Struggling for Resilience in Times of Unrelenting Stress
0n 3/2/2020 the American Psychiatric Association reaffirmed the role of mental health in combatting climate change. The APA president Sandra L. Shulman Ph. D. wrote:
The natural disasters which we are experiencing are associated with a number of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. As experts in human behavior, psychologists must be in the forefront of devising strategies to change the actions – by individuals, corporations, and governments – that lead to climate change.
Worldwide and swift action met the Coronavius pandemic.
Until recently, the threat of climate change was perceived as a future danger, and there are some who continue the denial. Social and political minimization of the risk led to procrastination and inactivity.
One trauma tumbled onto another, leaving society itself and many people unprepared and with the sense of powerlessness. In addition to the physical effects of climate change, we vicariously experience the suffering and loss of those affected by climate disasters throughout the world
ENEMIES OF RESILIENCE
Responding to the stress-related symptoms and feelings of powerlessness in the face of climate change, it is important to be aware of the obstacles to recovery that may be present:
A strong piece of metal will eventually weaken and break when the unrelenting pressure of constant bending weakens formerly powerful molecules. Although the human spirit can endure untold trauma and hardship; it can also weaken and break. (Torture is employed to force disclosure of important private information, to turn patriots to pledge allegiance to foreign power, or to compel innocent people to acknowledge guilt.)
What we see depends to a large degree, on what we focus upon.
A mental model of insufficiency can:
Predict a negative outcome.
A nuerological perspectve
The human brain is developed over eons of cerebral evolution. The Amygdala (the "lizard brain") is a primitive part of that evolution. The Amygdala aids in survival by sending “fight or flight” messages perceived danger and either engages a survival mechanism (fight, flight or freeze) when immdediate danger is encourntered . An overwhelmed amygdala not only shuts down this preventative mental action but debilitates the immune system, leaving us open to disease.
VIRTUES FOR RESILIENCE
Establishes a sense of competence;
Makes achievement attainable;
Provides a climate for security, ethical action, generosity and partnership;
Is predictive of a positive outcome.
Sr. Joan Chittiser, in an article entitled "Anger: A virtue for our time, because silence is not working", writes that anger is the virtue that seek resolution.
Our negative associations with anger prompt us to control our anger rather than embrace it
But the anger that is part of resilience, that "virtue that seeks resolution", never leads to acceptance. It invites action.
We are encouraged by (and perhaps even awakened by and educated by) the energy and positivity of the youth, who are rallying in defense of the environment. Their witness and concern that impels them to confronts entrenched social and political beliefs and practices that are borne out in environmental destruction
A nuerological perspectve
Neural "pathways" in the brain are reinforced by frequent use, much like a muscle that is exercised becomes stronger. "Plasticity" of the brain develops alternate pathways to cope. By strengthening the function of the "higher brain", we can alleviate the dominance of the "lower brain".
A religious perspective
In his encyclical Laudato Sí , Pope Francis was able to call the attention of the world in a new way to the environment and the dangers of climate change.He proposed an integral ecology that considers the interdependent and intimate relationship between humans and the natural world. He was able to help us understand the ways people continue to abuse this relationship and the consequences of this abuse on all the world’s inhabitants.
The Victim Christ, hanging on that cross, embraces victims everywhere. Pope Francis would add to that list the oppressed and ravaged natural world. Ignacio Ellacuría, a Jesuit priest, scholar, and educator in El Salvador and friend of Oscar Romero, saw as the mission of the church to "take the victims down from the cross".
The eschatological linkage of the cross and resurrection of the Christ provides a bias towards the "victory of justice". In the face of the immense "scandal" of injustice, the call is to "make the hope of victims our hope". ..
And their hope, in turn, becomes their gift to us.
Nature Bats Last: Hope in Diversity
In July of 2014, typhoon Glenda took aim at our Philippine jungle home. Taking lives and destroying many people's homes, the typhoon mercifully spared our family and left our residence without severe damage. What was destroyed were the grounds we took so much pride in: orchids which we carefully tended, exotic ornamental plants, and rare fruit trees from around the tropics that took years to finally bear fruit.
It did not take long for the jungle to reclaim the damage. I spent countless hours sitting on the veranda and marveling. Various species of insects reappeared, whose wings have been modified with large eye spots or bodies with artificial armor to scare off larger predators. Smaller insects whose body color exactly mimic the specific host plant on which they alight. Large leaves or tiny ones designed to either capture rain, drain water, or siphon it to areas of need. Copy-cat flowers mirroring each other in a variety of color or design. Successive generations of life forms experiment with slight differences to capture whatever evolutionary advantage may present itself. The jungle replaces what the typhoon swept away.
The net result of this cacophony of adaptive evolutionary process is that life unstoppably creeps forward. Better defenses, more effective predation, subtle changes of shape and color (the most attractive or useful of which we choose for our own specializations) diversify the opportunities (and dangers) in the natural process.
 National Catholic Reporter, April 3-16, 2020, pg 13
Laudato Sí was written by Pope Francis on May 24, 2015. Unlike previous papal encyclicals,
Laudato Sí was not intended only for religious leaders, nor only for Catholic Christians, nor even
people who are believers in God. As Pope Francis wrote, it was directed at "every person living onthis planet.
 Sorbino, Christ the Liberator, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2001.