MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: From crisis to growth

By Bill Mory
Special to the Herald Democrat

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

I keep this quote on a plaque on the wall of my waiting room in my Sherman office. It is easy to wonder when we will get back to feeling more normal after the significantly stressful events of the past year. Psychology and science suggest we may actually do better than that. Better than just feeling normal again. Richard Tedesh and Lawrence Calhoun coined the term “Post traumatic growth” (PTG), in the mid 1990’s to describe the positive psychological change that can be experienced as result of highly challenging and stressful life circumstances.

We all have been impacted by the stressful life circumstances of the last year to some degree or another. These stressful events shake up our worlds. In recent years, Psychology and Brain Science have begun to help us understand these psychological processes that can turn adversity into adapting and advantage.

Once aspect of the process is called Cognitive Exploration. Simply put, we start trying to understand what is happening. It’s a sort of ‘stressed curious approach’ toward the stressful events which increases the likelihood that we will find new meaning in these events. Then comes ‘rumination’, which is replaying the thoughts and feelings over and over again. Good social support is important during this whole process. The rumination is your own brains way of beginning to process the stressful event. It is hard to have strong negative feelings such as anger, sadness, fear and guilt with increased stressful events. Rather, our tendency is to suppress or avoid negative feelings. This typically, and paradoxically, makes things worse because negative emotions are easy to get stuck in. Processing these negative emotions is an important part of moving towards PTG.

This concept of processing emotions is a core theme of Emotional Brain Training (EBT), which helps people more effectively process their negative emotions. It also has many other relational benefits. When negative emotions are processed effectively, it opens up a person’s ability to increase their “psychological flexibility”. This, in turn, helps to connect us with the power of our positive emotions and lets us respond to life events more successfully than we are able to when we are otherwise stuck in the negative emotional stress response.

Negative events and circumstances in our lives that create stress are difficult to navigate. The research on post traumatic growth offers hope that after the significant challenges of extremely stressful events, such as the current pandemic, we can come out stronger, more adaptive and creative and with a deeper sense of appreciation and meaning than before. Viktor Frankl had a sense of this many years ago when he wrote “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.”

Bill Mory

Bill Mory is licensed therapist in private practice, in Texoma, who is an active member of the local behavioral health network and a provider of workplace training on Mindfulness, Emotional Brain Training and other topics. Learn more at www.morytherapy.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.