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Bouncing Forward

Research shows that after trauma, not only can we bounce back—we can bounce forward. This is called post-traumatic growth, and it's more common than we might think.

What is post-traumatic growth?

COVID-19 left many of us navigating a new normal. Millions of people around the world have experienced a significant loss of someone or something important to them. Many people are feeling anxious, experiencing burnout, or grieving a sense of normalcy. But research shows that stress and growth can co-exist—and in fact, we can grow from some of the most difficult experiences of our lives. In this moment, we might experience post-traumatic growth.

Individual and collective growth

Even as we’ve struggled, we’ve grown. Throughout the pandemic, communities and individuals have mobilized to support each other. Businesses have adapted nearly overnight. Caregivers have become remote-learning teachers. Community fridges and other forms of mutual aid have supported some of the most vulnerable.

As we've endured the pandemic together, we've experienced post-traumatic growth collectively. We're opening up about our struggles with new people and with a new sense of honesty. We're placing more value on our relationships with those we've been separated from. These shifts have gone beyond individuals and communities—they suggest the possibility of a more empathetic culture.

Bouncing forward looks different for everyone

Post-traumatic growth is often subtle, and it can be hard to see, especially when you're suffering. COVID-19 is still very much a real threat to communities across the world, and many of us might still be in the thick of it. But understanding how post traumatic growth might show up for you can help you embrace it as you continue to grow.

Bouncing forward looks different for everyone, but it often takes one of five main forms. Read on to learn what they are and explore practical tips to embrace post-traumatic growth.

Read more in our USA Today op-ed

5 key types of post-traumatic growth

Finding strength

Going through a traumatic event can provide you with a new perspective and increased internal resolve that help you face future challenges. Things that might have felt like insurmountable barriers in the past may no longer intimidate you so much, because you've proven to yourself that you can make it through worse. This can look like not “sweating the small stuff,” or simply gaining confidence in your ability to take on challenges.

  • 1Reflect on something you’re doing right now that requires a lot of determination, effort, or resolve. Take a moment to acknowledge your strength, and give yourself some credit when you look back on this experience.

Gaining appreciation

After losing someone or something you care about deeply, you may find that you have a much deeper appreciation for things you used to take for granted. This might show up as savoring people, things, or moments that you might not have noticed otherwise, or expressing what you’re grateful for on a more regular basis.

  • 1Journal about things you are grateful for and why. Reflect on whether or not you’d savor these good moments as much before your Option B.
  • 2Express gratitude to people in your life with thank you notes or texts, or by saying it in person.
  • 3Pay your gratitude forward by helping others.

Forming deeper relationships

During hardship, it’s not uncommon to strengthen existing relationships or forge new ones. When you go through challenges with others or face the same struggles as them, it can strengthen your bond. You learn to trust each other, be vulnerable, and depend on each other.

  • 1Allow yourself to prioritize relationships that feel important to you. You may spend more time together, or use your time together differently or more meaningfully.
  • 2Connect with people on the outer rings of your support network who have shown up for you.
  • 3Connect with communities of people who have undergone similar or shared experiences.

Discovering meaning

Many trauma survivors find greater meaning in life by connecting to a stronger sense of purpose. They are driven by the idea that their life has significance. Meaning might show up for you in spirituality, work, or relationships with loved ones. You may find purpose in helping others overcome the adversity that they have faced themselves.

  • 1Sometimes your hurt can turn into healing for others. See if you can find ways to connect with others and help them navigate a similar hardship.
  • 2Try volunteering, especially on dates that are important to you, like an anniversary or a birthday of a loved one. Studies show that volunteering is connected to improved mood and higher self-esteem.

Seeing new possibilities

After trauma, researchers found that some people ended up choosing directions for their lives that they never would have considered before. Although it can be extremely difficult to see, the loss of one possible self can free you to imagine a new possible self. Living an Option B can give you a boost to make choices that would have seemed impossible or intimidating before.

  • 1Listen closely when other people express gratitude for you. That can often help you identify your strengths or nudge you toward new possibilities.
  • 2Establish new traditions, reimagine old ones with your new circumstances, and let go of those that don’t feel right for right now.

How to Find Meaning After Loss or Trauma

with Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant

2 minutes, 32 seconds