Over the last month, we have been talking about allowing space for grief and loss related the COVID-19 pandemic this past year. At the same time, with more people vaccinated every day, we are also making space for hope and optimism that things will return to a “new normal” soon. This month, with a brighter future in view, we wanted to share with you research-based actions, strategies and tools that you can use to promote coping and healing in your own life.
Each of us has different experiences that impact how we view and interact with the world. For some of us, these experiences may cause symptoms associated with trauma that impact may impact our ability to function. The tools below can promote healing and foster connections with others, helping you to overcome these symptoms.
- Engage in some sort of ritual of acknowledgement and remembrance. It can be tempting to move on and put the past behind us, but this can be alienating for many of our family members, friends and peers. Moving on without acknowledging and remembering dismisses the real pain that so many people are feeling. The rituals can be simple and done by yourself or with others. Individually, you can light a candle, have a moment of silence, say a prayer or read a poem. One example of a community ritual is people clapping, cheering and banging pots together at 7 PM in honor of medical workers and first responders. The memorial lights at the reflecting pool in Washington DC earlier this year are another example. Collective rituals validate the experience we are going through, reconnect us, and create a safe and supportive environment that promotes individual healing.
- Practice mindfulness. Trauma is a result of our brains switching to survivor mode. Also known as the “flight or fight” response, our brains get stuck in survivor mode because of the extreme or long-term nature of the emergency. Mindfulness is proven to reduce the symptoms of trauma and calm the flight or fight response, providing your brain some rest. If mindfulness is new to you, start with very short sessions of deep, thoughtful breathing. Visit our guide to help get you started.
- Talk about it. There are several symptoms of trauma that stem from trying to avoid any and all reminders of what happened, which can actually perpetuate the fight or flight response. Talking about how you are doing validates your experiences, connects you with others, and helps you identify what type of support you may need. Talking about what happened can also help us recognize ways that we can work together to continue moving forward, or even prevent this type of pain from happening again. If you don’t begin to feel better or still continue experiencing symptoms of trauma, you may find it helpful to talk to therapist or mental health professional.
- Get moving! Trauma disrupts your body’s normal functioning. Movement and exercise can help to calm down your brain. If starting an exercise plan is too overwhelming right now, put on some music and dance, do some stretches at your chair, march in place during commercial breaks, or do some gardening. You can add a mindfulness element to movement by purposefully focusing on your breathing or how parts of your body feel as you move.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. One study showed that 60% of individuals reported increase drinking since the start of the pandemic. Some people experiencing trauma turn to alcohol to temporarily numb or dull the pain. Alcohol can actually increase trauma symptoms, as well as feelings of depression and anxiety. It is hard to effectively process trauma while under the influence. If you are concerned about your drinking habits, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- Connect with others and avoid isolation. So much of the past year has made it seem natural to isolate from and fear others, which goes against everything we know about healing. Do what you can to engage safely in social activities. Now that the weather is warmer and people are being vaccinated, make a point of scheduling meetups with friends and family according to the latest CDC guidelines. Try as hard as you can to keep these engagements, even if you begin to feel nervous the day-of. If, however, you are not ready to interact with others, explore where the fear is coming from. Identify ways that you can feel safe while making connections, perhaps starting with virtual meetups online and then moving to in-person outdoor gatherings.
- Volunteer or connect with non-profits working on issues you care about. The pandemic has made a lot of social issues worse; Safe+Sound Somerset has seen a 40% increase in hotline calls since the start of the pandemic. Volunteering will help you connect with others on an individual basis, building feelings of togetherness and community resilience. At S+SS, for example, we are looking for people to help us with trainings of community groups about recognizing and responding to domestic violence.
By using these tools above, you are taking steps to promote individual and collective healing. We are all in this together and will get through this together.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call or text our 24/7 hotline at 866.685.1122. For additional information and resources, visit www.safe-sound.org.
 Elyse R. Grossman, Sara E Benjamin-Neelon and Susan Sonnenschein. (2020). Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adult. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7763183/).