By Alka Chandiramani

Human connection is such an important part of our lives, yet we get so caught up in the fast lane that this pandemic has forcefully asked us to slow the pace, re-evaluate and search for meaning. Seeing pictures of healthcare workers lighting candles as they mourned their colleagues who died during the outbreak of the coronavirus during a demonstration at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York hit a chord.

Reading the news today, a picture of an empty Park Avenue in New York City as the lockdown continues. Flashbacks of walking the streets of NYC and breathing in the buzz of the Big Apple – a city that never sleeps.

“It’s not the adversity itself that leads to growth. It’s how people respond to it. According to the psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who coined the term “post-traumatic growth” in the 1990s, the people who grow after a crisis spend a lot of time trying to make sense of what happened and understanding how it changed them. In other words, they search for and find positive meaning.”

The article discussed the ability to adapt to the spirit of tragic optimism – the ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its pain and loss – enables people to grow through adversity. The term was coined by Dr. Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor, and psychiatrist from Vienna. From the book, Man’s Search for Meaning. How does one individual’s coping mechanism differ from another during a crisis of any sort?

Resilient people do experience negative reactions to trauma. The one thing they do often is to reframe any given situation, through the most adverse ones.

  • They name their emotions to tame it.
  • Empathy over sympathy is a key.
  • Movement from shame, blame to a forged warrior. Through the darkest nights, they found a glimmer of hope through faith and insurmountable inner strength.
  • “Is life happening to me or is life happening for me?”
  • “I stop comparing myself to others, as soon as I shift my focus, I am in control of my reaction and therefore my emotional state.”

Personally, this pandemic has given me a chance to experience deeper connections with people I love. Each one of us is experiencing reflections on how fragile life can be and the tenebrosity that prevails. I was in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic – one of the most traumatic pivots of my life. I searched for meaning through things that made my life meaningful and I learned that we are all part of something greater than ourselves.

I once read the Buddha said, “Everyone in life will go through 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. You will have 10,000 days where you will feel horrible and 10,000 days where you will feel great.” No matter what happens we have a choice to either feel good or bad. None of us want to experience suffering; however, our attitude and what we learn from it will define the post-traumatic growth from here.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Victor Frankl