Is Perception the Key to Resilience?

Can the challenges we face during the coronavirus pandemic help us reconsider what matters most and how we live our lives?

The challenges we are all facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have the potential to create severe and, in some instances, long-lasting problems for individuals and societies. When our assumptions of how life unfolds are challenged, we are in a position to consider anew what we value, how we live, and who we are. 

Potentially, we have an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, come to see the world around us differently, and experience an enhanced awareness and appreciation of the people around us.

Researchers have suggested this extended period of threat from the coronavirus has similarities to traumatic events and natural disasters. Recent bushfires, and drought, have challenged many of the assumptions of our day-to-day lives; how we engage with others, our capacity to travel, and how we go about our schooling and work. All of these events challenge our perceptions of the world in which we live as being predictable and controllable. 

To foster resilience under such conditions requires us to carefully and mindfully consider how our perception of the current crisis might be impacting upon our own and our children's (learned) responses, and their attitudes of the situation. It's in our control.

George Bonanno is a clinical psychologist at Columbia University's Teachers College; and Head of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab and has been studying resilience for nearly twenty-five years.

He suggests that

"All of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with other animals. The vast majority of people are pretty good at using that system to deal with stress…but when it comes to resilience, the question is: Why do some people use the system so much more frequently or effectively than others?... Every frightening event, no matter how negative it might seem from the sidelines, has the potential to be traumatic or not to the person experiencing it."

He concludes that:

One of the central elements of resilience is perception: 

Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic or as an opportunity to learn and grow?

This contention is similar to the work of Carol Dwerk around Mindset Theory & Explanatory Styles by Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, whereby our experience isn't inherent to an event but resides in the event's psychological construal; our perception. 

Through shaping events to our intentions, seeing it as a challenge, we can become more flexible and more able to respond. We can learn from it, including who we are & what we are capable of, and, subsequently, continue to grow. 

Our lives in the time of coronavirus are complicated and exhausting, requiring us to juggle many different roles simultaneously. Still, it also offers the opportunity for development, change, and transformation if we perceive it as such. We have seen people reach out to neighbours, safeguard their elders, identify and help those in need, support friends and work colleagues and, perhaps fundamentally, provided us with an opportunity to deepen the quality of time with our families. Inherently, we are all connected, and we must continue to strengthen these relationships and connections, in real and online worlds; our health, wellbeing and ongoing resilience depend on it.

Yours in promoting and supporting positive student wellbeing,

Director of Counselling

Acknowledgments & further reading