Trauma and Covid 2020
Something that may surprise you is how easy many of these suggestions are. They are not complicated, they do not take a lot of time or money. Most anyone, even a child, can do most of these things. In other words, we all have the skills we need to get through this time.
If you are reading this I am assuming that you are healthy, or if sick, at least safe at home and not in need of an ICU bed. And I hope too this is the case for all your loved ones. We are the lucky ones. Our governor took action on the early side and most of us have heeded the warnings to “Stay home and stay safe.” Thank you for doing your part!
Regardless of the direct and indirect losses we do or don’t experience during the pandemic this is a traumatic experience for us all. One of the hallmarks of trauma is that it can live on in us after the fact. But this is not always the case. Decades of trauma research have taught us about the preconditions for trauma and also how to build resilience against the long lasting effects of trauma. My goal is to help you now so that you do not need to carry this trauma with you into the future.
For those of you who have lost or will lose loved ones, I am very sorry. If you need additional support please know there are many resources available to you, some of which I have listed below.
According to one of the world’s most renowned trauma experts, Dr Bessel van der Kolk, there are seven preconditions for trauma and a traumatic response. I have listed them below for you. As you will notice right away, many of these conditions exist for us today during the pandemic. While most of us are now taking seriously the need to protect our health and physical safety through social distancing (I prefer the term physical distancing); many are also experiencing economic loss and insecurity and the loss of connection to our social, educational and professional networks. While these losses are real, and painful, there are things we can do to help guard against the long term negative effects.
The preconditions for trauma and anecdotes to reduce their negative impact are described below. If you have questions, or would like further information you may feel free to reach out to me or one of the other resources listed below.
Below are simple suggestions that you can implement right away to help protect you and your family from some of the most negative effects of trauma. In other words, these are things you can do today to make sure you and your family feel okay when we come out the other side. And the vast majority of us will come out the other side.
Lack of predictability
There is much uncertainty right now. There is a lot we cannot control. Create a schedule for yourself. Don’t be rigid but have things to do, commitments you’ve made and activities that you can look forward to such as a video call with an old friend or family member. Schedule a variety of activities-some with family and some alone- throughout the week to break up the time.
It is important to know you can take action. If you can walk or jog, go outside and do so. If that is more than you can do, perhaps try some yoga at home, or gardening. Some simple stretching before getting out of bed in the morning, or while sitting in your favorite chair. When we stand, we must activate some of our core muscles so standing helps us feel more grounded, and more in control. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotion, try standing and even walking and see if that helps. If you can’t leave your building, sit on the balcony or open the windows and breath in some fresh air, and stretch and move as much as you can safely. Lucky for us we live in Maine and many of us are able to get outside.
Take other action as well. Experience yourself doing something-cook dinner, clean your house, stack wood, plant a garden, play a game. When we do things, we experience a sense of our competence and the ability to take action. While none of us can take all the actions we wish we could such as ending the virus or hugging a friend or going to work, there are actions we can take. And by taking the actions we can, we will feel better and demonstrate to ourselves that we are not stuck.
Loss of connection
We are all missing our friends and loved ones. Reach out to people. Make “dates” to connect by telephone, or even better video chat. It helps to see one another and not just hear each other’s voice. Make a plan to have a cup of coffee while video chatting with a friend, or a glass of wine if you are someone who can drink moderately without a problem. Take a walk, and call a friend who is also walking near his or her home. Reach out to an extended family member, or an elderly neighbor who is living alone. It is especially important to connect with those who are living alone.
Numbness or spacing out
When we are in a lot of pain, we sometimes try to numb out. Many people use drugs and alcohol so as to not feel their pain and loneliness. While this is an understandable reaction it won’t make things better. The pain is still there when we come down. Reach out to loved ones or a counselor if you need assistance.
A more benign way we “numb out” is to sleep a lot. Many people are reporting sleeping more and feeling more tired. This is a common stress response. Try not to judge yourself if you are doing this but rather notice it with compassion and ask what else might help.
Know that you will have feelings about the pandemic. Some common feelings are fear, anger and sadness. Try to notice your feelings with a friendly attitude trusting that your feelings will come and go. Feelings are normal. Talk with someone you trust about how you feel. When we try to push away or ignore our feelings, they often get stronger and are harder to manage.
Loss of time/sequence
Trauma feels timeless and endless. Can you remember what life felt like a month ago? Has it only been 3 weeks? What day of the week is it anyway? Most of us are feeling a bit disconnected from time, perhaps a bit foggy. Here again a schedule helps. Engage in activities and routines that help ground you in the present and help you keep track of the day or week. When “every day is the same” it can be difficult to notice the passing of time.
Loss of safety
Even if you have been sheltering at home for weeks, without symptoms, it is likely that you still don’t feel safe. If you are living with a loving partner, now is the time to hug, cuddle, make love. Hold each other tight. Comforting touch tells us we are safe.
If you have children, make sure to comfort them and hug them. Just as you are feeling uneasy, so are your children. They may be engaging in difficult behaviors right now as this is how children show us their feelings. Try to help them understand their feelings and behaviors. Validate their feelings and also offer them hope by pointing out all the helpers in their world-first and foremost you but also their teachers, doctors and nurses, first responders and the governor with the “Stay home and stay safe” guidelines. The message here is, “See how we are taking care of each other.”
Cuddle up together on the couch for a family movie. Listen to music that brings you a sense of calm and safety, hug your pet, cuddle up with lots of pillows and blankets if there is not a loving person with you.
Turn off the news! We all need to stay informed. Read the news, most major newspapers are making Co-Vid 19 updates available to all free of charge. When we watch TV news our senses are bombarded by images and sounds and we can feel overwhelmed. When we listen to the news we have more ability to take in what we need and keep out the rest. But reading the news is the best way to filter what we let in. And, it protects our children from hearing and seeing information that might scare them. Empower yourself with knowledge while making wise choices about what you let into your personal space.
Take the actions you can take. Wash your hands. Avoid other people. If you have to go to the store, wear a mask, wash your groceries before bringing them into the house, wipe down the commonly used and touched surfaces in your house such as door knobs and kitchen counters, And wash your hands.
Loss of Identity/purpose
Many people are out of work, or perhaps working from home. Students no longer go to school. We spend a lot of time at work and school and most of us identify strongly with these roles. I am a psychotherapist. My son is a college student. I am very much fortunate because I am able to continue my work, online, with a schedule much like the one I had in the office. But I know many whose professional identity has been removed, at least temporarily. I know I would feel much worse if I didn’t have the “normalcy” of work right now.
If you do have time on your hands, give back to the community. Volunteer your time and energy in a manner that is safe-sew face masks, deliver groceries to shut-ins, rake a friend’s yard, make dinner for a local nurse or doctor. Make art and music. Do something. Use your skills and talents for the greater good. This will help reduce feelings of helplessness, increase a sense of connectedness and competence. Something we all need!
Most importantly be kind to yourself, your family and to others. This is a scary time. And we do have the ability to get through this, if we all do our part.
If you are doing all of this and still are feeling overwhelmed by fear and other emotions, reach out for additional support. There are many folks standing by, ready to help!
Maine “Warm Line” to talk get support 866-771-9276
Maine Crisis Hotline 888-568-1112
More trauma resources : besselvanderkolk.com
If you are having symptoms and think you may have Co-Vid 19 or any other illness, CALL your primary care doctor’s office and ask for guidance.
P.O. Box 1234
Rockport, ME 04856
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