Processing Covid-19 Experiences
When the pandemic hit, our collective worlds came to a screeching halt in ways we are still trying to understand. University classes and schools were cancelled, sporting events postponed, concerts rescheduled, and so much more. Then the layoffs came, unwanted furloughs. A sense of fear and uncertainty washed over our communities, nations, and the entire globe. A felt sense of disquiet throughout our collective veins.
We Are Tired
I am reminded of something Brené Brown mentioned in a podcast back in March. It is okay we don’t know what we are doing. After all, this is the first time we have gone through a pandemic. She gently reminded us to put things in perspective and gave us a reality check. I liked when she said “this is a heavy lift, both physically and emotionally”. I wonder if she knew how profound her words were going to be then. The truth is we are tired. We are tired for so many reasons. The attempts at homeschooling, the sleepless nights because of lost wages. Maybe we are tired of seeing pictures of bread on Instagram or the endless conversations of what really is the truth about this virus.
And you know what? That’s okay.
It’s really okay to feel what you are feeling. It’s okay if you are barely able to make it through the day and it’s the third day in a row of eating coco puffs for breakfast… and lunch. It’s okay if when you read the news you notice feelings of fear, rage, insecurities, helplessness, danger, hostility. It’s okay to feel worried, withdrawn, annoyed, vulnerable, fragile, weak, judgmental, and so many other emotions.
If We Don’t Know Our Story, Our Story Will Live Us Out
Every. Single. One. Of. Us is coping with this pandemic the best we know how. And more than ever, as a therapist we can see so clearly how the trauma we may have experienced in our childhood has center stage to playing itself out. I’ve talked before about the fact that if we don’t know and understand our story, our story will live us out. We are seeing this happen in an exponential way in the therapy room, at the grocery store, and in line to get coffee.
We see it in individuals that hide even more in their homes, refuse to go out, and desperately want everyone to get along. The thought of going to the grocery store creates panic. Wearing a mask implies safety, unity, camaraderie. They’re critical of others who don’t share their beliefs.
We see it in the individuals that can’t fathom the government is going to restrict their liberties even more. It’s incomprehensible to them and so they begin to feel very strong feelings of rebellion, even rage. They find themselves saying or behaving in ways that their calmest version of themselves would not. They’re critical of others who don’t share their beliefs.
We see it in the individuals that shout at the Asian man without a mask on that this is his fault. They feel victimized, scared, alone. They’re critical of others who don’t share their beliefs.
But we share more in common than we realize. In each of these versions, individual stories are playing themselves out.
The little girl who was victimized as a child.
The young boy who learned very quickly how to hide under the radar so he wasn’t in the wake of his dad’s wrath when he got home.
The innocent child who only wanted to try to soothe her mother in any way she could.
Our stories are loud and begin to take over. Our “normal ways” of coping haven’t been vetted for a pandemic and so our souls don’t know how or what to do.
I am not pretending to have any or all of the answers. I don’t know your story. But I do know this; taking moments for ourselves, whether hiding in the closet, going for a long walk, lingering in the bath, can help. If we can take a moment and pause our hearts, pause our souls, pause our amygdala and ask ourselves a few questions, we may be able to lessen the unhealthiest version of ourselves from being the loudest version of ourselves.
You may be thinking that sounds fine in theory but how do I do that when I’m being activated by something? A process I sometimes utilize in the therapy room is a four-part process of reflection. You can try it at home and see what you think:
Four-Part Process of Reflection
Step 1: PAUSE by taking a few breaths. This disrupts the sympathetic nervous system from continuing activation.
Step 2: Ask yourself, WHAT IS THIS FEELING? Can you identify it? What is your felt sense of what’s happening? Use the prompt, “I feel ________” and fill in the blank. Examples might include “I feel angry,” “I feel scared,” “I feel confused” or “I feel protective.” Use a feelings chart (easily accessible online) to help find the words for your experience if necessary.
Step 3: REFLECT on where the feeling originates and/or belongs in your story. You may find the prompt, “I feel ________ because_________” helpful for organizing your thoughts. Don’t be afraid to remember and discern events and memories from your childhood that trigger feelings and responses.
Step 4: Lastly, ask yourself, WHAT RESOURCES ARE NEEDED TO GRIEVE/WORK THROUGH WHAT I’M FEELING RIGHT NOW? Is it enough to journal the memory that is being activated? Is there someone safe that can sit and listen to what is happening inside of you? Do you need some time alone for meditation? What else might you require in the moment to soothe your inner child’s hurt?
My hope is that these moments of reflection might help in the aid of easing the tender place that is being activated for all of us. Brené’s words continue to echo in my mind. “This is a heavy lift” but I believe in your ability to soothe yourself.
Notes from His Heart Foundation:
You are not alone in your struggle! God is with you.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)
For more on processing your Covid-19 experiences:
“Feeling Safe in an Unsafe World” Drs. Terry and Sharon Hargraves
Overcoming Uncertainty During Covid-19
What are your thoughts? Comment below
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