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Is this trauma? (Probably, and here’s how you can deal with it.)

To say there’s a lot going on right now is an understatement. Literally no one saw this version of 2020 coming and we certainly weren’t prepared for it. (Murder hornets FFS) Covid-19 brought us an entirely new way of living and thinking—from quarantine to virtual school to working from home, working on the front lines, or maybe no longer working at all. Not to mention our leadership brushing off the deaths of 120,000 American souls as if it never happened, giving our country no opportunity to mourn collectively.

As our communities begin to slowly reopen, we still struggle to know what exactly is safe. Can we brunch when we risk endangering restaurant staff? Can we take our children to the playground because right now it feels like they really need it? When can we see our parents? Every time we do something, we need to make a new decision, weighing the risks versus rewards. This is absolutely not normal, and we shouldn’t even call it our “new normal,” which implies that we’re stuck here with no light at the end of the tunnel. There are good things ahead, we just can’t see it yet. Sort of like the sun at nighttime. Profound, I know.

Beyond the pandemic, many of us (hopefully!) are also owning up to our responsibility to educate ourselves and our children and actively stand up for our Black community. It’s extremely necessary, urgent work—to say it is long overdue is the understatement of a lifetime. We can fully support the Black Lives Matter movement, and yet at a time where many of us are struggling, we may still feel overwhelmed as we do the work. Change is supposed to be difficult, so what’s wrong with admitting to yourself that it is?

We as women, as mothers, as wives, as friends, have a lot to process right now, and odds are, most of us still haven’t. What we are facing right now is a collective trauma, and each of us are responding to it differently, coping differently, suffering differently. Regardless of your reasons, you have the right to grieve and feel what you feel. Denying these feelings will only exacerbate your mental health, and your physical health too in time.

I spoke to a trauma specialist and social worker, Emily Harstine, MSW LISW-S, to give me some insight on trauma. Here’s what she had to say:

"We can’t process trauma while we are still in the event that is traumatizing. We can’t switch back and forth between frontal cortex thinking versus amygdala thinking. So we also have to realize that as a country we are going to experience this in waves. Where some parts have met their peak and are beginning to see the beginning of ‘new day’ others haven’t even begun the mess yet.

Some of us have leaders that are supporting us and working to keep us safe, and some are politicizing the crisis which can add to compounded trauma. So we have to find out what is going to work for ourselves personally and our families and make our new bubbles. Right now we should be working on safety, security, building as much stability as possible, and not trying to avoid the circumstances."

Here’s a few small steps you can take to deal with your own trauma.

  1. Get old habits in check. Whatever your coping mechanisms are have likely been amplified in the last few months of quarantine (drinking, disordered eating, online shopping, constant busyness, anger, mentally tuning out and binge watching tv, scrolling for hours, chronic exercising, over-sleeping, etc.). It’s important to recognize that some of the behaviors that you’ve been experiencing might be reactions to the trauma, and assess whether they are helpful or harmful to your health.

  2. Don’t isolate yourself. Connect with friends and family, and share what you’re feeling. You may find you’re not alone, and it can really help to just feel heard. (I was recently interviewed on a podcast about how we can listen and share with empathy in a way that makes us all feel heard and validated. Give it a listen here.)

  3. Consider professional help. When your mental health begins impacting your quality of life—such as your ability to enjoy time with your family, work, maintain healthy relationships—it’s a good idea to reach out for help. Telehealth options are available through insurance and through some city-provided mental health assistance programs.

  4. Follow a routine. Believe it or not, constantly deciding what’s next adds to your mental load. Having a routine will free up some headspace and help you feel more organized and in charge. I also recommend checking out my Thrival Guide for ideas on how to plan your way to greater ease and vitality.

  5. Exercise. You probably saw this one coming! Exercise can be a gamechanger for your mental health, as well as your physical health and immune system. Get into the habit of working out daily. Need somewhere to start? I have some great free videos here that are doable for all levels, with no expensive props, and can easily be done with kiddos in the room.

  6. Focus on small tasks. Maybe your to-do list is a mile long, but make yourself a daily list of just 2-3 things that you know you can handle. Knocking out those small tasks can give you the boost of confidence and motivation you need to keep accomplishing something daily, rather than feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed by what needs to be done.

  7. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. It may feel like it relieves stress or helps you sleep now, but it can do damage in the long run when it comes to your mental state and even in terms of alcohol dependence.

  8. Write what’s true. Sometimes negative thoughts can snowball, so it’s helpful to put to paper what is really true—for example, I am healthy, my family is healthy, I am loved, I have a home. This can help shift your mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance, focusing on greater positivity and gratitude.

I really hope this helps. Don’t feel like you need to check off this entire list—baby steps are wonderful! Remember: progress, not perfection. I also hope that you won’t do this alone. I’m here to support you with weekly posts on how to create a happier, healthier life. Click here to subscribe to get all the good stuff for free directly in your inbox.

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