COVID-19 and Your Mental Health
Hi Mary — yes, this is a traumatic time, period not a question.
To give a little background and context, I recently reposted an image that talks about the importance of caregivers prioritizing the ability to regulate themselves over academic instruction. The last line of the image states “Academics don’t protect your children from trauma. Your relationship does.” I could not agree more as a mental health provider. The dear individual who responded back to the image post, started by saying “We’re in an interesting time, we can all agree on that. Traumatic time?“.
Again I say…yes this is indeed a traumatic time. As a mental health provider, I am already seeing a shift in clients as they experience the unfolding of this pandemic and I believe this is just the beginning.
While I understand COVID-19 is affecting each person differently and each person is choosing how to react or respond, I think we can agree that we do not nor cannot know the true effects of this pandemic at this time.
I was on a call this week with other mental health colleagues and this really stuck with me: “You cannot heal from something you are actively surviving”. We are living and breathing this exact event daily. Everybody in some form or another is affected or will be effected by this. Trauma can impact the way we act and feel — our brain and nervous system composition, it’s called neurobiology. Trauma can literally change our brains. Dr. Bruce Perry who is an expert in the field of trauma discusses at length how “trauma interrupts human development”.
Historical Traumatic Events & Impacts
Do you remember 9/11 Mary? Of course you do, even while you were not physically on the East coast, the lasting impacts of that traumatic time in history changed not only the way many things were done but also the mental along with emotional health of many. We all felt it…why? Because it affected humanity, just like COVID-19 is. On September 11, 2001 — many of us were watching from places around the country and the event took place in a specific part of a geographic location. The events did not take place worldwide and yet the impacts were felt nationwide. COVID-19 is taking place worldwide and it’s effects will likely mimic this same ripple effect on a global scale.
As humans, we are wired for connection. We feel connected to other humans through hearing, seeing and experiencing similar things even at a distance. Have you ever seen a movie and cried because you felt the scenario being played out on the big screen. Yes, because you too are human. This goes back to the concept illustrated by the reposted image about how academics don’t protect children or anybody from trauma…we can’t outsmart trauma. If we get straight A’s there is not evidence stating intelligence will be a barrier against trauma. People of all walks of life can experience the impacts of trauma. Having relationship with others and self, can help minimize the long term effects of trauma but not avoid it all together either. Relationships are scientifically proven to be reparative. Relationships are helpful for adults and even more so important for children as Dr. Perry states, “Relationships are a key to a person’s ability to process a bad experience and move on”.
Please hear me say, nothing (academics nor relationships, nor anything else) can create immunity nor makes us invincible from experiencing trauma. Relationships however can create community, connection, clarity – all of which can help us navigate trauma. We are able to connect with our innermost vulnerable parts of self and parts of others through relationships.
Parts of Relationships:
• Community – offer us a place to be with likeminded individuals. It is defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others”. We do not have to do life alone.
• Connection – highlights how we are linked. Ways we are connected include past along with present experiences. The ways in which we connect can be limited right now however we still have options to connect virtually or in-person at a distance. The phrase “social distancing” was created and to be honest, it would be nice if physical distancing would have been coined in it’s place. We need connection as humans. That is how we have all weathered previous traumatic times.
•Clarity – helps us clarify our beliefs and values while in relationships. We are tied together in this experience by clarity that no matter who we are, what we believe or what we value — we are all susceptible to this illness. In relationships we are able to clarify our priorities as well.
I know it’s hard for so many of us right now. Perhaps Mary, you questioned if this was a traumatic time coming from a posture of safety (defense mechanism coming up to keep you from feeling the depths of this traumatic time) and that is okay! There are a lot of unknowns at this time and there is no perfect or right way of navigating all the changing landscape.
Grace and Space
Should children forgo academics all together? No, having something they are working on during this time can be helpful to continue with the structure they have been accustomed to. So what am I saying? I am asking and advocating for — GRACE and SPACE. Are you able to loosen the reins to connect with your children not strictly through their academics but rather family time or one-on-one time helping them understand what is happening around them? Help them process any emotions they are experiencing or answer their questions? How will your children look back on this time? Will they talk about their relationships with you or more so with their teacher or peers online? Consider these two words as you navigate the coming days — for your children, employees, employer, family, friends and the rest of the country trying to do the best they can with this uncharted territory.
I hope and pray you stay well along with your loved ones. It’s a time of unity, not of division because we all need relationship and connection to get through this together.
Take good care and know that I will be thinking of you — your mental and emotional health through all this. May the impact be nowhere near as devastating as so many fellow humans have already experienced.
**Name changed in post to protect the true identity of the individual**
Bruce Perry is the author of both, Born For Love and The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook – What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing.
© Erica Faulhaber 2020 – This blog may be shared or reprinted as long as the information is unedited and the author bio, including contact information is printed along with the blog.