Trauma, COVID-19, and Cutting Yourself Some Slack

Are you failing to build your abs while social distancing?
Or learn that new language?
Or clean out that closet (you know which one)?

Are you utterly exhausted while getting nothing done and beating yourself up for it?

STOP. Just stop.
And read on.

You are experiencing trauma, a deeply distressing and disturbing experience. How's that to describe a pandemic, "deeply distressing and disturbing experience"? Your experience does't have to be unique or worse than anybody else's for you to have genuine feelings about all this, nor for you to take care of yourself.

SAMHSA is a federal organization, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Now those words may have nothing to do with you generally. But they produce materials that are helpful to all of us in this weird universe to which we all have been transported by the deeply distressing and disturbing experience called COVID-19.

The following are excerpts from Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services, one of their resources.

Trauma affects your body, your thinking, your emotions, your sense of self, your soul. Here are some of the consequences of trauma (your results may vary):

Immediate Emotional Reactions:

  • Numbness and detachment
  • Anxiety or severe fear
  • Guilt (including survivor guilt)
  • Exhilaration as a result of surviving
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Helplessness
  • Feeling unreal; depersonalization (e.g., feeling as if you are watching yourself)
  • Disorientation
  • Feeling out of control
  • Denial
  • Constriction of feelings
  • Feeling overwhelmed

Immediate Physical Reactions:

  • Nausea and/or gastrointestinal distress
  • Sweating or shivering
  • Faintness
  • Muscle tremors or uncontrollable shaking
  • Elevated heartbeat, respiration, and blood pressure
  • Extreme fatigue or exhaustion
  • Greater startle responses
  • Depersonalization

Immediate Cognitive Reactions:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Rumination or racing thoughts (e.g., replaying the traumatic event over and over again)
  • Distortion of time and space (e.g., traumatic event may be perceived as if it was happening in slow motion, or a few seconds can be perceived as minutes)
  • Memory problems (e.g., not being able to recall important aspects of the trauma)
  • Strong identification with victims

Any of these sound familiar? I'm getting hit with anger, sadness, GI distress, faintness, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, rumination. And time, what day is this? What about you?

These are not good circumstances for undertaking ambitious schemes of self improvement. If you can, great. Go for it. You may have a plan that channels any of these reactions into something positive. There's a lot of banana bread being baked right this very minute, so much that they are writing articles about its psychological benefits.

But if you are stuck in a "should" storm, it's time to cut yourself some slack. You are not alone, as this article about 17 Totally Normal Things to Feel Right Now will demonstrate.

Things will get better. Well, I don't know about the universe. Me, I am expecting the whole show to go over a cliff and us with it. But we will get better. We will adapt to whatever this new world will dish up. We really will.

These also are consequences of trauma, what resilient people do eventually:

  • Increased bonding with family and community.
  • Redefined or increased sense of purpose and meaning.
  • Increased commitment to a personal mission.
  • Revised priorities.
  • Increased charitable giving and volunteerism.

So take a deep breath, drink some water, stretch and get whatever exercise you can, once you can, enjoy your banana bread. Move on when you are ready. You'll be okay, even if you have banana bread abs and don't speak French.

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