Written by Dr Nandini Murali
How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, poor performance in exams, financial crisis, interpersonal difficulties, terrorist attacks, pandemics and other traumatic events are examples of challenging life experiences.
Loss and grief are universal experiences woven intricately into the tapestry of our lives. From conception till death, our lives are a series of changes and transitions. Thus, as we grow into adulthood, many of the natural life transitions we experience are joyful. Some, however, are painful. Yet most are a mix of both.
Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enables them to do so?
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. It means bouncing back and bouncing forward from difficult experiences. Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience.
What happens when we are confronted with the worst? According to conventional wisdom, trauma scars us for life; wreaking psychological havoc in every area of our lives. However, recent research in psychology proves that trauma need not be a life sentence or limiting factor. On the contrary, it has the potential to enable those impacted by trauma to actually grow and transform and become the best possible versions of themselves; to find purpose and direction in the face of adversity—a process termed as post traumatic growth.
Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress.. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Resilience is a core life skill. However, unlike several other life skills, it is often glossed over or given little attention. For example, we are often told to “be strong.” However, we are not told how to “be strong!
COVID-19 is an equal opportunities player as it continues its relentless march, upending our lives and livelihoods and bringing our lives to a standstill. The pandemic has forced many of us to change the way we go about our daily lives. There is a sense of individual and collective grief all around us. Most of us are experiencing a wave of losses: economic, social, physical and emotional. For many of us, especially if we have lost a loved one due to COVID-19, these losses may build up and lead to grief. Why is it important to engage deeply with these feelings and respond appropriately to the loss and grief? Because it is only by acknowledging our grief can we move towards healing.
Avtar offers workshops on building resilience and responding with equanimity to loss and grief. Dr. Nandini Murali is Principal Strategist, Mental Health and Wellness, Avtar. She is a Certified Life Coach (Loss and Transition, Resilience and Wellness). Her book Left Behind: Surviving suicide loss was published in February 2021 (Westland Publishers).