Dealing With Trauma and its Effects as We Face The “New Normal”

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we often hear the phrase “the new normal.” This refers to the necessary changes and precautions that we must take in everything from how we interact with our loved ones to how we grocery shop to how we work. Activities like this—many of which we have taken part in throughout our lives without thinking twice—have suddenly become behaviors that can put us at risk.

Adding to the heightened state of anxiety during this pandemic is the civil unrest and protests that continue to occur across the country. These are important issues for us to be attuned to, but they can also be traumatic or triggering to witness. It may affect us all—not only as individuals, but as families and as a society at large. So, is this “the new normal” we are supposed to become accustomed to and are expected to accept?

We are creatures of habit. We expect our environments to be predictable, reliable, and safe. But heightened anxiety surrounding current events can cause a person to spiral out of control. In particular, people who have a history of traumatic events in their lives are more likely to experience heightened anxiety and isolation. It is normal to develop post-traumatic symptoms after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. At times, regular life events can cause the same response, such as loss of a job, relational issues, abandonment and more.

This is what trauma symptoms might look like. Each person may experience symptoms in their own individual way:

  • Reliving the event: You may have nightmares, intrusive thoughts about the event, or triggers – such as hearing, smelling or seeing things – that will cause you to relive the events.
  • Avoiding anything that reminds us of the event: Such as situations or people, places, and things that will remind us of the events. At times, it will look like emotional numbness.
  • Negative changes in beliefs and feelings: Having a negative change in mood since the event. You may think the world is not a safe place.
  • Feeling wound-up: Having a hard time sleeping, concentrating and being startled easily.

These symptoms can make an already difficult situation even more overwhelming. People who experience these symptoms may become paralyzed with dread and react poorly to the social isolation or uncertainties caused by COVID-19 and the ongoing protests.

Understanding trauma and its symptoms can allow you to better understand how to help someone who may be dealing with its effects. A few of the ways you can help someone who has experience trauma include:

  • Understanding them better by practicing active listening and facilitating an open environment where they feel comfortable sharing
  • Help them to establish a sense of safety by acknowledging safety in their bodies or living environment (this may take some practice)
  • Encourage them to let out any excessive physical energy through outlets such as going for a walk, exercising, dancing, or, singing.
  • Doing something for them that you know they like or love (like scheduling a favorite leisure activity, preparing a favorite meal, etc.)

It is important to realize that our “new normal” is actually quite abnormal. So much so that for many of us it is traumatic—both for us as individuals and as a collective society. Anxiety, fear, sadness, and worry about the future are all normal responses to an abnormal situation. Self-care and creativity about it are essential for continued wellness.

Continue to look for ways that you can be there for others during this uncertain and emotionally difficult time but don’t forget about it all starts with caring for yourself.

Unresolved trauma can lead to severe emotional or mental health complications and can contribute to more destructive coping behaviors like alcohol or substance abuse. If you or a loved one is suffering from the effects of unresolved trauma, please reach out to your primary care provider or contact a mental health professional as soon as possible to ensure that recovery is not delayed.

Mental and emotional wellbeing are essential for healthy living. Visit the Main Line Health website to learn about our Trauma and Substance Abuse Treatment programs or to explore the other mental health support resources available to those dealing with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trauma’s Effect on Loved Ones

Supporting our loved ones in coping with the aftermath of traumatic events may take time for an individual and their close supports. Everyone processes through traumatic events in their own personal way.

While no two people experience trauma in exactly the same way, there are certain patterns we can identify when it comes to its potential impact on the most significant and influential members of an individual social circle. Learning to recognize these patterns can help an individual and their loved ones address or avoid any potential obstacles to healing.

Spouses and Partners – Spouses and partners can be tremendous sources of support and comfort for those healing from trauma. However, the intimate nature of these relationships also makes them vulnerable to communication breakdowns, increased tension or conflict and intense feelings of distress surrounding one another’s wellbeing. Supporting your loved one while they are healing from their trauma is especially important, and can be in the form of openly communicating, respecting one another’s space, and actively listening. Let them know you are here for them and that you care. Let them know that although they are suffering, they have the potential to heal.

Children – Depending on age, children may react to trauma in many different ways. While some will suffer from feelings of anxiety or fear, others may cope by acting out, rebelling or engaging in uncharacteristically combative behavior. Alternatively, the children of trauma victims may respond with feelings of guilt or shame over not being able to protect or help their parents. They may respond by trying to take on more responsibilities, or becoming overly apologetic. Teaching children at a young age about how to appropriately express their emotions can support their efforts to cope with trauma effectively. Let them know that they are not at fault and that it is not their responsibility to care for the adult.  Let them know that they are allowed to feel how they feel. Teach them healthy ways of coping with their emotional processes.

Parents and Siblings – Siblings, parents and other members of someone’s immediate family may suffer from intense feelings of fear or worry over their loved one’s safety and wellbeing. In some cases, parents and siblings develop mild separation anxiety and feel uncomfortable leaving their loved one alone, choosing to stay with them over going to school or work. Remember that you can only choose actions for yourself. Engaging in self-soothing techniques, like deep breathing exercises, and creating a self-care plan are some ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings of fear and worry.

The effects of trauma can make us feel isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, including the people who mean the most to us. Remember that we are all suffering; it’s part of the human condition. Openly communicating, practicing patience and honesty, and providing a safe space for you and your loved ones to express emotions is most important while coping with the effects of trauma.

Help for Individuals and Families

Unresolved trauma can lead to severe emotional or mental health complications and can contribute to more destructive coping behaviors like alcohol or substance abuse. If you or a loved one is suffering from the effects of unresolved trauma, please reach out to your primary care provider or contact a mental health professional as soon as possible to ensure that recovery is not delayed.

Mental and emotional wellbeing are essential for healthy living. Visit the Main Line Health website to learn about our Trauma and Substance Abuse Treatment programs or to explore the other mental health support resources available to those dealing with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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