Part 1: What Is It?
There is a hidden danger in this pandemic that is not being discussed. Amidst a deluge of precautionary instructions, one thing is missing: Every one of us is falling victim to the intense psychological and emotional impact of Coronavirus. This is massive trauma on an unprecedented scale. It is both global and local. It is with us 24/7. And it is emotionally overwhelming.
We find ourselves snapping at our kids, obsessing on social media and news stations, mindlessly eating, drinking more alcohol. Our heads are filled with fears – Will I get sick? Will I die? What if my spouse - kids - parents get sick or die? How great will the financial damage be? Will we be ruined? It’s all overwhelming. SARS-COV-2 is killing people rapidly. And we are all at risk.
This is Trauma – and you, yes you, are suffering from it. Whether brief or prolonged, if you are feeling that this is all just TOO MUCH, you are being traumatized. Trauma is defined as an experience of being overwhelmed and helpless. Furthermore, there is absolutely no leadership coming, no response to help us feel safe or even to guide us. We are constantly vulnerable but without a plan to protect us.
What happens in trauma? Consider this.
1. Emotional – enhanced fear, worry, stress, feelings of helplessness, gradually becoming overwhelmed. Preexisting mental issues, anxiety conditions, traumas, depression, are all going to be worsened.
2. Cognitive – when we are overwhelmed emotionally, our critical thinking is impaired and ability to make sound judgements are colored. We react rather than think and respond.
3. Physical / Hormonal – intense stress reactions. Our fight-flight-freeze reaction is on high alert. Cortisol is constantly being oversecreted until we flatten out. Our sleep is disrupted and shortened. Our immune system is weakened, and we are more prone to infection.
4. Neurological – when these factors all begin to operate simultaneously, new neurons in our brains start firing together. In very little time, these neurons start wiring new networks together. We hoard, we panic, we overinterpret our body signals, we can become over suspicious of others.
These four physiologic effects result from this Trauma. And for many, this may become hardwired in our systems, leading to PTSD. You may find that chronic physical illness becomes more possible. Mental health issues become more firmly wired in. Relationships become altered. Immune disruption occurs and we are more inflamed. We feel chronically bad – deflated – weak.
So, now what? Despite the tremendous emotional/psychologic dangers, each of us can be empowered to come through this better, stronger and healthier, if we know the steps to follow. New skill sets are in demand. Emotional and mental self-regulation – not needed in easier days – are now primary to our health and well-being. We have to develop a new mental game.