Is There Hope After the Pandemic?

Is There Hope After the Pandemic?

Jim Windell

           We’re not out of the woods yet with the coronavirus pandemic. But millions of us are vaccinated and there is the possibility of a return to a less socially-distanced life in the next few months.
            However, living through the pandemic has been traumatic for many people – not only in the U.S., but around the world. After all, millions suffered from getting the virus and a half a million Americans died. Those deaths, because of restrictions, have – for the most part – been unmourned. In effect, nearly everyone has been touched by the virus. That means that trauma and PTSD have been rampant.
            But is there hope of a rebound? Will we all recover? Could there even be post-traumatic growth?
            A number of writers have tackled these questions lately. I read several articles for this blog. Among the stories I read were articles by Chery Glaser (KCRW Podcast), Jane Mai Ngo (Rewired) and Marco della Cava (USA Today) – and I drew from all of these to summarize what many experts are saying about the future.  
            Dr. Michael Wilkes, professor of medicine and global health at UC Davis, notes that if we consider the coronavirus pandemic as a disaster then we may have passed through the worst of this catastrophe and may actually be in a reconstruction phase. This means that we may be, just like those who have experienced the devastation of a bombing or an earthquake, looking to rebuild and establish a new beginning.    
            While Dr. Wilkes acknowledges that each of us may be in different personal or community circumstances, many of us are thinking about positive changes that we've made during the pandemic and which we want to maintain as we anticipate a pandemic-free life in the next several months. Wilkes points out that while some people have found that their relationships have been challenged, others have reconnected with old friends and acquaintances. Others have developed new hobbies and developed new routines.
            Referring to the concepts of Tedeschi and Calhoun, Wilkes says that these two psychologists introduced the concept of post-traumatic growth and that they found that people who endure psychological struggles following some adversity often see positive growth afterwards. “We can come to appreciate life in new ways, build new relationships and connections, develop new hobbies and learning opportunities, identify strengths, and perhaps even find some spiritual change,” Wilkes said.
           Talking recently to Marco della Cava, Richard Tedeschi said that to achieve post-traumatic growth, sufferers of trauma must first recognize and accept the ways in which core beliefs have been shattered by an event. If people accept that an emotional earthquake has occurred, Tedeschi said, “That allows humans to grow in five specific domains: appreciation of life, relationships with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength and spiritual change.”
           Tedeschi, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and distinguished chair at the Boulder Crest Institute for Posttraumatic Growth, went on to say that positive change in those five areas begins with the necessary reconstruction of core beliefs; core beliefs such as the predictability and controllability of life – beliefs and ideas that perhaps prior to the traumatic event often went either unexamined or were taken for granted. Tedeschi noted that the journey to growth can take years and on average only half of trauma sufferers truly succeed. And for some groups, for instance, communities of color, such change may prove particularly difficult to come by given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19.
           "Shared trauma can initiate post-traumatic growth in communities or whole societies,” Tedeschi said, “and we will be witnessing that in the near future as this pandemic resolves and we see what remains."
           While millions of Americans are being vaccinated almost every day, it is far from clear as to when the nation will bounce back from COVID-19. There is no question that the desire to rebound is strong. Governors of most states have lifted restrictions, despite new surges and rising hospitalizations in some areas. Certainly, most Americans seem tired of restrictions as well as financial challenges and various losses – of friends and a familiar way of life. Many are eager to resume travel, full employment, vacations and being with friends.
           “Appreciation for life may occur in someone who recovers from a serious case of COVID-19,” says Tedeschi. “Changes in relationships may happen for people who experience caring and kindness in their struggles. Spiritual changes could happen as a person shifts perspective on how life can seem random. Personal strength could come to people who rode out challenges as first responders, and new possibilities may be recognized by those forced to shift into new employment.”
           Bouncing back, according to some economists, might even mean a return from the calamitous impacts of COVID-19 and the emergence of a new Roaring ‘20s – just as our country experienced following World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. The Roaring 20s saw a fiscal and cultural explosion in the country.
           “When this plague ends, you’ll have something very similar as people relentlessly search each other out and there is sexual licentiousness, an economic boom and a blossoming of the arts,” said Nicholas Christakis, a professor of social and natural science at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
           However, Christakis, author of “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live,” sounds a note of caution as the buoyancy of a Roaring 20s might still be a few years away. He suggests 2024 as the most likely time when this boom occurs.
           “First, we’ll have the intermediate period lasting a few years, where we’re dealing with the economic shock of the virus, the impact to education, and a toll of both the dead and the millions disabled by COVID-19,” he said. “We’ll have to mop up. That’ll take time.”
           Also taking time will be confronting the trauma we’ve been through. It generally takes time to deal with the experiences of a disaster.
           “If you’re able to purposefully think about what happened to you and make some meaning of it, that can lead you to a higher level than before,” said Whitney Dominick, a social psychologist at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Dominick is in the process of conducting research on whether individuals impacted by COVID-19 have experienced post-traumatic growth over the past six months. Dominick says that early findings show that while growth overall has not been detected, many people studied did report improvements in the areas of personal strength and new possibilities.
           Michael Wilkes says there are steps to take to find positive outcomes to the pandemic. “I guess the first strategy is to pause for self-reflection and ask ourselves how am I doing? Am I feeling isolated? Are my relationships suffering? What has helped me cope?” he says.
           Wilkes also points out that we need to be alert to avoiding maladaptive coping. Maladaptive coping, he says, could mean working around the clock without breaks or without checking in with family or friends. It could also mean using drugs or alcohol, or constantly being angry. “Part of the growth is knowing where we are, and having compassion for ourselves,” Wilkes says. He adds that we need to show ourselves the grace we deserve in having weathered this incredible storm over the past year or so. “It's easier sometimes to do it for others than it is to do it for ourselves.”
           Psychologist Richard Tedeschi says that it is critical for those seeking post-traumatic growth to find an "expert companion" – a nonjudgmental sounding board with whom to share thoughts and progress.
           “In explaining what you’re feeling to them, you get a better understanding of yourself,” he says. “This is not an easy process; it is a struggle. But with work, you start to see a forward-looking story to your life. You can start to write the novel about yourself, instead of being on autopilot and letting life happen to you.”

           To read the original stories, find them at:

Post-traumatic growth: How COVID helps us change for the better and refocus priorities; KCRW Podcast -- hosted by Chery Glaser;  Available at:


How the Pandemic Could Spur Post-Traumatic Growth; by Jane Mai Ngo. Rewired:

 After COVID-19, post-traumatic growth could bring creativity, joy back into your life, but perhaps not until 2024; Marco della Cava, USA TODAY. Available:


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