This pandemic has been challenging for us in so many ways.  Our reality has shifted and we find ourselves thinking and feeling things that are difficult to understand. Trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk likens it to reactions he’s seen in trauma survivors.  For some of us, due to our personal histories or current situations this pandemic can be perceived as traumatic.  For others, it’s at the very least highly challenging.  Either way it’s helpful for us to recognize what’s going on with us so we can take action to  ”weather this storm” in a healthy manner.

I like Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s take on it because his solution to many psychological reactions is get into your body! As a dance/movement psychotherapist, I couldn’t agree more.  So much insight and changes can take place when we look at the mind/body connection.

Listed are Van der Kolk’s identified responses to trauma and suggestions to help yourself and others:

1) Lack or Predictability

If it’s one thing we do know it’s that we don’t know.  We are learning things constantly and making changes as we go.  This unsettling experience can lead us to feel scared and anxious.

What to do:  Make a daily/weekly schedule.   Include time of day. Take back control and make your daily routine as predictable as you can. List activities you will do to fill up your day.  Acknowledge the date.  Make plans for later in the week (Wednesday I’m paying bills at 7a). Make goals of things you want to do, actions to take, and include in schedule.  Notice how one moment in time is different from the next.

2) Immobile

Yes we are told to stay indoors and curtail much of what used to be our daily regular activities.  In addition the fearful feelings put us in a “freeze” mode, a state of paralysis.  We find it hard to move.

What to do: Take action! Move the body!  Dance, move, stretch, jump, bend, exercise.  Do projects. Cook.  Clean your bedroom.  Build things.  Try new activities. Deep breathing exercises…the Calm app has free meditation experiences.  Have you ever tried tapping (EFT)?  Look it up online.

3) Loss of Connection

We are told to not congregate.  We are physically separated from others. We feel/are alone.

What to do: Connect with others virtually.  FaceTime, Zoom, see people’s faces. Do a dance/yoga session with them virtually.  Call them on the phone.  If you live with people speak with them face to face often.  Play games, eat together.  If you play an instrument, play it for or with others.  Sing and move with others!

4) Numb/Spaced Out

When we are overwhelmed it’s natural to just tune out for a while. We spend hours on social media, on our phones, computers.  We binge Netflix.  We reach for alcohol and caffeine, spend hours on video games.  Sleep more than usual.  Zone out since concentration is impaired/can’t focus.

What to do: Mindfulness exercises.  Notice your feelings, thoughts and behaviors, actions (I’m watering a plant, I’m folding clothes).  Take a minute and focus on your bodily sensations (I feel tightness in my shoulders, I’m wiggling my toes).  Increased awareness allows you to choose how to react instead of just reacting.   Acknowledge feelings and name them (I’m angry, frustrated, sad, grateful). Make a list and write them down.  Express them.

1) Time disorientation

What day is it?  Date? What time is it?  One day feels like a week.  This “shelter in place”  has been forever; this pandemic will last forever.

What to do:  Notice the difference in time- morning, afternoon, night.  Take efforts to orient yourself to the day of the week and date.  The schedule mentioned early should also help.  Remember that this quarantine will not last forever. 

2) Safety

You don’t feel safe going to the grocery store…the virus is out there.

What to do:  Find actions that help you feel safe.  Taking the necessary handwashing, cleansing, and social distancing precautions. Remind yourself that you are doing these things to stay safe.  What music helps you feel safe/calm? Remember your support- there are certain people who help you feel safe when you talk to them.  Laugh with them.  Reaffirm that you are safe by gently giving yourself a hug and know you are safe in the moment.  Acknowledge the part of your physical self that is healthy!  Hug your children if they are living with you.  Check in with them virtually if they don’t.

Remind yourself this time in our lives is temporary and we will resume versions of our prior lifestyle shortly. 

When you are able, acknowledge the amazing opportunities that are available to deepen and enrich your life experience.   Silver linings are present and plentiful.

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