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Trauma and the COVID-19 Era

Life in the COVID-19 era has changed our lives for the time being and certainly put tremendous strain on many of us, which will likely last past this crisis. Not only have our daily routines changed, but we have also been limited of what we can do and who we can interact with. Financial and health worries compounded by a sense of general uncertainty can have traumatizing effects as we are trying to cope with it all.

You may wonder why this situation can be described as a trauma and how do you know that it is traumatizing to you? Here, I’d like to explain it from the perspective of our body because the body is registering stressful events and triggers us to have certain responses as a means dealing with it. This can vary from one person to another. As we are overwhelmed with a stressful situation, the fear center of our brain – the amygdala – is put into overdrive through a rush of adrenaline. This happens for good reason as it is a normal survival response to danger. Reactions such as fight, flight, freeze, or appease are all ways to get through such overwhelming situation. Simultaneously, our thinking and emotional parts of the brain become underactivated. We may stop remembering, lack concentration, say things or act in ways we wouldn’t do under non-traumatic conditions.

Our entire body gets involved when we are triggered by fear. The sympathetic nervous system is activated by the processes in the brain, accelerating our heart rate, dilating the pupils, relaxing the bladder, and so on. We could say that we are “bumped out” of our resilient zone, the state where our mind, body, and spirit are in balance. It is when our nervous systems work well together to navigate daily stressors by engaging in our coping methods we have acquired during our lives, such as talking to someone, crying, exercising, or other less adaptive ways of dealing. While it is quite normal to get “bumped out” of this zone from time to time, it is unhealthy for our entire system to stay there for a longer period of time. When it becomes a chronic state, our mind, body, and spirit suffer greatly. This is what many people have been and will be experiencing over the next weeks, even months.

What to do?

Be mindful of your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during this time. When feeling overwhelmed, try to sense into your body and feelings; what do they need right now? Think about things you can still do, that can be enjoyable. For your body, some people may prepare and eat a delicious meal, take a path, go for a run, or have sex. To nourish your spirit, one may meditate, pray, or practice gratitude. And for your mind, reading a book, listening to a podcast, catching up with a friend over the phone, and seek mental health counseling through the various outlets available. There are many options and only you know what is right for you. Finally, I wanted to highlight that it is easy to fall back into our old habits, the ones we got rid of for good reason. We all have them, so let’s keep that in mind as well.

Be safe and healthy.

Written by Beatrice Schreiber, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, Supervised by Dr. Katja Pohl, PSY25919

  • Associate Therapist at Dr. Katja Pohl Psychotherapy, Inc.
  • Practitioner of the Community Resiliency Model, Trauma Resiliency Model, and Attachment-focused EMDR