This post is a selection of *highlights from an article on trauma, anxiety, and coping strategies during the pandemic by psychotherapist Annie Wright. The full article may be read here: https://www.anniewrightpsychotherapy.com/when-your-past-is-present-trauma-triggered-by-covid-19/. In it she discusses the influence of trauma in triggering anxieties and tips for coping with the coronavirus pandemic. This post is offered to provide awareness, support, and helpful self-care strategies.
Possible personal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Depression and/or anxiety (including generalized anxiety)
- Irritability and being very short-tempered
- Loss of interest in things that used to bring you pleasure, or in life itself
- Numbing through substances and behaviors
- Trouble concentrating
- Insomnia and challenges sleeping (including nightmares)
- Feeling emotionally flooded and overwhelmed easily
- An inability to visualize a future (let alone a positive future)
- Hopelessness and despair
- Shame, a sense that you’re worthless
- Few or no memories, feeling like your childhood is a fog or a big blank
- Hypervigilance and mistrust
- Body symptoms such as aches, pains, headaches
- Substance abuse and eating disorders
- Self-harming or destructive behaviors
- Feeling like you have no true self, like you don’t know who you really are.
(Adapted from Janina Fisher, Ph.D.’s psychoeducational flipchart.)
What is happening at a global level is, I believe, nothing short of a collective world trauma.
The most mentally healthy and robustly resourced among us will, from time to time in the face of this, struggle with feeling overwhelmed or despairing.
But if you are a trauma survivor, you may be having an exceptionally hard time right now. It’s critical that folks who come from trauma backgrounds recognize that what’s happening on a global scale may well and truly trigger their trauma beyond what they normally experience.
How to take care of yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic.
First and foremost, awareness is key.
It’s important to understand the way that trauma symptoms can manifest and also important to be on the lookout for them in yourself in these days and weeks so that you can accurately assess if your trauma is being triggered and if your distress levels are greater than normal.
Read through the list at the top of this article. Do you see yourself there?
Pay attention and track how you’re actually doing. And then, get professional support if needed. Many therapists are now offering video therapy sessions. Take your mental health care seriously.
Some tools for maintaining healthy mental health:
- Create a daily routine and stick to it. What time will you wake up, begin work, stop work, go to bed?
- Make sure you tend to personal hygiene regularly. Brushing your teeth, showering, deodorant and, if you like, makeup. These little habits send powerful signals to ourselves.
- Dress for the day no matter who is or is not going to see you. Sweatpants and sports bras are great, but your esteem and well-being may be boosted by getting into a nice blouse and earrings.
- Leave your home/apartment daily. We are sheltering-in-place, yes, but we can still leave our homes appropriately. Get outside even for 30 minutes if possible.
- Move each day. Whether this is outside or doing home-based workouts, try to maintain some kind of movement schedule.
- Ensure you’re having some kind of non-work-related contact each day. Emphasis on the non-work contact. Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Marco Polo your friends and loved ones. Daily. Even for a few minutes.
- Drink and eat in ways that support your well-being versus deteriorate it. I’m not a nutritionist and I’m not a teetotaler, but I do think it behooves us all to be a little more mindful right now of what substances support us versus hinder us.
- Indulge in any and all forms of self-comfort. Here’s a list of 101 comforting activities I wrote years ago but that may feel especially helpful now. Read through them, experiment with them, make comforting yourself a top priority.
- Lower your bar. Lower your standards. Look, if you’re bickering more with your partner, if you’re only feeding your kids pasta for dinner, if you’re watching a little too much Netflix, please let this be okay. Now is NOT the time to “should” on ourselves and hold ourselves to standards of perfection.
- Be mindful of how much media you consume. The news, social media, radio, etc. Be mindful of how this impacts you and limit or reduce it altogether if it accelerated your symptoms.
- Plan for the future. Familiar to trauma survivors, an inability to visualize a positive future may be something many contend with right now. As much as possible, try to daydream or scaffold the itinerary of vacations you’ll take in 2021, lay the groundwork and take online courses about that side hustle you dream of launching. Work towards something, anything in the future.
- Find and engage in something that brings you meaning and fulfillment right now. Helping out neighbors, creating supportive online content, keeping small business owners and local service providers employed in your city, knitting a hat for your forthcoming baby niece, anything that helps you feel connected and like you’re contributing can be a great comfort now.
- Take it hour by hour, day by day. In times of crisis, grief, shock, and hardship, we’re called upon to live in the tiniest slice of time we can manage. Do not try and look too far forward if that feels too overwhelming. Take it one half hour at a time.
A special note for partners and friends of loved ones who are trauma survivors.
You’re holding a lot, too.
You’re concerned about your loved one and you’re also likely feeling all of your feelings about the state of the world right now.
You may be left holding more of the responsibilities at home, doing more of the emotional labor, regulating yourself so that others can fall apart.
For you, too, please consider seeking out professional support on top of all the great self-care work you’re likely already doing.
We humans are remarkably resilient, adaptable, and persistent.
We will get through this, and a part of me also trusts that the world we build and experience post COVID-19 will be more connected, sane, and supportive than the one we had before.
But for now, our only job – your only job – is to take care of yourself as best you can, to weather this storm, to live with your ghosts but to not let them overwhelm you.
Your past has shown you that you can do hard things, that you can endure seemingly impossible times, that you can survive. You can do this now. Be well and stay healthy.
*These highlights have been offered by our Pastoral Care Team to provide awareness, support, and helpful self-care strategies.