Preventing COVID-19 Trauma in Charlotte, NC
It’s no surprise that the situation we are facing today is creating much stress and anxiety in people of all ages around the world. Because of this monster of a stressor in our lives, we have to take extra care of ourselves and our families to make sure we are staying mentally and physically healthy. Even with all the care we are taking, when serious life-changing events like the COVID-19 pandemic occur, it can give rise to trauma. You have probably heard the word “trauma” being used to describe everything from small inconveniences to childhood neglect. In our culture today, it’s so common to hear people say things like, “I was traumatized by that movie,” or “that was so embarrassing, it was traumatizing” that we are becoming desensitized to the word. This kind of “trauma” is not what we are talking about here.
In this sense, trauma is a psychological and emotional response to a distressing event or experience (American Psychological Association [APA], 2013). You do not have to be diagnosed with a disorder such as PTSD in order to feel the impacts of a traumatic event. You also do not have to be the one to directly experience the event in order to develop trauma. So, if you have a close friend or family member who has been seriously affected by the coronavirus, it’s possible to exhibit symptoms of trauma just by witnessing what happened to them. (APA, 2013).
Experts in the field have identified preconditions for developing the trauma, including lack of predictability and sense of time, immobility, loss of connection, and absence of safety (Van der Kolk, 2020). Needless to say, we are experiencing all of the above during this crisis. The pandemic is unpredictable and is absolutely causing us to feel a loss of connection with others. We feel unsafe and uncertain, not knowing when this will all come to an end, and we are worried for the safety of ourselves and our families.
So how do we protect ourselves from developing trauma? Let’s tackle each element together:
1. Lack of predictability and sense of time
In order to combat these factors, it’s of vital importance to make our own schedules and stick to them. It’s easy to lose track of the days when we are all working from home, and this can contribute to feeling like time is unstable. We want to make the days as predictable as possible to balance out the unpredictability of the current situation. This means planning out everything – work hours, meal times, playtime with your kids, and video chats with friends and family. In addition to scheduling, it’s just as important for us to recognize that this will end and that we do have a future. Trauma comes out of feeling like the event causing stress will last forever, so take a moment and think about something you are looking forward to, whether it’s next week or in the next few months. This will help you to maintain perspective and strengthen your sense of time.
Now that gyms are closed and we can’t go places like we used to, it’s easy to become sedentary, as we spend much of our time at home. When we’re constantly stressed, our bodies go into a state of fight or flight, and we feel the need to take action. The result is a formation of pent up energy inside of us that has nowhere to go, and we become irritable, lashing out at those around us. Instead of letting this energy go to waste and potentially cause harm to others, you can use it to do something productive, such as working around the house, completing a project you haven’t had time for, learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby, or exercising at home. There are many free workout apps and online classes that you can take advantage of right now. Whatever you do, don’t let your extra energy take control of you.
3. Loss of connection
This is one of the hardest parts about being stuck at home. People are social animals, and we are no longer able to satiate this need for connectedness. If you live with roommates, family, or significant others, take advantage of this and spend quality time together by playing games, doing a puzzle, baking a cake, or even just talking to one another. For those of you who do not live with someone, make sure you are still connecting with the people you care about and who care about you. What’s so great about living in this era is that we have the technology to speak to each other face-to-face without having to physically be together. You can video chat and stream Netflix shows together or even play virtual board games. However you choose to connect, remember to regularly schedule times to do so in order to keep your days predictable and enjoyable.
4. Absence of safety
It’s hard to feel safe when things keep changing so rapidly and we don’t have any clear sense of what may happen. The most beneficial thing we can do in this case is to identify the things that make us feel safe and include it as part of our daily routine. You might feel a sense of comfort from listening to your favorite band, reading a book, or drinking tea. What experts have found is that touch is a vital part of feeling safe. If you live with someone you care about or you own a pet, you can fulfill this need fairly easily. If you live alone, you have to get more creative in finding that internal sense of safety. Meditation, tai chi, and yoga are great ways to nurture this feeling in yourself. You might also consider getting a weighted blanket to help you feel safe while you are asleep.
With all of these protections against trauma in place, you may still need some extra support. That’s what Thriveworks is for. We are here to help you and your family cope with the stress of COVID-19 by providing the same quality service to the Charlotte community via telemental health. Schedule an appointment online today or feel free to contact us for more information.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Van der Kolk, B. (2020). Steering ourselves and our clients through new and developing traumas. Webcast. https://catalog.pesi.com/sq/bh_001345_body_keeps_the_score_freevideo_email_sq-119908?