Bouncing back when someone goes through a rough period in life — say a divorce or losing a job, people can struggle considerably and take much longer time to recover back to previous levels of functioning, says a new study.
The new research finds that natural resilience may not be as common as once thought and that when confronted with a major life-altering event many people can struggle considerably and for longer periods of time.
“Give the person time to heal” has been the common mantra. This often meant that when these people struggled, they would be left to deal with their situation largely on their own.
“We show that contrary to an extensive body of research, when individuals are confronted with major life stressors, such as spousal loss, divorce or unemployment, they are likely to show substantial declines in well-being and these declines can linger for several years,” said co-author of the new study Frank Infurna from Arizona State University in the US.
“Whereas when we test these assumptions more thoroughly, we find that most individuals are deeply affected and it can take several years for them to recover and get back to previous levels of functioning,” Infurna added.
Most psychological studies have supported the idea of a person’s innate resilience to the struggles of life.
The new research questions prior claims that resilience is the “usual” response to major life stressors by looking at longitudinal data in a more nuanced way and making less generalisation about the human response to such dramatic events.
The team used existing longitudinal data from Germany (the German socioeconomic panel study), which is an on-going survey that began in 1984 and annually assesses participants over a wide range of measures.
The outcome that they focused on was life satisfaction, which assesses how satisfied individuals are with their lives, all things considered, as they pass through years of their lives.
The previous research postulated that most people, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent, would show a trajectory characterised by no change.
“We found that it usually took people much longer, several years, to return to their previous levels of functioning,” Infurna said.
A finding that means giving a person time alone to deal with the stressor might not be the best approach to getting them back to full functionality, Infurna said.
“It provides some evidence that if most people are affected then interventions certainly should be utilized in terms of helping these individuals in response to these events.”