How to practice self-care to release the easily ignored trauma of COVID-19
Psychotherapist, counsellor and energetic healer Jennifer Nurick offers her top tips for surviving the wild ride of collective trauma that we’re all coping with during coronavirus.
We are living in a world where we are being encouraged to use this extra down time to work out more, take up a hobby or do a new course. This “extra time” is due to a global pandemic. Meaning more hours at home, a lot more hours working from home and an overarching feeling of uncertainty.
People are being their own worst critic and are forgetting to rest and simply take care of themselves. We are experiencing the same, collective trauma which can leave us feeling fatigued, exhausted or overwhelmed. We are living in exceptional times, and if you are struggling to ‘be productive’ during this time, be gentle with yourself, put self care first and let’s just survive.
Here’s how to survive this wild ride.
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What is collective trauma?
Usually, when we talk about a trauma, we are referring to a single incident of trauma that affects an individual or a small group.
When we talk about collective trauma, we are referring to a trauma that impacts whole communities or societies. Collective trauma has the power to radically alter how the community functions. For example, essential changes to gun control laws followed the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were killed in a mass shooting.
How COVID-19 can be thought of as a collective trauma
COVID-19 has had a truly global impact. With unclear medical information, fear relating to health and finances, imposed isolation, changes to routine and support structures, it has been a stressful time for everyone.
With a collective trauma, there are many people in that group going through an experience that is de-stabilizing. It can be difficult to find people within the group who are not somehow affected by the trauma.
How trauma shows up in the body and affects our mental health
Trauma is known to affect our mental health and our brain, according to Van der Kolk. As either we, or people we love, lose their jobs, experience marital stress, struggle to homeschool their children and work full time, or start to experience more and more depression, we find ourselves living in a kind of energetic ‘soup’ of stress and anxiety. This ‘soup’ might leave you feeling exhausted for no apparent reason, struggling to sleep or focus, overcome with worry about your health or finances.
This is all normal during a pandemic, while we are experiencing a collective trauma.
How to take care of yourself
With any collective trauma, one of the most powerful things you can do for your community is to take care of yourself and those around you.
Let’s start practically:
Have a COVID-19 action plan
Know where to go to be tested, and who you will contact in the event you are ill. Know where to get treatment. Know where you might be supported in terms of mental and emotional health, counselling or psychotherapy.
Limit media intake in all forms
Media is something we consume, and it often affects the amount of stress we feel about what is happening in the world. Media can be anxiety provoking during a pandemic, so put boundaries around it.
Social isolation has been connected with a myriad of health issues including poor mental health, suicide, emotional distress, insomnia and premature death, according to Holt-Lunstad et al. Staying connected to friends and family is imperative, but tricky during a pandemic. We have to get creative. Consider planning an online breakfast on your balcony with your mum or arranging a trivia night online with friends – anything that keeps you connected and brings laughter and lightness.
And now for your inner world:
Self-care for your mental health
Self-care during a pandemic is paramount. What do you do to self-care? What makes you feel relaxed and safe? It might be taking regular baths, reading, knitting, cooking, getting to sleep before 10pm, eating nutritious food and making time for your favourite exercise.
Time to relax
Many of my clients have been finding working from home difficult in terms of having boundaries around work hours. They are finding themselves still reading their emails at 11pm, partly because of increased work pressure due to decreased staff. We need time out. Put boundaries in place with yourself around work.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, inflammation and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Lang et al. and Goyal et al. Meditation reduces anxiety, increases self-awareness and is a wonderful way to self-regulate. Just 10 minutes of meditation daily makes a huge difference.
This is big for everyone – trying not to compare yourself to people who you think are ‘handling it all better than me”. Everyone is different and in different circumstances, so be gentle and loving with yourself. Remember we are going through a global pandemic and this is not likely to be the most productive time of your life. It is normal to feel confused, unsure, foggy, tired, and over it all.
Nature goes through cycles; we have spring, summer, autumn and winter, we have lunar cycles, menstrual cycles and cycles of life and death. We are currently in the midst of a global cycle, that we could liken to winter, when all the animals go inside to stay warm and safe and to hibernate.
Now is the time to take good care of ourselves and each other during the winter. Like any cycle, this will pass, and there will be a spring.
Jennifer Nurick (M.A. Psych/Couns.) is a psychotherapist, counsellor and energetic healer. She is president of the International Energetic Healing Association and the founder of Psychotherapy Central. You can find out more about her,here.