Trauma Overview

“I don’t know why I’m crying…”

Have you said that? Or, maybe you’ve heard someone else say it. It’s a pretty common sentiment these days. Emotions are running high and our brains are processing the changes the best they can. And sometimes our processing power goes into overdrive.

For example, I burst into tears the other day in the middle of uploading coloring sheets to my website. Last week, my chest tightened up as soon as I opened my eyes and started to get out of bed. Another day, I sat on my couch and stared off into space for an hour. 

Living in the COVID-19 pandemic has propelled us into trauma. Rather than ignoring or stigmatizing it, let’s recognize it for what it is. We can’t stop it, but we can learn to better understand it and get through it the best way we know how.

What is trauma?

It’s a physiological response to a distressing event. It’s often the result of us experiencing more stress than we’re able to process. The stress outweighs our ability to cope or understand and manage our emotions. IT MAKES US FEEL BROKEN BUT WE ARE NOT.

What is trauma NOT?

Trauma is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not something we can hide from. EXPERIENCING TRAUMA IS NOT A CHARACTER FLAW.

Why do I feel the way I do?

Because our brains have a physiological response to a terrifying external event. Trauma causes parts of our brain to shut down. It’s a survival mechanism. When that happens, we can’t fully process what’s happening. We might feel numb or disconnected. We might feel anxious or depressed. We all have a predisposition to how we react to trauma. ALL OF THESE REACTIONS ARE VALID.

How can I cope?

Since each of us responds to trauma in a slightly different way, each of us has unique coping needs. In general, here are some things I know to be true:

  • It’s OK to function differently than what’s been your “normal.” CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can even if it doesn’t feel like enough. Rest more if you’re able. Reach out to your people. Physical isolation doesn’t have to mean social isolation, too.
  • Understand that laying guilt on yourself is not helpful. PLEASE DON’T PUNISH YOURSELF.
  • Find comfort where you’re able to. Try to let go of the “I shouldn’t do this” thinking and do what you need to help yourself feel better.
  • Let go of the myth that you have to be busy. No. You. Don’t. You need to find ways to function in your life but if you have more time on your hands because pieces of your life have been stripped away, YOU DON’T NEED TO FILL THE TIME. You get to rest. And grieve. And heal. (Side note: I’ll be writing about grief in the near future.)
  • My go-to coping skill is yoga. Trauma deregulates our nervous system and creates shorts in our neuro circuitry. Yoga practices like deep breathing, gentle movement or meditation can help us reconnect our wiring – even if just for a little while. Join me for one of my classes. Look for meditation and breathing technique videos on YouTube. Allow yourself to slow down.

When will I feel better?

I don’t have an answer for that question. In the midst of trauma, feeling better is going to vary day by day, even hour by hour. Use your coping skills as best you can. Trauma sticks with us for a long time. Our brains will only process as much as they’re able at any given time and that means when we are through the external trauma, it’s still living inside us. That seems like a downer, I know. But, building coping skills today, learning to ask for help, and accepting trauma as a very real part of the COVID-19 experience will help set us up for long-term healing.

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