Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy COVID-19 Is Our Shared Trauma

COVID-19 Is Our Shared Trauma

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As we move through our lives we tend to travel with others through history. We share the same historical trauma events when those events impact a large percentage of the population. There has been no bigger trauma event then the one we are living through right now, COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 has taken 2,158,761 lives and has infected 100,200,107 people worldwide as of January 2021. It has decimated everything from family connections, communities, social life, individual finances, small businesses, and the global economy. COVID-19 has a worldwide trauma impact and one in which the population of the world will share for their lifetime. The entire world will be impacted in some way emotionally, psychologically, physically, and financially because of COVID-19.

We will not escape the impact of this trauma event even if we did not lose someone close, or were not infected. We are all impacted by the anxiety and depression found within our social community. This shared anxiety is about the ongoing nature of this event, one that we cannot control, a timeframe that we cannot understand. We go day by day searching for a bit of meaning in this trauma and hope to see a light showing us the way out. We feel anxiety from the unknown and depression from what we know.  

How we move forward from this trauma event will be determined by how much the trauma impacts each of us personally. For many, this trauma is so profound that years of mental health treatment might provide only moderate relief from the anxiety and despair. It is often understood that trauma changes the brain, our basic DNA structure is altered by trauma events. Therefore, the trauma is continued on in the genetics of our future generations.

Additionally, individuals are often faced with a fight or flight response to stressful trauma events. If an individual chooses to fight they may show this through their behavior such as: not adhering to mask requirements and engaging in risky behaviors. These behaviours might expose them to the virus. In this way they cope, it is the denial of the risk of contracting COVID-19. If an individual chooses to flee they might shelter in their rooms, disconnect from social activities, or socially isolate themselves from others as a means of self-protection. In this disconnection, they also disconnect from community, almost like they are waiting for trauma to occur day after day, in an endless stream of fearfulness.  

Each individual develops ways to cope with stress and they use these skills during trauma events such as COVID-19. These coping skills might be functional or dysfunctional, but they are used to gain a sense of control, a relief from the fear and lack of safety. We learn basic coping skills from our primary caregivers as children, we observe and incorporate the style of coping into our own lives. However, nothing has prepared us for the stress from this trauma event, it is bigger than ourselves.  

However, now is the time to begin our own personal recovery, finding our own way forward. Recovery is about developing a sense of safety and community, an idea that we can be assured that the trauma event is over, in this way we find healing. There are many different types of ways in which individuals can find relief depending upon the severity and their specific needs. For some self-care might focus on returning to doing the things they loved. Others might find themselves developing new skills and new interests. There will also be some individuals who will struggle with moving forward even when the immediate crisis has ended. For individuals struggling to move forward therapy is effective in processing trauma. As the days move forward we will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Dr Christa Banton is a professor at Barstow Community College and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California.

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