By Jamil Zaki, Harvard Business Review, September 14, 2020
The last several months have stacked painful experiences on top of each other: a global pandemic, economic collapse, and new reminders of perennial racial injustice and police violence. This July, rates of depression and anxiety in the U.S. were more than triple those of early 2019. The simple question, “How are you?” has turned into an emotional minefield.
Workplaces are saturated with trauma, too, and leaders are agonizing over how to keep their teams healthy as everyone works remotely and juggles any number of stressors. The science of trauma offers some insight about this moment, and some surprising hope: Instead of asking how we will recover from these painful times, we should ask how we will be changed by them. In many cases, we have an opportunity to change for the better.
In October 2001, researchers surveyed thousands of Americans about their experiences in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. How often did they have intrusive memories of 9/11? How much trouble were they having sleeping, concentrating, and connecting with others? Four percent of respondents — and 11% of New York City residents — met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, even though none had been in the towers that day.