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Resilience research at the University of Bonn: How to weather the Corona crisis more easily

Resilience research at the University of Bonn : How to weather the Corona crisis more easily

Crises divide opinions - while some people cope well with them, others have a harder time. What do people need to get through hard times well? The University of Bonn is now researching this – and has already found the first answers.

Cornelia Richter deals scientifically with what everyone would like to have at the moment: resilience. But not in the sense in which the advice literature understands the supposed meaning of the magic word that is so readily used. It's not about protecting us from existential crisis experiences and making it easier to get through them in case of need - which is best avoided. Because "preferable" and "to be avoided" are, as we know, nothing at all at the moment. After all, we are in the middle of the Corona crisis, the course of which is still uncertain.

This is precisely what the Dean of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Bonn sees as a great opportunity. "We can accompany the crisis live, so to speak, and find out how people deal with it and what helps them not to sink in it," says Richter, who has been researching resilience (from the Latin verb resilire = to bounce back) since 2014. This refers to the inherent resilience of some people to survive serious existential life crises - such as the death of a relative, a divorce, the loss of a job, a serious illness or an involuntary move - in a more stable way than others and also without permanent impairment.

So far, the theology professor and her interdisciplinary team, which is receiving 2.7 million euros in funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) for three years, have tended to look at individual life crises in retrospect. In 2019, for example, they surveyed around 500 patients, relatives and mourners, therapists and volunteers at the University Hospital in Bonn and at the University Hospital in Munich about what - in retrospect - had made them strong during a difficult time.

The scientists found out, for example, that religion and spirituality could help those affected in many cases. Resilience is thus also promoted by not only actively challenging oneself (and perhaps lapsing into some kind of unhelpful „actionism“ in the process), but also by allowing passive moments: waiting, enduring uncertainties and being able to articulate hope.

Every crisis we overcome can foster our resilience

Since the spring of 2020, the resilience researchers have been targeting the permanent stress of healthcare workers - and the consequences for the psychological and physical stress of those affected - in an empirical project. In cooperation with the psychosomatic university hospitals in Erlangen, Bonn, Ulm, Dresden and Cologne, the scientists sent online questionnaires to people throughout Germany who look after the health of patients in everyday hospital life. In addition to doctors and nurses, this also included any therapists and pastoral workers. In the spring of 2020, the research network sent out 8000 questionnaires, and so far this winter there are 6000. In this way, the scientists want to find out how those working in the health sector experience the crisis, what they fear and how they deal with it.

Although there are no detailed evaluations yet, there are first indications of what can help many of those affected to get through the continuous stress during the pandemic: In addition to good protective measures at the workplace, trust in colleagues and a personal sense of purpose are important factors for staying healthy.

Even apart from the health workers, Richter and her team have already drawn initial conclusions about resilience-promoting factors in the crisis: Experienced social support - at the moment mainly from a distance - is a protective factor also in the Covid pandemic. At the beginning, the lockdown was helpful for some people who tend to live a rather secluded life or suffer from depression, for example, because they no longer had to expose themselves so much. In the long run, however, the lockdown tended to intensify depression, Richter explains.

According to resilience researchers, those who have already had to endure one crisis or another in their lives currently have comparatively good chances to get through a new one. The reason: Many people who have already had to deal with bad things have learned to integrate crises into their lives, to see them as part of the whole. Likewise, people who - for example, because of a serious illness - have learned for a long time how to deal with the risks of infection have an advantage. As a theologian, Richter gives something else to consider: "Perhaps people with a Christian background have an advantage here, because it is part of the Christian faith to see new life through suffering and death. “

Original text: Margit Warken-Dieke

Translation: Mareike Graepel