Trauma and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.
We have all waited for this day. March 306th, 2020. If you’re reading this, you too, have survived the worst year in modern human history. I’ll be the first to admit that my previous New Year’s blog didn’t age well. And in the same light, I am hoping this one doesn’t age well either.
Blink twice if you’re exhausted. You aren’t alone in this; it was an emotionally heavy year.
Between a global pandemic, increased civil unrest against systemic racism, a contentious
presidential election, and a worsening climate crisis… feelings of helplessness and
disconnection blanketed our already existing life struggles. These events are overlapping and overwhelming; forcing us all to adjust the way we navigate the world including how we cope. Easily classified as intense, harmful, and/or life-threatening, the events of 2020 fit snugly under the very definition of trauma. Traumatic events can impact every area of our functioning including psychological, behavioral, physical, social, and spiritual. On an individual level, normal reactions to trauma include sadness, confusion, increased anxiety, agitation, numbness, and exhaustion.
While we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. Collective trauma is a psychological upheaval that is shared by a group of people, shattering the fabric of society but in a way that is experienced on an individual basis. Past examples of collective trauma include: 9/11 attacks, natural disasters, racism, homophobia, and even the state of the economy. These experiences remain lodged in the hearts of different communities, groups, and societies… yet people may bear the burden of trauma differently. We have witnessed the lack of access to resources and support unequally impact our most vulnerable community members. Just as individual trauma impacts how people feel, act, and process situations- collective trauma can result in entire cultural shifts and societal changes through the meaning we make of this era. Because one day, we will individually recall the struggles, triumphs, and lessons learned to future generations.
The Renaissance was arguably made possible by the forces unleashed on society by the
devastating 14th century bubonic plague. The Roaring 20s came after the Spanish Flu. Our time to rejoice and celebrate will come, but until then our current reality remains unstable. Life has not yet allowed us a proper grace period to process and heal from the continuous upheaval. Throughout the year we have had to repeatedly demonstrate flexibility in our plans, adjust to the newness, and soak in the smaller things in life that made us feel stable. And one day at a time, we did it.
The bad news is that we have no idea when that grace period will come. The good news is that we can begin to increase our resilience and make meaning of this time in our lives to conquer an uncertain 2021. Below are a few ideas to begin this process:
1- Counseling- Seek therapy or counseling to begin reflecting on and processing the
events of this year. Processing something means talking through or coming to an
understanding of something to deplete its emotional charge. This includes working
through triggers and patterns, so they don’t impact us later!
2- Connection- Recovery from anything rarely occurs in isolation. Humans are social
creatures that benefit greatly from a sense of belonging. In a time when being
together physically is off the table, purposefully finding ways to connect and relate
to others is pertinent. However, we also need to establish a connection with
ourselves and within our own physical bodies. As trauma is often stored in the
body, being able to examine the sensations and understand how we carry trauma
will help us to cope with our experiences.
3- Control- Positive psychology suggests overcoming a sense of helplessness by
focusing on things within our immediate control. When we lean into the aspects of
our lives that we can control, we can reestablish a sense of security and safety.
Things within our control may include establishing reliable self-care techniques by
nurturing or restoring our basic physical health needs (nutrition, exercise, sleep,
managing mental health symptoms, etc.). We can also control small things in our
environment such as maintaining a routine, using media to seek out positive news,
celebrating the small wins, and testing new healthy coping skills.
4- Compassion- To have compassion for others is to understand and sympathize with
the suffering of others. In fact, compassion means “to suffer together.” We are
often taught from a young age to treat others with kindness but what is taught less
often is how we can cultivate a sense of self-compassion. To have self-compassion
is to observe your process non-judgmentally. To approach your emotions with
curiosity and tenderness. Extending yourself the same grace as you would a friend.
Whatever this year looked like for you, congratulations on making it to the end. May your 2021 bring healing and hope to your life.