What do you think about when you hear the word “trauma”? Maybe you think about soldiers returning from war, or maybe you think about someone who was the victim of a violent crime.
What if I told you that there are more sources of trauma?
Trauma is important to talk about, especially in light of the pandemic. We have doctors and nurses who are witnessing people die every day, we have people who are witnessing their loved ones die over iPads, we have thousands of people who nearly died from the virus and survived, and we’re all living with the constant threat of a disease that may or may not make us deathly ill.
Because of this, we need to talk about trauma.
Before we discuss it, though, we need to define it. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Trauma is “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects of the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” In other words, a traumatic event is one that affected you physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually without necessarily being life-threatening.
The reactions to a traumatic event can vary widely. Some people can move on quickly after a traumatic event, but others may struggle to process what happened. There are several factors that help reduce the risk of having mental health struggles after a traumatic event(s). For example, if this is the first traumatic event you’ve gone through, you have no preexisting mental health issues, and you have a strong support system, then those factors build resiliency, which makes it easier to process what happened.
Unfortunately, because we all need to spend more time at home, it’s harder to connect with our support systems, which weakens our resiliency. If a person has preexisting trauma or mental health disorders, then it’s more likely that the traumatic event will negatively impact their mental health.
If left unchecked, trauma can cause a variety of negative physical and mental health issues, especially when trauma occurs in childhood. In fact, studies have shown that the following are associated with traumatic experiences. These include:
- Substance abuse, including smoking, alcohol abuse, and illicit drug use.
- mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
- risky behaviors, such as self-injury and risky sexual encounters.
Thankfully, there are things that we can do to minimize the impact of COVID-19 trauma. Here are my tips for managing trauma:
- Maintain a routine. Humans are creatures of habit. We like to know what to expect. If you have children, then it’s even more important to establish routines. Even though the pandemic is unpredictable, we can create predictability within our homes.
- To create predictability, consider waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, plan meals, and choose one evening a week to spend time together as a family. These are a few easy ways to create more predictability.
- Monitor your news consumption. Watching or reading the news too much can cause anxiety because it forces your brain to think about the same scary things over and over again. You don’t want to be in the dark about what’s going on, but you also don’t want to fixate either. I limit my news to the national and local news on NBC on a good anxiety day. If I’m having a bad anxiety day, I’ll limit myself to the local news, since it gives a good summary of the national, state, and local COVID-19 updates.
- If you have children, limit the information your kids receive. Of course, it’s important to talk to them about wearing masks, social distancing, and handwashing. However, they don’t need to know every little detail about what’s going on.
- When considering what to tell to your children, consider if the information directly impacts them. For example, it’s important to tell your kids if a loved one is sick, you or your spouse has lost a job, or they might not be able to return to school. All of these things will impact your child, and they need to be told this information in an age-appropriate way.
- Give your child the opportunity to process their feelings. If your child has questions or worries about what’s going on, address them in an age-appropriate way. Reassure them that you’re doing what you can to keep them safe. If they’re frustrated with the restrictions and cancellations, validate their feelings and listen to them. Show them that you’re here for them during this hard time.
- Do what makes you happy. Obviously, there are a lot of restrictions on what we can and can’t do right now. Whenever possible, though, lean into what makes you happy and relaxed, whether it’s exercise, prayer, watching TV, hanging out with loved ones over Skype, or arts and crafts. Doing these things will give you a break, and they’ll help you feel more relaxed.
- Find the humor when you can. Obviously, this is a serious situation, and we need to follow the regulations. However, some situations are so ridiculous that you either have to laugh or cry. Keep your eyes out for such situations, and don’t be afraid to laugh.
- Know it’s okay to seek outside help. Therapy or medication might be necessary right now, just to get you through the rough patch. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It means that you just need some extra support right now, and there’s no shame in admitting it. Many psychiatrists and therapists accept insurance, and many are doing telehealth appointments.
- Also, check your insurance to see if there are expanded benefits for mental health appointments. Some insurance providers are covering more of the costs of mental health appointments and medications, so it might be less expensive to seek help now.
This year has been difficult, painful, and just plain weird. We’ve all endured losses, be it a loved one, a job, our health, graduations and other special moments, or our sense of security. We don’t have to let this year have the final say, though. We have the power to fight back and take back some of the control.
The pandemic won’t last forever. It will go away eventually. In the meantime, we need to take care of ourselves and each other, even as we remain socially distant. We have the strength to make it through this hard time. Everything will be okay.
How have you been doing during the pandemic? If you feel comfortable sharing, leave a comment below.