This article was written by Sorcha DeHeer
There has been no shortage of advice on how to handle the stress of Covid-19. Most of us are not accustomed to working from home, taking online classes, or self-isolating. We all had summer plans that are likely cancelled or delayed. The most important thing to remember is that we are all experiencing a type of trauma. We don’t always think of trauma in this way but doing so could help put our emotions and anxieties in prospective. The best advice I have seen, and arguably the most difficult, is to be easy on yourself. Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist and advice columnist told The Lily, “don’t underestimate the mental and physical energy that it takes to completely overhaul your day-to-day existence, calculating threats constantly, and having to rethink the most basic decisions.”
Everyone reacts to and processes trauma differently, but understanding the source of that trauma is essential. As a community we are facing a threat that most of us can do relatively little against. This can make us feel trapped; the danger! siren in our heads going off more than normal. It is normal to feel angry that your plans have been cancelled and anxious not knowing what the future holds. It takes a considerable amount of energy to deal with all of this, every day. In addition to this, our ability to rely on friends and family for support has been reduced. I didn’t realize how much of my good mood depended on seeing certain people every day, being at school or in an office until I couldn’t do those things anymore. Not only are we prevented from seeing people but we can feel disconnected from many of our communities: the university, personal friend groups, family members, and work. It’s not usual for us to lose so many connections almost overnight. So, if you are feeling tired or lacking the energy to accomplish tasks, it may be because your energy is being spent on surviving. Those who have previously experienced trauma could be reminded of it during this time, making it more difficult to cope. Uncertain financial prospects could trigger memories of being evicted before or previous financial strain, especially if experienced as children. Mental health problems can also be exacerbated
If you are having difficulties accomplishing tasks, Dr. Bonior suggests assigning yourself small, specific goals. This could be as simple as doing a load of dishes, responding to one email or doing one task in a bigger project. This can help us feel accomplished and over time more motivated to do larger tasks.
Sometimes, we do relatively well during a traumatic experience, but not so much after the fact. This is because our brains tend to process only after we feel safe for a period of time. It is important for us to remember this when everything starts to return to normal. Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill, a trauma therapist, notes that “trauma is generally complex and it therefore requires complex responses. A blend of strategies and practices is necessary to achieve and maintain what I have come to call trauma integration.” Talking to a professional can be very beneficial, but the experience and what you take away from therapy is different for everyone. Personally, what was most helpful was understanding how my brain worked and why it did the things it did. Other might benefit more from learning coping mechanisms or just having someone to vent to. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to access a counselor now; in person, online, through an app, etc.
No one needs to come out of this a new and improved person, we just need to survive. Be proud of yourself for enduring something most people alive today never have before.