As the world has started to reopen over the last few months, many patients are finding themselves overwhelmed and confused. On the one hand, we can gather with family and friends again and return to the activities the pandemic forced us to stop. On the other, we’re quickly realizing that it feels unimaginable to return to the way things were after a year of such immense change. We’re not only reawakening to a world that’s very different from the one we knew, but one that’s still changing, and we’re different from who we used to be. Many of us have already made significant shifts, like moving, changing jobs, and spending more time with our families.
Further complicating our decision-making is the most recent evidence that the pandemic isn’t over yet. COVID-19 is still a threat, particularly for the unvaccinated, which includes kids. While the CDC guidelines continue to evolve (and even give us a bit of emotional whiplash) because of variants and vaccinations, it means our normal routines remain unsettled, and we’re once again left with the stress of making important health and safety decisions for our families and our children. So, how do we get through this time when so much remains in flux?
At WCWCW, we’re here to help.
Don’t minimize what you’re experiencing
First, it’s important not to minimize what you’re experiencing. We’ve all survived and continue to brave an overwhelming amount of change. Recognizing and naming this as collective trauma, defined as a shared psychological response to a stressful or threatening event that impacts an entire society, is an important first step.
If you worked from home and were spared from family illness or death, you may feel lucky. Yet, the reality is we’ve all been uniquely scarred in some way. We’ve endured not just the virus but the polarizing political response to it. Add to this the events this year surrounding the election, as well as the brutalities against people of color, and the compounded emotional weight of the last several months has been a lot for even the most stable of us to carry.
“Understanding the event as a trauma can help you become aware of and process your more challenging actions and emotions during this time,” says Dr. Wendy Hookman, WCWCW’s founder and medical director. “A lot of my patients are saying that they don’t understand why they are more irritable or less motivated right now, but once they actually start thinking and talking about the major stressors they’ve endured — and the way their lives have changed in such a short time — they have an ‘aha’ moment of insight and can start planning how they can pivot.”
Process and recognize underlying trauma and begin to heal
Compounding this upheaval is that our suffering is drawn out and uncertain. When humans experience a traumatic event, we react with a fight, flight, or freeze response. Because this trauma is drawn out, the fight-flight-freeze mode can be prolonged. Although it is an evolutionarily beneficial response, if we’re in this mode for too long, an overproduction of stress hormones can lead to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, memory impairment, and physical symptoms like headaches. Moreover, some responses to trauma can be unhealthy, such as picking fights if you’re in fight mode or overworking to stay busy in flight mode, as well as other obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as substance abuse, or even physical responses like panic attacks.
A mental health professional can help you process traumatic events first by encouraging you to identify and recognize the trauma and your response to it and next by helping you work through each stage of healing. He or she can work with you on a variety of therapeutic techniques that enable you to turn unhealthy responses into positive ones, ultimately helping you to build resilience, emerging stronger and more equipped to deal with future challenges. At WCWCW, we offer adult psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, individual psychotherapy and group therapy — all aimed at helping you not only overcome but grow and thrive.
“The truth is, everyone is figuring this period out in their own way. And no one has been unchanged by the past 18 months,” says Dr. Hookman. “It’s going to take time, distance, and thoughtfulness before we can begin talking about reversing the hidden trauma. The important thing to remember is you’re not alone.”