Trauma, Triggers, and What to do About it in the midst of this Pandemic

Check out the video recording below from a presentation last week by me and my colleagues.

We touch on trauma, triggers, neurobiology, self-care, boundaries, coping skills, and caring for others during this pandemic.

A Conversation on the Pandemic: Part 3

PC: Hian Oliveira

We have been asked to practice social distancing to protect not only ourselves but also our families, friends, and community (-ies). However, just because you have to keep your distance from other human beings does not meet that you cannot practice and keep social connectedness. Practice physical distancing, not social distancing. Reframe that thinking.

  • Have a picnic outside. Bring your own food!
  • Schedule time to catch over over the phone, video chat, text, whatever work for you.
  • Look into apps like Marco Polo (“video walkie talkie”) that allow you to have video chats with others. If you are wanting to feel connected, but are struggling to have the energy to engage in a full on phone conversation, apps like this will allow you to choose when to send a video, when to watch someone’s update, how long you want your update to be, etc.
  • Plan to watch a movie or a show at the same time at your own respective homes and chat about it.
  • Share how you are doing through artwork, memes, articles, etc.
  • Have a small bookclub within your group.
  • Plan to check in with each other if you don’t hear from one another for a while.
  • If you can afford to, send care-baskets, cards, books, new snacks, activity ideas/items, etc.
  • Talk about difficulties and challenges, but also share things that are bringing you joy, your small and big acomplishments, and things you are excited about.
  • Tell each other how much you mean to one another. Remind each other that you are loved.
  • Join an online group or community, be it a therapy group, book club, or one that revolves around an activity or a topic.

But what about the lack of physical intimacy if you are living alone or are in a living situation where physical affection is not possible or safe for any reason?

  • Check in with yourself for any difficult emotion you are feeling, notice where it shows up in your body, and just place a hand there as you breathe gently. You don’t have to try to change anything.
  • Give yourself a massage.
  • Give yourself a hug; squeeze yourself tightly and hold yourself.
  • Cuddle your pet(s); express how much you love them. If you don’t have a pet but are able to, adopt a pet or two. The companionship you derive from a pet can go a long way towards alleviating some of the loneliness you may be feeling.
  • Lie down and take deep, belly breaths. Place your hands on your stomach and notice it rising and falling.
  • Hold a pillow or a stuffed animal when you go to bed.

What ideas do you have for coping with physical distancing and/or the lack of physical closeness? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t, and what did you learn in the process?

A Conversation on the Pandemic: Part 2

PC: Thomas de LUZE

This pandemic may come with many tough experiences and feelings, such as anxiety, a sense of sadness, fatigue, overwhelm, a sense of doom, feeling of isolation, etc. On top of all this, most of us are separated from our support system(s) and may also be experiencing severe financial reprecussions, so what I can say with certainty is that you are doing the best you can with the abilities and the resources you have. The difficult feelings you are experiencing are also completely normal reactions to a novel and unexpected situation.

You may also be experiencing a lack of control, which can be scary. So, here are a few things you can manage and find some control over:

  1. News – It may be helpful to create a routine around how much news you consume in a day, what time of day you do so, and which outlets you trust. It can be overwhelming to get lots of information from lots of sources that may not even have been verified! Creating a routine and scheduling time for the news will allow you to have space for other things in your life. This goes for social media too!
  2. Sleep – Practicing sleep hygiene, getting sufficient sleep, and perhaps even napping, are great ways to ensure you are rested and have energy for the next day.
  3. Food and Water Intake – Ensuring you are eating and drinking water at regular intervals throughout the day can act as a break and also be another source of energy to get through this tough time. It’s about getting through the day sometimes.
  4. Movement – Whether it is dancing, walking, running, swimming, hopping, or skipping, bringing in movement in to your daily life will release feel-good neurotransmitters.
  5. Sunlight – Not only is this a good source of getting Vitamin D, but it’s also another source of getting some of that feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.
  6. Distraction – When you are really struggling, it is okay to distract yourself. It can a good way of coping with the pain and fear from the pandemic. This means when you notice painful thoughts, do something to take your mind off of it. You can go biking, watch a show, cook up a storm, do dishes, nothing is small enough. Try something.
  7. Helping Others – If you have the resources and time, supporting community members who are struggling may help you feel more engaged and less alone, especially as many individuals have been stripped of resources at this time and may also be struggling with loneliness. It’s not about losing yourself in any one activity – or most importantly, “saving” people – but it’s about creating a helpful, regular practice.
  8. A Coping Skill Toolbox – What are a few things you can put in your toolbox that you can use when you are feeling anxious, stressed out, angry, sad, disappointed, etc.? Napping, deep and slow belly breathing, going on walks, stretching, talking to someone, distracting yourself, writing things down, labeling and noticing your emotions, expressing your feelings and thoughts through art, petting your animal companion, taking a bath, giving yourself a massage, all of these are things you can try when you are struggling. Can you think of other coping/self-soothing activities to add to your toolbox?

I encourage you to first begin this practice with noticing. Simply notice what’s happening in all of these areas right now, what they are bringing in to your life, and what you want to keep and what you want to remove/manage. You don’t have to rush to change everything at once; that by itself may become overwhelming. It’s okay to start slow and focus on one thing at a time.

Some of you may be needing more support and structure at this time depending on your mental health, physical health, or financial health, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist, a psychiatrist, a medical provider, your chiropractor or massage therapist, your spiritual leader/group, agencies and programs that support with financial resources, or your family and friends. There is no shame in seeking support when you need it; as human beings, we need social connection to remain healthy and well.

Finally, while we may be physically distancing, it does not have to mean social distancing. I’ll talk about a a few ways to remain socially connected even in the midst of physical distancing next week.