A Comprehensive Guide on Managing Trauma From and During Covid-19
Trauma has developed into a commonly known concept, we may even find that at this very moment in time—we may have met at least one person that has undergone a traumatic event, including ourselves. It is important to recognize that trauma may look and feel differently for everyone. There are times we experience things that are painful, scary, and oftentimes unexpected, it may take a while to get over the pain and regain a sense of safety again. But it does happen, with time.
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an additional traumatic event experienced by many people throughout the world. We have all seen the news and stayed up to date with social media, our own family and friends—we have seen the multiple stories of thousands of people diagnosed with COVID-19, those that have succumbed to this sickness and the innumerable symptoms experienced by those that fallen victim of the virus. Aside from this, we have seen the statistics of deaths and how scary it is to see our very own state holds many cities that have been considered the epicenter of the virus. Multiple changes to lives have been experienced, from loss of lives to loss of jobs to adjustments at work to our social lives to changes in religious settings, hospitals, schools, our local communities in general, and in our very own homes.
My hope is that with this short piece summarizing what trauma is, how to identify it, and what to do that you may find these self-help strategies to be the help you need to find support. My hope is that you can better understand your own situation and find a way for self-discovery, recovery, help, and support if needed.
What is Trauma?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”
In this text, “trauma” refers to experiences that cause intense physical and psychological stress reactions. “Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative, 2012, p. 2). Although many individuals report a single specific traumatic event, others, especially those seeking mental health or substance abuse services, have been exposed to multiple or chronic traumatic events. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), trauma is defined as when an individual person is exposed “to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013, p. 271).
Oftentimes trauma can present itself through varying symptoms, such as fear and anxiety. When it comes to COVID-19 many of us have found a deep and internalized fear to try things we used to do, going to the supermarket, work and/or school, and spending quality time with friends or family. This fear and anxiety is normal, however—we have to remain mindful and not let it paralyze us, keep an eye on this—does it affect your daily living? Your daily functioning? Is it harmful to you? Or to others? Then may this “trauma” is affecting you more deeply in ways that have not been as obvious as we may lead ourselves to believe.
Types of Trauma
There are three types of trauma. The first, Acute anxiety also known and identified as resulting from a single incident. Second, Chronic Anxiety which is repeated and prolonged such as DV or abuse. Lastly, Complex trauma, which is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, oftentimes of an invasive, interpersonal nature.
How Trauma Manifests Itself
Trauma responses and symptoms can manifest itself in many ways- there is not just one way it shows up in individuals. We all react differently, and it is important to allow the space for each of us to express our own reactions for what it is.
· Emotional & Psychological symptoms
· Shock, denial, or disbelief
· Confusion, difficulty concentrating
· Anger, irritability, mood swings
· Anxiety and fear
· Guilt, shame, self-blame
· Feeling sad or hopeless
· Feeling disconnected or numb
· Physical Symptoms
· Insomnia or nightmares
· Being startled easily
· Difficulty concentrating
· Racing heartbeat
· Edginess and agitation
· Aches and pains
· Muscle tension
Knowing what the responses are for each of us is helpful for our recovery. Knowing our own individualized responses help us to recognize how an event has affected us and gives us an idea as to what we need to tackle those responses (triggers or symptoms).
How can we tackle trauma?
Give yourself time!
It may take weeks or months to accept what has happened and to learn how to live with it (it never goes away)-- you may need to grieve what (or who you’ve lost), things we’ve lost, and ideas, dreams, or expectations we may have had for what 2020 was “supposed” to look like for many of us. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist, a pioneer in near-death studies, and author of the internationally best-selling book, On Death and Dying (1969), where she first discussed her theory of the five stages of grief, also known as the "Kübler-Ross model". Kubler-Ross identifies 5 different stages of grief we as human beings experience when undergoing a loss—now loss can be anything (i.e. loss of life, loss of a type of functioning, loss of a job, loss of opportunities, etc).
The relevance in identifying where you are in the stages of grief is important in order to see where you are and what you can do—to relieve pain, suffering, and/or begin stages of rebuilding and moving forward.
How to Move Forward and Heal
Find out what happened. For many of us, the answers we may be researching for many be overwhelming when it comes to COVID-19—try to filter and/or balance out how much time you spend here. But finding and identifying concrete answers and facts do help. It can be cathartic to face the reality of what has happened than to constantly wonder what might have happened. Advocate for yourself—whether its at work, school, home, and/or in the community. If you don’t, then who will?
Trauma Recovery Tips
Tip #1: GET MOVING
· Try exercising 30 mins or more
· Trauma disrupts equilibrium, freezing you in a state of hyperarousal and fear.
· Burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins--exercise and movement can actually HELP repair the nervous system.
· Add exercise that is rhythmic
· Add a mindfulness element
· Meditation, yoga, reiki, progressive muscle relaxation, journaling, and/or visualization exercises
Tip #2: DON’T ISOLATE
· Trauma survivors may want to withdraw from others, but isolation may only make things worse.
· Connecting to others will help the healing process (humans are not meant to live in isolation), we are in relation to many things, meant to connect and we thrive off of that.
· Ask for support
· Participate in social activities
· Reconnect with old friends and/or make new ones
· Join a support group for trauma survivors
Tip #3: SELF-REGULATE YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM
· Mindful breathing
· Sensory input
· Staying grounded
· Allowing yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it
Tip #4: TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH
· Get plenty of sleep
· Create a schedule, regimen for yourself-- get 7-9 hours of sleep each night
· Avoid alcohol and drugs
· Sometimes of the use of these substances can exacerbate the trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.
· Eat well-balanced meals
· Help to keep your energy up and minimize mood swings
· Look into supplements (vitamins)- B12, omegas (or foods that include this)
· Reduce stress
· Meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises
· Schedule time for activities that bring JOY!
· Revisit past hobbies/skills/talents
We don’t know how long COVID-19 is going to be around for and for how long we are all going to have to continue to endure all of these life-long changes. What we do know is how to take care of ourselves, others, and how to survive this to the best of our abilities. Please don’t do this alone.
If you are feeling truly overwhelmed, lost, and alone and have tried numerous attempts at resolving internalized fear—then know that support and help is just a phone call and/or a click away. CMC therapists are ready and at your disposal to support and assist you during these unprecedented and trying times. I currently open and flexible when it comes to seeing clients in person (face-to-face) and/or through telehealth (videoconferencing and/or telephone counseling). The option is there for you, now it’s time for you to push yourself just a little bit more and make the call—because YOU ARE WORTH IT. Therapeutic services are an investment in yourself and can be truly liberating and lifesaving.
To schedule a session with me, click here.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative (2012). SAMHSA's working definition of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Trauma. (2020). Retrieved July 2020, from https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma
Don’t forget to always put yourself first. Strive to be present, mindful, and intentional with your words, thoughts, and actions—be your whole unapologetic self.
Stay healthy and safe everyone.
Dr. Nicole Linardi, LMHC