Lessons of Resilience

As I write this, cozy in my house after a major nor’easter snow storm giving us yet another reason to stay inside and off the roads, I am reminded that in some ways, this coronavirus pandemic, the restrictions and challenges that go with it is a defining time in all of our lives.  We have been asked to curtail social interactions, wear masks, restrict our travel and movement and in some cases, endure unspeakable suffering. For too many, this has also included the death of a loved one.  But my strongest belief is this – The defining factor that will help us weather this storm going into 2021 can be summed up in one word – “Resilience”!

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals.

What Creates Resilience?

Psychologists have identified some of the factors that appear to make a person more resilient, such as a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.

Optimism, for instance, has been shown to help blunt the impact of stress on the mind and body in the wake of disturbing experiences. That gives people access to their own cognitive resources, enabling cool-headed analysis of what might have gone wrong and consideration of behavioral paths that might be more productive.

Other aspects of resilience’s roots remain under study. There does appear to be a genetic predisposition for resilience, for instance; but early environments and life circumstances play a role in how resilient genes are ultimately expressed.

Things we can learn from the Greatest Generation

During World War II, London and other major British cities were subjected to several months of nightly bombings by Nazi Germany that killed 43,000 civilians and wounded 139,000 more (even though many city dwellers, particularly women, children, and the elderly, evacuated to the countryside).

Military planners and health care professionals had predicted that the British people lacked coping skills necessary to deal with the blitzkrieg and other horrors of the war. The government’s War Office took over three hospitals to handle the expected flood of psychiatric casualties.

During that dark period, the British government did extensive monitoring of public morale, keeping records that were later declassified. Simon Wessely, MD, a professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, analyzed the documents, along with other research and newspaper reports from the era.

“There was no evidence of the predicted surge in psychiatric casualties,” Wessely said in a 2006 talk on the subject. He noted that a well-known psychiatrist of the time, Aubrey Lewis, said a “slight increase” in psychological disorders was seen, but mostly in people who already had the disorders.

“We have lost sight of the fact that people are rather more resilient and resourceful than we have tended to think about them,” Wessely said then. And now?

“Collective solidarity may increase,” he says by email. “More people may feel proud of their resilience, or from helping others. But if things are seen to have been unfair, that some managed to avoid the stress or the irksome restrictions, or that the pain was not shared equally, then that could cause the opposite.”

Americans are no strangers to traumatic events. The aftermath of the attack on the US mainland on September 11, 2001 was life-defining for many Americans making us feel vulnerable in a way that we never had before. Whole new generations were introduced to the fear and uncertainty that our previous “Greatest Generation” had lived through some 60 years prior. 

But This is Different

If you feel like living through this pandemic is different you are both right and maybe not so right. To be sure, our global information stream has expanded our information base so that we can receive a constant barrage of news – both fake and true – at any hour of the day or night. So if you are feeling a little more anxious than usual, you might want to check your news alerts and scale them back a bit.

What makes this not so different from other major global challenges is that we as humans have an infinite capacity for optimism, caring and sacrifice for the greater good. We have done it before, we can do it again.

Reach out to a friend, family member or neighbor (at a safe distance of course) and just check in to see how they are doing. Small, simple acts of kindness reverberate into the universe in ways we can’t even imagine.

Chandler Hall’s Wishes for 2021

The important thing to remember is that we will get back to normal. New vaccines are becoming available offering us hope every day for protection for ourselves and our loved ones. That coupled with vigilance with social distancing, mask-wearing and responsible behavior will pay honor to the generations of those whose sacrifices secured a place for us today.

There is great hope for 2021! The caring staff and partners with Chandler Hall will continue to do our part to make the experience of aging as meaningful and safe as possible. 

As we enter into this new year, let us recommit to random acts of kindness, doing our part to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic in our world and reaching out to loved ones to help ease their burden of loneliness. 

We will get through this. And when we do maybe we can call ourselves the 21st Century’s Resilient Generation!

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