By Chad Sewich
Although the pandemic isn’t over, much of society has moved on past many of the necessary precautions that were taken during the worst of it. This is not a debate on pandemic measures, it’s about what we do with all the trauma that occurred during it. How do our minds and bodies move on?
There will be some people reading this that believe they are fine. Some of them are, but most of us are not. We all collectively suffered through one of – if not the most, extended traumatic events of our lives. Fear. Anxiety. Shame. This was (is) a shared experience that many of us have not truly dealt with emotionally. For most of us, our daily lives have adjusted to pre-pandemic routines, or close to them. But we cannot fully move on until we deal with the trauma that we have experienced.
For some, it was working from home and being away from friends and colleagues. For others, it was the loss of a loved one or their livelihood. There’s a full spectrum of loss that has scarred us on different levels. Until we work on that trauma, we will continue to feel pain and grieve for what we’ve gone through.
Have you noticed you or others around you are more on edge? Do small things upset you and set you off? There is a new energy where seemingly small things irritate people and they unleash. Sometimes it’s just a passive-aggressive comment, or maybe it’s next level like punching an airline employee. The world just feels different. There’s a reason for that: it is. Our collective trauma is spilling out into everyday life and until we each look at how the pandemic has affected us, we will continue to see this elevated degree of anger, rage, shame, sadness, and general unease.
Step 1 Acknowledge: So how do we address our pandemic trauma? The first thing we need to do is acknowledge it. Recognizing that you are going through something is powerful. It’s really the first step towards healing. Just like someone suffering through addiction, until they are aware of the problem, there can be no effective treatment because they do not really see the issue and aren’t able to help solve it. The same is true with trauma. Until it’s recognized as something that is affecting you, it’s not possible to fully address it and treat it.
Step 2 Notice: Once we notice that trauma is affecting us, the next step is to notice the reasons why. They may not be apparent. In the case of the pandemic, we know the mechanics of how it’s affected us – being isolated, not being able to do things we once did, losing income, etc…, but those are just the obvious things we’ve had to deal with. For most of us, the feelings that have come up during the pandemic are piggybacking on past trauma. Maybe you were lost in a supermarket as a child. Those feelings of abandonment and fear likely bubbled up to the surface, if even subconsciously, when faced with having to stay home and not seeing loved ones. Perhaps you lost your job during covid. The sense of economic insecurity may be enhanced by a time when you struggled to pay bills in college. Or maybe you lost someone close to you and those deep feelings of grief are all too familiar after losing someone in the past.
Step 3 Feel into it: Once you’ve recognized the trauma and the causes, the next step is to feel into it. That may sound scary and painful, and it likely will be at first, but running into the trauma is healing. Avoiding it will not get rid of it and will only push it down where it will erupt down the line. Feeling into trauma doesn’t mean we are wallowing in pain, rather we’re feeling the emotions and sensations in our body, not thinking through them. There’s a huge difference. Mindfulness and presence work isn’t about thinking away pain and trauma, it’s essentially about triggering our mind with the words and images that have caused us pain and feeling that energy in our body.
Sounds simple, right? For most of us, it’s not. We’re conditioned to think away problems. We believe our minds can find the answer if we just keep thinking through the problem. Unfortunately, we cannot think away the pain. We must feel it. We need to try and release that energy. Thinking about it on an endless loop will not release that pain. It will only keep it fresh. Locking it away, ignoring it, or “being strong” will only suppress the trauma until it comes up again.
How we can help: At the Kiloby Center, treating trauma is what we do. Whether it’s mental health or addiction issues, our caring and knowledgeable facilitators help clients work through their pain every day. Give us a call to see how we can help, 833-474-4064.