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Feeling all our feelings in the midst of a global pandemic: If not now, when?

Sitting on the precipice of the unknown, preparing ourselves for the collective trauma before us, the concept of “resilience” repeatedly emerges as a glimmer of hope. A new wave of research articles, opinion pieces, and memes encourage parents to wire their children for flexibility over panic by taking things “one day at a time” and foregoing unreachable standards doomed from the get-go. In the midst of the current global pandemic, we celebrate resilience in various forms, recognizing the mobilization of resources when supplies are limited; the promotion of communal goals alongside individual needs; and the dispensing of amusement and connection in the face of numbing isolation and despair.

In clinical practice, emotional resilience suggests a capacity to navigate and cope with stressful situations:

The skill is occasionally confused with denial, or the blocking of external events from awareness (just ask American teens on the beach for spring break last week).

It overlaps with rationalization, when facts are distorted to make the event seem less threatening (cue the widespread focus on the particularly elderly and therefore more vulnerable population of Italy).

It intersects with sublimation, or shifting our unwelcome emotions into behaviors that are constructive and socially acceptable (hence the increasing availability of virtual meditation, yoga, and visualization exercises via the web).

Allowing your mind to acknowledge complex, painful emotions is more challenging. When attempted, this process is often accompanied by the expectation of working through the experience and coming out the other end. Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief helped set the tone for this misperception of moving through linear stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) and arriving at a desirable endpoint (acceptance).

Psychological Resilience In truth, psychological resilience requires the naming and owning of competing “positive” and “negative” – or pleasant and unpleasant – emotions that consistently co-occur. In a global pandemic, this means tracing our initial self-protective denial as it gives way to shock and fear, shifts into anger or disgust, dips into sadness and even some hope and joy, then repeats.

Conducting a self-scan for gaps in our own emotional repertoires is key. For example, individuals gripped by fear and sadness, in a struggle to see past these emotions, might become curious about their seemingly absent experience of anger. Where has it gone? Why does it retreat? What role might it play if called upon, and could it alleviate some of the suffering? Similarly, a person consumed by anger, cyclically lashing out inwardly or outwardly, easily overlooks the quieter but no less crucial loss and sadness lurking in the shadows.

As the dust settles and the gravity of this trauma unfolds, our sense of self and sense of community will undoubtedly be impacted.

Our team at Cognovi Labs will be tracking these developments through our Coronavirus Panic Index, honing in on the continually evolving, transitory blend of emotions that make up our collective emotional functioning. Cognovi EMOTION AI will be vital in monitoring the fluctuating intensity of experience as capacities are stretched to their limit. And in doing so, we hope to expand our perspectives and embrace a full range of emotions to set our fellow man up for resilience.


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