COVID 19 & Lockdown: Survival & Trauma
In dealing with the threat of COVID 19 it can evoke our survival mechanism of Fight, Flight & Freeze. However, the very means of protecting ourselves by lockdown, mean that we we are not able to complete the activation of Fight & Flight. This can be part of the pre-condition for feeling traumatised or activating earlier traumas. So in this blog I will be looking at how some of the elements of lockdown can effect us. Also what to do to mitigate their impact.
We are all at sea - so what do we do? We can throw ourselves a life ring to keep us afloat until we can reach land.
Lack of Predictability - Can’t Do Anything: A threat comes out of the blue. We can’t predict it. This can make us feel anxious, nervous, the ground beneath our feet can feel unstable. We are in the unknown and it feels unconformable. Our regular schedules are no longer there: the walk to the tube station; the buying of a coffee at the same place; standing in the same place on the platform; or getting the kids ready for school; the school run; afternoon school clubs. Our Fight/Flight system is activated but we have nothing to do other than “Stay Home & Stay Safe”. Our sense of agency, of wanting to do something has been taken away from us. Our natural inclination driven by our stress hormones, to move, protect, gather food, work and taking care of others is not being expressed. With this non-expression we are more likely to become irritable and angry.
Make a new schedule, plan for the day, the week. Get up & get ready for work as you would. Have a start & end of the working day; put in tea/coffee breaks as well as a lunch break. Put in times when you will do your exercise, when the quiz night is with your friends etc. Even put in your chill-out time, when you’re not to be disturbed by others. If you are part of a family develop a schedule for the whole family to follow with their own individual elements included. So they know what’s happening and so do you. Put in on the wall in the kitchen so everyone can see and share it. If you have lost your job or have been furloughed it can be tempting to remain in PJs & do nothing. This can be fine for a day or so but for your own mental health you need to start putting a daily schedule together of activities. The need to do can be translated into all those small jobs you have been meaning to do around the house and in the garden. Gaining new skills like learning a language for that trip you always wanted to take; to cook, meals for the freezer and sharing with neighbours; how to tie knots; learn how to knit, fly a kite. There are endless how to do things on the Internet - You Tube videos are great for showing you how to do many things. There is volunteering & helping others - from walking a neighbour’s dog, to signing up for a local or government scheme. If we undertake some of these activities then it can help us overcome the next issue - Loss of connection.
Loss of Connection: It can be hard to be locked up by yourself. It can also be hard to be locked with flat mates and family. As they may not be able to provide what each of us need which is connection. It is unnatural not to be able to talk to others, to touch. We are social animals need contact, interaction. The voices, facial movements, & the synchronicity, the rhythms keep us feeling alive.
Family meals & the chit chat across the table; playing games; story telling - reading out loud, making music; teaching someone how to do something such as baking a cake; using Social media for contact.
Numbing out: We may have been using numbing out or spacing out even before lockdown as a means of not having to deal with what is happening in our lives. To not feel. So with COVID 19 we may want to try to block out feeling scared & anxious, lonely. We can do this by watching numerous box sets, using alcohol, food and drugs. We loose contact, connection with others but with ourselves. We loose our sense of agency which can just make us feel worse. What is important is to regain the connection with ourselves, with our body. We loose our sense of purpose & so need to confirm who we are.
We need to bring into our lives movement, breathing so we regain the sense of agency, & move out of passivity. Movement from Yoga, Thai Chi, Chi Gong are particular useful. As it is slow and attention is placed of the movements. Also on the breathe. It can also hep you to begin to notice yourself and what is going on inside. This can help in reducing how you may react when feeling scared or angry. To start having choices about how you’re respond. For some Meditation and or Mindfulness can also help - check out my blogs on these.
Loss of sense of time. Without our regular schedule, time is lost, and we forget what day of the week it is. One day becomes like another. Also if were are experiencing trauma of sense of time is also distorted - it stops so you feel as what is happening to you will never stop.
As we suggested earlier have a schedule can help, here it gives us a sense of time passing. We know where we are in the day, in the week. Also by developing a Mindfulness practice we learn to pay attention to ourselves ad the world. We begin to realise that every moment is different from the next. We are not standing still, our inner world is constantly changing.
Loss of Safety: COVID 19 is a threat to us and with any threat we will feel unsafe. We also may have our own history of having felt unsafe in other circumstances that can be activated. So what we need to do is to find out what makes us manage our unsafe feeling, ease it, to feel safer.
Music impacts us mood, it can make us feel happy, sad, uplifted. So with the right piece of music for us it can help us feel calm. A supportive hand, a hug can help us feel safe. Unless you live with others and who feel comfortable in doing this. With social distancing it can be difficult to get a reassuring touch. There are ways in which we can hold, hugs ourselves - find out how at Hug Yourself. For some having time alone, getting space and privacy can be as equally important if managing how unsafe and aroused there’re nervous systems feel.