Post Traumatic Growth and Personal/Career Expectations Post COVID

By Randi Rotwein-Pivnick, M.A., LMFT, INC

Last year we all felt the impact as our world changed before our eyes when COVID took control of our ‘freedom’ to come and go as we please, as well as robbing many of us of our securities (loss of jobs, incomes, homes, and unfortunately, for many, the loss of family members to the Virus). Many of us eventually figured out how to settle in, survive (and even thrive), and make the best of a very unpleasant and ever changing environment.

Those fortunate to be able to work from home (instead of their typical office setting) had to figure out how to survive the isolation as well as continue to maintain a satisfactory level of production and a healthy work/life balance. Some struggled, while others thrived. Whereas many are now left with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), others are experiencing Post Traumatic Growth as a result of the COVID Pandemic. Typically, PTSD occurs in the wake of a threatening event or events that rob us of our feelings or safety and ability to find solutions. As a result, those people are left with a feeling of distrust, lack of safety and high levels of anxiety. For those, experiencing positive growth, they have experienced growth in the areas of relations with others, new possibilities (think career, living situations), personal strengths, spirituality and appreciation of life. It appears that not everyone who experiences a trauma comes out of it with negative impact…some experience positive transformation despite the ‘trauma’. POST TRAUMATIC GROWTH allows someone to take what he or she has learned and use that to see the world differently, and as a result, approach life differently and more positively and productively.

I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the changes you had to make as a result of the Pandemic (both personal and career wise). Perhaps you will see that there was POSITVE GROWTH as a result of having to figure out how to navigate and survive that period of endless uncertainty. For some people, choosing to look at the pandemic through the ‘lens of post traumatic growth’ will allow them to appreciate the areas where they were able to loosen their grip on things they thought they had to control and their ability to shift their belief system to accommodate the situation.

Many people I talk to tell me that they are now more selective about who and how they spend their time, as well as changed beliefs as to what is ‘really important’ to them. Additionally, many state that they have a clearer understanding of boundaries they need to set in order to create a healthy work/life balance, and that in the process of developing a healthier balance, they have also become more productive both in their work lives and personal lives. For many, it became evident that a regular routine was of utmost importance to maintain a good work/life balance that helped them stay healthy, productive and maintain a level of sanity during times of such uncertainty.

As the world starts to ‘open up’ again, we will all be faced with both personal and work challenges. Many have been told that they will not be returning to work and will instead work remotely on a permanent basis. Others have been given a ‘hybrid’ schedule where they go to the office certain days of the week and work remotely from home on the other days. Some, however, have been told that they are required to come back into the office full time.

If you have a return to work date looming over your head, you might be struggling with an increase in anxiety due to the uncertainty of the environment in which you will be working. Will it be COVID safe with appropriate precautions taken, will you be given time to ease into the new schedule as many will have to readjust sleep/wake schedules to accommodate the drive time to and from work, as well as other concerns? I encourage you to contact your employer with questions you may have in the hopes that that will lessen any anxiety you may be experiencing regarding the return to onsite work concerns. I would also encourage you to mentally walk through any anxiety provoking scenarios you think you may encounter upon return so that you can come up with a solution should the event happen and lessen any anxiety you might be currently feeling. Focus on the things you HAVE control over and not the things you have NO control over.

On a positive note, now that things are opening up again and people are anxious to return to ‘normal’ they are anxious to move forward and getting going with life, both personally and career wise. Now is a time that you can excel in the workforce if you focus and set realistic goals and apply yourself. I encourage you to take the lessons you learned while trying to figure out how to survive (and thrive) during the pandemic, and apply them now so that you can continue to grow and flourish post pandemic.

For those of you that find you are struggling to move forward and ‘re-enter society’ in a healthy manner, I encourage you to seek the guidance of a mental health professional who can guide you and give you tools to make your transition easier. Speak up and ask for what you need, set boundaries and healthy work/life balance, and pace yourself so that you can achieve the goals you set for yourself both personally and professionally.