tend to seek therapy. They recognize that asking for help is a strength in itself. In fact, therapists are extremely busy right now, and that’s a positive reflection of Post Traumatic Growth.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

So many people are researching the long-term impacts of the pandemic, but we’re not going to know that outcome for a while because we’re still in the midst of it.

However, it clearly has many implications for Post Traumatic Growth awareness and research. Now that we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Michelle says she is still seeing these two camps.

Individuals who continue to live in fear and solitude may have problems in the future, but those who are able to grow and adapt are more likely to emerge stronger and more aware of their power to overcome trauma.

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