Updated: Oct 7
Often when we think of trauma we think in the context of something "bad" that has happened to us and our struggle over time to work through it. But, what happens when we are daily experiencing trauma? Our lives have changed considerably since March of 2020. While mask wearing, social distancing, and sanitization has become our "new normal" (physically), we cannot underestimate the impact these changes have had on our mental health as well.
We all experience trauma in different ways. While some individuals will typically resolve trauma after an impacting "event", others may struggle significantly and begin to develop long-term effects of trauma that may may develop into PTSD. In Chapter 3 of Understanding the Impact of Trauma written by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) it states, "How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the event(s), developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma, and sociocultural factors" (SAMHSA, 2014). What particularly stands out in this definition right now is "the characteristics of the event". While some traumatic events occur and end, we currently are living in a traumatic situation that has not yet ended. We wake up to it everyday.
What does this mean for us and the way our body responds to stressful events? It means that we can experience increased levels of anxiety, depression, and a state of dissociation and unrest that simply lingers. One of the most common statements I hear right now is, "I don't know what I am feeling and I don't know what is going on with me". There seems to be such an elevated sense of uneasiness that is not quite able to completely resolve.
True, we have physically adjusted to our new environment, but our bodies are experiencing less stimulation due to decreased touch, hugs, connection, intimacy. Lack of connection for long periods of time can affect even the strongest of us. It is no wonder why many people who have never experienced anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, and severe depression are baffled by the intense impact these symptoms can have on our well-being. While our tolerance of masks and societal adjustments have become largely adaptable. It is not as easy to calm the "powerful mind" and subsequently our physical, mental, spiritual, and social health suffers in more ways than we immediately recognize.
So, what can we do? #1-Make a Plan: Identify what you have lost and determine what you think you need/want or have been lacking during this time. Sometimes, we just need to honestly acknowledge where we are at so we can begin to deal with it honestly and process our emotional grief. #2-Re-Establish Connection: Self-care may have previously been that thing that was negotiable but no longer optional. Whether you are taking scheduled moments throughout the day to just do some deep breathing, positive self-talk, or taking time to do something for oneself, make it a consistent intentional act of self-care. If connection has been limited with loved ones, create an alternative way to connect (cards, scheduled video chats, etc.). Often anxiety occurs when our body longs for the things it used to have. To some degree it needs a new "process of association". Adapting these actions/processes can go a long way in establishing a "new emotional norm" like we have adjusted to new physical and societal norms. By doing this, we tell our minds and body "Hey, I am still here" just in a different way temporarily. #3-Talk it Out: Never underestimate the power of releasing emotions through simply talking. I can't count how many times I've rambled on with a friend and at the end of it all I took a deep breath and said "Man I didn't know I even needed that". Give yourself space and freedom to process your thoughts and feelings.
What cannot go unnoticed is while we are masking our faces, we should consider where we are also masking our feelings. I know for me, the hardest part has been the realization of facing this pandemic on multiple emotional levels I did not expect: through my eyes as a mother, a co-worker, a family member, a community volunteer, a leader, a counselor. Each layer carries it's own sense of grief within it that is undeniable. It's just difficult! So, I've had to give myself a lot of grace throughout this season of change for us as a society. I hope these simple steps also encourages you to take some time to evaluate where you stand, identify needs and wants, and allow yourself to openly process how this "new normal" affects you. Always remember, even in the midst of pain and discouragement, healing and growth is there too!
You can also view this special article in ISSUU magazine pages 32-33! https://issuu.com/fmhca/docs/insession_april_2021
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 3, Understanding the Impact of Trauma. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/