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Coping with Mass Trauma

Effective Strategies for Handling Physical Distancing

By Brian Locascio, MusicWorx Intern

Our lives have changed substantially within a period of months. In addition to this natural stressor, our nation does not currently have the necessary amounts of PPE required to handle the current threat to public health, COVID-19. Many workers have shifted to virtual platforms including but not limited to “Zoom,” “Skype,” “Facetime,” “Google Meet,” and “Doxy Me.” With such a monumental shift in society and American culture, many individuals are searching for new and alternative outlets to cope.

According to the most recent release of the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, trauma is catagorized as “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” The lack of adequate knowledge from the mass public in combination with the level of threat that COVID-19 presents has created a mass trauma for our nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of April 30th, 2020 there have been “34,521” deaths from Covid-19 alone, and 49,822 deaths including those who have had pneumonia in combination with Covid-19. With the growing knowledge that anyone can be affected by this illness in tandem with a large number of citizens not adhering to the stay-at-home-orders, many Americans are left wondering, “When will this end?” 

According to the Center for Disease Control, in order to cope with trauma you must: 

  1. Understand that your thoughts and feelings are normal,
  2. Keep to your usual routine, (as much as possible)
  3. Take time to resolve each day’s stress (i.e. self-care),
  4. Turn to family, friends, and others for support,
  5. Participate in recreational activities,
  6. Recognize what you can and can’t control, and
  7. Recognize the need for a mental health professional. 

In order to cope with the uncertainty of the modern world and to help yourself participate in self-care I prepared resources for you aligning with the steps above to help you get through this difficult time.

Understand that your thoughts and feelings are normal

Prior to understanding that your thoughts and feelings are normal you should identify your thoughts and feelings. Evaluating your feelings effectively can be done through the process of a “body scan.” Find a room in your house where you can have a few minutes alone. Get into a comfortable position and begin to become mindful of your breathing. Shift your attention to different parts of your body. Do any of these areas feel tense or painful? 

Often your body shows physiological signs as a result of how you are feeling. If you are experiencing tightness in your fists, shoulders, or your face you may be experiencing anger or anxiety. If you are experiencing numbness or an ache in the chest or stomach you may be feeling sadness or grief. Once you have identified your feelings, write them down on a piece of paper or type them out on your phone. Take the time to identify these emotions by categorizing them. Below is a chart from https://positivepsychology.com/positive-negative-emotions/ that will aid you in this process.

Once you have categorized your feelings recite the following phrase with your feelings out loud:

“I am feeling ___________ and that is normal under these circumstances.”

Take a deep breathe in, hold it for 5 seconds, and release. Repeat the following instructions multiple times until you feel comfortable saying it out loud and feel the tension being released from your body. 

Keep to your usual routine

Keeping to your usual routine should be simple under normal circumstances, but we are not under normal circumstances. Take that same phone or notepad from earlier and jot down the things that you do in your typical day. Do you typically go for a run in the morning? If so, keep it up. If going for a run helped you kick off your day, it will certainly keep your day moving in times like these. Once you have your list, try to follow it as much as possible. Do you listen to specific music or a podcast on your way to and from work? Go ahead and play the music/podcast at the same time that you usually do. These little delights may help to make your day a little more bearable and create a routine which we as humans love to live by.

Take time to resolve each day’s stress

The key to this step is to prevent stress from building up over time. More often than not, many of us do not take the time to relax at the end of a hard day. What if I told you that you could have less stress in 2 minutes? That’s right, it doesn’t take an hour long meditation to bring down stress.  Any time invested in your mental health is valuable. Take your notepad or phone at the end of the day and jot down things that were stressful. 

Here is a video created by our sister organization “Resounding Joy” leading a simple at home exercise that can help you unwind. 2 Minute Stress Relief Video. With each exhale, imagine yourself letting go of one thing on your list.

You can additionally set up your environment to help reduce stress during the day. Try to separate your work space from your relaxation space as much as possible. One way to separate your spaces on a budget is by pinning up a curtain in the corner of a room where you work so that when you are done for the day, you can no longer see your work space.  Some individuals find it beneficial to listen to simple background music or have a calming visual in the room. Music can additionally help you to concentrate during your busy day. Below I have listed 3 videos that can help establish a peaceful room!

Turn to family, friends, and others for support

In order to minimize the spread of COVID-19, stay-at-home-orders have been put in place to prevent us from seeing our friends and family from within a 6 feet radius. Many individuals have decided to stay at home instead of risking the health of themselves and their loved ones. With these limitations in place, many individuals find themselves utilizing new ways of staying connected. One of the common and oldest ways for individuals to stay connected is through calling and texting. For many older adults, this is a crucial form of communication that they are familiar with and that is accessible for them. This being said, one study found that more updated forms of communication such as video calling “could aid older people to stay better connected with their families in care environments.” (Zamir, 2018)

This is the 21st century after all, and there are plenty of highly interactive ways of socializing through the use of video calls that are up to date and for all age groups. One of the platforms that have arisen during this pandemic is the use of the website and application, “Zoom.” “Zoom” is much like your typical video calling platform except that it allows for up to 100 people to be on one call for forty minutes with their free service. Zoom additionally allows individuals to share their screens and give members of the call remote access to each other’s screens. There are many video sharing options for you out there and to help you get started, I have listed a few!

These resources will help you get connected but aside from speaking what else can you do over these platforms? Luckily, many websites have adapted to allow you to interact more than ever. Google Chrome has released an extension called “Netflix Party” where you can log into Netflix with your friends/family and watch a movie at the same time! This extension even allows you to chat on the side of your show/movie through messaging. The free app, “Psych!” and the paid game, “Jackbox” can be used through individual players downloading the app and then calling in through one of the video call platforms listed above. Even the game, “Cards Against Humanity” can be played on a live online platform with your friends and family!.

Participate in recreational activities

Public areas for many Americans are currently closed or should be avoided but plenty of recreational activities can help us to both minimize the effects of this mass trauma on our mental health and keep us productive while at home. One study (Knubben, 2007) suggested that endurance exercises such as walking every day for 10 days had significant effects in reducing depression for individuals. Research shows that even a consistent stroll around the neighborhood can be effective in improving your mood. Other studies show that exercising daily can effectively reduce  anxiety and improve the effects of at least one stressful life event (Salmon, 2001, and Marselle, 2019). With all this research, where are the resources for your health?

A variety of exercising options are available to everyone. You could go on a walk as stated above or you could participate in live virtual exercises. Meetup is often used for strangers in the community to meet and participate in activities they enjoy. During the last couple of months, many of these groups have switched to an online platform. This way you can work out live with individuals through activities such as a virtual yoga or Zumba class. Here are just a few additional resources that I have found for you!

Recognize what you can and can’t control

You may be finding it easy in times like this to speak with friends and family about how long this will last and to wonder when things will go back to normal. You may be asking yourself how much longer must you wait until you can go back to the activities and people you love. In times like this, focus on what you can control such as what you do with the time you currently have. Grab that notepad or phone and draw a T-Chart on it. On the top left write “Can Control” and on the top right write “Can’t Control.” List out all of the things that cross your mind or that you discuss with others during the day. Once you are consciously aware of what you can’t control, you can begin to let it go. Become mindful throughout your day when you mention what you can’t control and begin to minimize these occurrences.  

Recognize the need for a mental health professional

The first step to recognizing whether or not you need help is to ask yourself if you want to seek out a health professional. You don’t have to have a severe mental illness to seek out a professional. Think of seeking out a mental health professional as going to your general practitioner. If you want to talk to someone with an unbiased perspective, seeking out a mental health professional could be exactly what you need. The website Nami has a great list of the variety of mental health professionals that you can see. There are plenty of resources for online therapy that have been made available on the internet. Take some time to look at these options for yourself or for people that you care about that you think may benefit. Below are links to examples from the DSM-V of symptoms that constitute a diagnosis of depression or anxiety. YOU CANNOT DIAGNOSE YOURSELF but they may provide an example of what you are experiencing to discuss with a mental health professional. 

This mass trauma that we are experiencing as a nation and as a world has the capacity to have significant effects on all individuals. A priority should be determining what works best for ourselves when seeking out resources for coping. Through the use of social interaction, mindfulness, and physical exercise, we may better prepare our bodies and our minds to endure physical distancing. I challenge each of you reading to look through some of the resources I have provided above and to allow yourself to explore the possibilities for your self-care!

Citations

Knubben, K., Reischies, F. M., Adli, M., Schlattmann, P., Bauer, M., & Dimeo, F. (2007). A randomised, controlled study on the effects of a short-term endurance training programme in patients with major depression. British journal of sports medicine, 41(1), 29-33.

Marselle, M. R., Warber, S. L., & Irvine, K. N. (2019). Growing Resilience through Interaction with Nature: Can Group Walks in Nature Buffer the Effects of Stressful Life Events on Mental Health?. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(6), 986. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16060986

Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). (2020, April 28). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm

Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory. Clinical psychology review, 21(1), 33-61.

Zamir, S., Hennessy, C. H., Taylor, A. H., & Jones, R. B. (2018). Video-calls to reduce loneliness and social isolation within care environments for older people: an implementation study using collaborative action research. BMC geriatrics, 18(1), 62. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-018-0746-y

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