By Paige Zuckerman, Clinical Director
It’s been several weeks since our cities went into a state of emergency ‘lockdown.’ Our lives seem to have become restrained and constricted as well. Many of us are feeling increasing states of depression, loneliness, numbness and loss of motivation on top of the already reverberating anxiety.
I’ve had to remind myself several times that this is a pervasive, acute stress response-inducing event. This likely means that all of us on some level are in a state of traumatic stress that’s slow and unrelenting. We navigate through shifting states of uncertainty, cautiously proceeding through brambles of doubt, confusion, loneliness and despair. Our lack of clarity about what the ‘end’ of this pandemic will or should look like; or what a realistic timeframe is for adequate relief, causes further anxiety and compounds our current mental and emotional duress.
Living in Uncertainty
During an event of this nature, it is common that elevated stress responses lead to troubling personal, interpersonal and social outcomes. Increases in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, domestic violence and hate crimes increase. Many have lost jobs or been furloughed indefinitely, those who retain work have made massive adjustments, often working unpaid overtime or even losing pay yet working more. Additionally, although ‘staying home’ is the socially responsible action now, home is not necessarily a safe place for everyone. In fact, staying home may be a larger life crisis for some than falling physically ill with COVID-19.
How can we Stabilize Ourselves?
At this juncture of our experience, it makes sense to focus on stabilization and safety planning so that we can continue to ride out an unknown stressor of such severity. The first step to trauma treatment is stability. What does that look like? It begins with ‘resourcing,’ or another word for gathering and solidifying the needed things to feel a sense of basic control and maintenance of daily life. No, this doesn’t mean more toilet paper rolls. This means emotional and psychological resources.
Where are we in our brain?
During crisis’, our brains can become debilitated alongside our social lives. When we feel that there is a legitimate and ongoing threat to our way of life, access to our ‘executive functioning’ brain – aka the area of the brain responsible for critical thinking, rationale and managing complexity, can become limited. A much more primal, intuitive, and reflexive part of the brain becomes dominant and pervasive. This is a slow, silent battle that’s wearing on us, progressively. It is imperative to view resourcing as a guidepost for managing this experience.
Some Successful Strategies
– Look to ‘clone’ beloved and healthy coping strategies (find a Zoom yoga class or home workout Youtube tutorial, pop some popcorn and have a more specifically fun ‘movie night’ rather than just binge watching, order takeout or delivery from a local favorite restaurant and sit outside for a picnic.)
– Search for meaning-making. Find new ways to create a sense of purpose or ‘mission’ through this hardship. Locate the ways in which this experience is filled with lessons and wisdoms. Therapy can be a big help with this! (Shameless plug)
– Prepare for post-traumatic growth. When we resource well and make meaning of our traumas, we have the opportunity to develop skills, strengths and resiliencies afterward. Set your actions and intentions towards your potential for becoming bettered in the post-pandemic life picture. Imagine your ‘healing image’ now, in your mind, as you ride through this event. What do you want healing to look like?