Thought Leader Series: The resiliency of human nature

Isolation, financial stress, and uncertainty have made many people more depressed and anxious during the pandemic. The good news is that psychiatrist and neurobiology expert Dr. Richard Friedman, whose work was shared with us by an Emissary, finds that humans have boosted resilience in the face of trauma and stress. In the same way that the pandemic has tested and disturbed us, it has also clarified what’s important to us and confirmed our ability to overcome immense challenges. 

Early in the pandemic, Dr. Friedman ran support groups for first responders and medical staff. What he found was that while the group was valuable for many initially, soon the patients felt they could cope with the trauma of their situation independently. He decided to dig a little deeper into the realities of trauma recovery.

Although studies estimate that 90 percent of Americans have experienced a traumatic event, research shows that the prevalence of PTSD is estimated to be just 6.8 percent. What’s more, most people who experience PTSD see a significant drop in symptoms within three months of the trauma. 

This is not to discount the immense suffering and stress most people endured over the past year and a half. It is to say that even in the face of the most challenging collective experience in modern memory, humans still retained their innate ability to overcome grief, pain, and loneliness. 

A fundamental part of our understanding of trauma and recovery is taking stock of the factors that influence both trauma and resilience. For example, Americans of color experienced a particularly challenging pandemic experience with suicide rates increasing among these populations in 2020 despite dropping among the general population. Ensuring across the board emotional recovery from the pandemic means acknowledging these discrepancies and resources that can help bridge the gap. 

Dr. Friedman points out that factors like steady income, family support, and access to health care make all the difference when it comes to successful trauma recovery. In our day-to-day lives, he emphasizes that strategies like maintaining social bonds, exercising regularly, and engaging in mindfulness activities are all highly effective at boosting recovery from a traumatic event. Social connection especially inhibits activation of fear and anxiety circuits in the brain.

The pandemic has been incredibly difficult, but the good news is that with the right resources, the human brain is wired to bounce back from stressful events for our own survival. If you or someone you know is struggling with lingering pandemic stress, encourage them to take solace in the fact that our brains are wired for resilience and employ these fundamental tactics to tap into this natural ability. 

A special thank you to the Emissary that shared this wonderful Thought Leader Series piece with us this week.

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