The field of psychology used to focus solely on the pathologies of people. In other words, it focused on what makes people depressed, anxious, and unhappy.
But the last few decades brought a much needed addition to the field: Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology narrows its research onto what makes people thrive; what gives them a sense of wellbeing. Under the broad topic of Positive Psychology is a smaller research focus. I’ve spent the last five years researching this topic, which is called Post Traumatic Growth.
Here’s the deal, when people go through a massive traumatic event about 5 – 35 percent will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
But weirdly, a subgroup of those become better people as a result of a massive negative event. Hear me clearly, the pain, anguish, and loss of the trauma still occurs, but eventually, some say life is better as a result of the trauma.
How can that be?
Here are a few of the ways people said they grew after a traumatic event:
- They bounced back from diversity and became a different person. They believed they’re a better person based on what they experienced.
- Their relationships changed. Suddenly they realized who their important friends and family members were. They got close to those people rather than spreading their love to everyone.
- They had a new appreciation of life. For example, they may have said they loved their family but spent all their time working. After a traumatic event, they saw things clearly and felt a need to live by their values.
- They saw new possibilities. For example if they lost their job, they enrolled at a university.
- Spirituality became important. People who grew after trauma went back to the faith of their childhood or refined their faith with newfound beliefs. They reached to something higher than themselves, and found awe and wonder in things like nature. They identified with something bigger than themselves.
Unfortunately only 50% of people say they experienced Post Traumatic Growth after trauma. The good news is some of tools for growing can be taught.
- Find the benefit – Many people were spontaneously talking about the benefits 18 months after the traumatic incident, so researchers started asking about them earlier. Incredibly, helping people ask about benefits, earlier, seems to help people avoid PTSD.
- Examine your thoughts and turn your rumination into reflection – When you ruminate you dwell on every detail (“Why did he leave me? Why Why Why?”). When you reflect you step back and say, “What is the meaning of this for my entire life?” or “What will I be thinking 10 years from now?” You look at the facts instead of the emotions. It helps to pretend you are a philosopher.
- Reframe the trauma – Ask, “How has this changed me for the better?” Look at the good in people. Know you can protect yourself in the future. Figure out what you have control of instead of where you have lost control. Ask, “What type of person have I become?” (Asking people what they were like before the traumatic incident may actually induce PTSD.)
- Create positive emotions – Try to come up with things that make you a little happier. Be strategic. For instance, make yourself watch a funny movie. Every single day you need more positives than negatives. When you put your brain into a positive state it allows you to see options. In a research study, one group had negative emotions induced. When given a problem they found 32 solutions to solve it. A separate group had positive emotions induced. They found 74 solutions to the problem. You don’t make good decisions when you are stressed. You will think better when you feel better.
*I’ve read stacks of books and clinical journals on this topic, but the outline for this post came from this podcast: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/jolantaburke/episodes/2014-06-03T14_56_23-07_00
Harvard Medical School has a few more suggestions to help your stressed brain:
- Stay positive. Laughter has been found to lower levels of stress hormones, reduce inflammation in the arteries, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol.
- This practice of inward-focused thought and deep breathing has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. Meditation’s close relatives, yoga and prayer, can also relax the mind and body.
- Every time you are physically active, whether you take a walk or play tennis, your body releases mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. Exercising not only melts away stress, it also protects against heart disease by lowering your blood pressure, strengthening your heart muscle, and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
- It’s impossible to escape stress when it follows you everywhere. Cut the cord. Avoid emails and TV news. Take time each day — even if it’s for just 10 or 15 minutes — to escape from the world.
- Find ways to take the edge off your stress. Simple things, like a warm bath, listening to music, or spending time on a favorite hobby, can give you a much-needed break from the stressors in your life.
*I discovered something wonderful and maybe you would like to try it too. It’s the world’s most perfect fitting bra.
Here’s a link for $15 off:
Here’s how it works. You look at the pictures of different body shapes, click on one that best describes you, then you pick the band size of your last good fitting bra. ThirdLove selects the best bra style and size for you. They charge you $2.98 for postage. You get to keep it for 30 days and if you don’t like it, you mail it back (only about 4% do!). If you like it, you keep it, and they charge your credit card the price. They seem a little pricey but if you’ve ever spent $40 or $50 for an uncomfortable bra, you won’t hesitate to pay the price for this one.
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.
She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."