I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate. I’ve been finding it hard to sleep well. I’ve been finding it hard to get motivated and stay motivated. I’ve been finding it hard to pry myself away from my phone. I’ve been finding it hard to be patient and gracious — with others and myself.
I feel all out of sorts and I want to wake up from this nightmare and go back to my life as normal.
This, my friends, is trauma. What our state, our country, and our world is experiencing right now with the rapid spread of a deadly pandemic is trauma, and it would benefit us greatly to acknowledge it, name it, and care for it.
As someone who has battled depression, anxiety, and the effects of trauma for much of my life, I am in continuous need of self-care and resources that support my mental health. One of the tools that I use is the Allender Center Podcast — a resource developed by the Allender Center of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.
In the second episode of their “Love and Courage in a Global Pandemic” series, Rachael Clinton Chen and Dr. Dan Allender discuss the three things that are present in trauma: fragmentation, numbing, and isolation.
Our schedules, plans, and routines have suddenly become fragmented: kids are home from school, trips have been called off, offices have closed, fitness classes are cancelled, church has moved online, and meeting up with friends at your favorite restaurant has been postponed until further notice. Additionally, our sense of safety and security has become fragmented, which puts a tremendous amount of strain on our brains and bodies.
“When your brain is experiencing an overwhelming sense of threat — like a virus that is deadly and relatively unseen in many people who are healthy — your body and brain fragment,” as do your “routines and structures that have helped you establish care,” states Rachael.
Fragmentation, Dan adds, “forces you to slow down and know you cannot be as efficient, you can’t be as ‘successful’… as when your executive functioning is operative… Our ability to reason, rationally think a problem through, come to a solution… we’re just not going to be operating at our optimum, and you can’t at this point. You can’t outrun the trauma.” (Type-A managers, take note!)
Since the start of the chaos of social distancing, shutdowns, and all the accompanying fear related to the skyrocketing spread of Corona Virus, I have been glued to my phone. Not only is it an escape from loneliness — as my phone is a way to remain connected with loved ones — but also it is very much an escape — a way to numb myself — from the negative feelings of the traumatic situation we now find ourselves in.
“Numbness is a natural response to threat, fear, and dread,” states Rachael. We need to allow ourselves to name that “something in me wants to escape all that I’m feeling,” Dan explains.
Rachael continues, “Numbness is a context for survival, but it limits our capacity to be present with what is; and right now there’s a lot of grief, loss, changed plans, and worry… your body and heart are holding so much right now.” Therefore, our propensity towards numbing and addictive behaviors makes a great deal of sense at this time.
The amount of grief and loss involved with this kind of global threat and day-to-day life disruption is overwhelming — so overwhelming that we can hardly bear to face it. Only just this morning did I finally recognize the great sadness I feel that I was not able to visit a friend in Denver and another in South Carolina earlier this month. I didn’t feel it right away, because as Rachael explains, “you can’t lament while you’re in the middle of trauma.”
Isolation comes when our response to trauma is such that we try to “isolate [ourselves] from being able to care,” Dan explains. “Something in you says, ‘I will not connect [with myself or others] because it opens my heart to too much grief and desire, and I don’t want to actually have to build bridges to the people around me.” This feeling can be exacerbated by the reality that we should be — and in some cases, are mandated to be — practicing social distancing.
Caring for Ourselves in Trauma
Dan and Rachael encourage us to “honor that we’re all in trauma” so that we can best care for ourselves and others by acknowledging, being gracious towards, and caring for our traumatic responses of fragmenting, numbing, and isolating.
Because none of us is exempt from the trauma of this pandemic, I encourage all of us to be mindful of and practice the following:
— Expect less of yourself and others: no one is operating at full capacity right now and no one is able to be the best version of themselves; please offer to yourself and others grace upon grace, as challenging as it may be.
— Because trauma robs us of our ability to be present and find language for what is happening within and around us, give yourself and others more time and opportunities for grounding activities: tapping, meditation, yoga, engaging your five senses, going for a walk, memorizing and repeating scripture or a poem, petting your dog, squeezing a stress ball, etc. This is not a waste of time.
— Trauma creates an increase of adrenaline and cortisol (hormones released when under stress) in our bodies. So MOVE, MOVE, MOVE to give them an outlet. (For this reason, I have needed about 3 long walks a day and at least one round of yoga. A friend of mine needs rigorous physical activity multiple times a day to be ok. So be it.)
— Make a routine: the effects of fragmentation and numbness thrive when we don’t try to make some sort of routine out of our new “normal;” however, this should be created with the “expect less” mentality and a lot of self-kindness. Dan says, “I need a routine to know what I’m going to do with all that’s going on inside of me… [but] we need to become much more simple, focused, and gracious to ourselves.”
So perhaps your schedule for the day can look like this: breakfast via FaceTime with sister, work for a few hours (with a 15 minute yoga break in the middle), go for a walk at lunch with friend via FaceTime, work a few hours more (again, with another break in the middle to move), prepare and eat dinner with family or housemates, evening walk, watch two episodes of something I love, bubble bath, meditation, bedtime. Structured but simple.
— Acknowledge and name your feelings, and then make a game plan for how you will care for them. Dan says, “Bless the numbness [you feel], but don’t indulge it by adding greater levels of addiction to escape.” Challenge yourself to lean into your community (at a distance) and ask for what you need.
— Give yourself purpose and meaningful connection: connect regularly with your loved ones — in both scheduled and impromptu ways, give to causes you care about, buy groceries for a neighbor, send a card to an elderly friend, support restaurants and businesses you love, make a poster to hang in your window to encourage passersby, get creative (as you are able — creativity is another thing that can go out the window in trauma). Challenge yourself to do this instead of constantly watching the news or scrolling endlessly on social media.
If you, like me, have been feeling all out of sorts in countless ways, it’s not because you’re doing this “new normal” wrong — it’s because what we are all experiencing is trauma, and that warrants all the grace, kindness, and care we can muster.
#covid19 #covid #coronavirus #trauma #selfcare #mentalhealth