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How Can You Learn to Be More Resilient?

Some people are likely born more resilient than others, he added, but there is plenty of wiggle room to shore yourself up, and building social support is one of the biggest protective factors, according to decades of studies.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, surveys found, up to 70 percent of people said they felt depressed. But 60 percent also reported that their relationships felt stronger, along with feelings of affection for loved ones. Based on a study of several dozen college students at the time, researchers concluded that gratitude, love and other positive emotions in the weeks after the event, even amid trouble sleeping and concentrating, provided a crucial buffer against depression.

To cultivate positivity, the researchers recommended seeking comfort in spiritual or religious beliefs, doing enjoyable activities and talking about the best of times — in therapy, if needed. Humor, relaxation and optimistic thinking can all help evoke positivity and facilitate coping in the midst of tough times, according to studies dating back to the 1990s. In our pandemic era, that might mean settling in with friends or family for a beloved comedy show.

Even if optimism doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s a skill you can nurture, said George Everly Jr., a psychologist and public health expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who has done research with dialysis patients and war veterans. “There is neuroscience research indicating that even if you were born a pessimist, you can become an optimist,” he said. “We must come from this and say: What are the lessons learned?”

Looking on the bright side can help people make sense of what’s happening, Dr. Coulombe said. “The pandemic was so disruptive, some people used that disruption as a way to do a fresh start.”

This urge to make significant life changes struck Audrey Anderson, 30, who was coordinating cancer research trials at Stony Brook University in New York when the pandemic began. Quickly, she got reassigned to a trial testing plasma as a treatment for Covid-19 — getting paperwork from patients, delivering plasma to clinicians and doing whatever else was needed. As part of her job, she also sat with cancer patients who were suddenly no longer allowed to have visitors to the hospital, keeping them company and answering questions about their treatment and Covid-19.

Working 80 hours a week, Ms. Anderson saw people get extremely sick and depressed, and some died. But she found strength in helping, echoing studies that find helping others can breed resilience and post-traumatic growth. And that positive outlook helped her start something new.

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