It is time to lay the groundwork for healing after all of this unfolds.
When we are in situations that are tumultuous, unbearable or cannot be understood as we live through them, we have a number of instinctive coping strategies that we use to “get through.” It is human nature to wrest structure from chaos.
Instinctive [productive] strategies include:
- Single Focus: the inability to manage more than one or two pieces of input
- Dissociation: in which one’s mind removes one from the immediacy of the situation
- Compartmentalization: in which one attends to those things one can attend to in the moment. Emotions are usually boxed away so logic, problem solving and action steps can be taken.
- Intellectualization: in which one distances oneself from an onslaught of emotion or input by focusing only on detail, problem solving and crisis management.
- Displacement: in which one redirects emotion and expresses it around something disconnected from the distressing event or moment.
- Regression: in which one reverts to a previous coping strategy such as micromanaging [attempting to control others], becoming overly detail oriented or one becomes unable to take action.
Each of these coping styles is productive in a time of acute crisis and distress. In each of them, we instinctively create a buffer zone around emotion which stops us from being flooded with emotion and therefore we are more likely to be able to act. Please don’t worry if you find yourself distancing a bit emotionally when you face sacrifice or high impact situations. You’re managing. The key is not to maintain this coping strategy as a way of life.
When this time of trial is over, we will have opportunity to review events, experiences and those reactions we placed to the side so we could function. Review and understanding are the warp and woof of healing.
Most often we emerge from a time of trauma with Post Traumatic Resilience.
Post Traumatic Resilience is a newfound sense of strength and accomplishment: “I hope I never have to do that again but if I do, I’ll know how to do it.” Traumatic events, events out of our control [including those that unfold slowly so we see it coming toward us and those that happen without warning], are too big for us to integrate into our identity and personal story.
Post traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when an individual experiences something they are helpless to stop and are unable to make meaning from the events and outcome. The key is to revisit these moments after the tumult and actively attend to those things we could not attend to when situations were happening upon us. Those of us physically distancing and non-essential workers are faced with managing our coping strategies and fielding our emotional reactions in the moment. Those of us responding immediately to the unrelenting thrum of Covid-19 in hospitals and ICUs will need to attend to emotions when our work is done.
Our future self will have all of the information our current self does not have. We will be stunned by how well we did. We may second guess ourselves or blame ourselves for not knowing something or not being able to anticipate something. We can be cruel to ourselves after a time of survival. Take notes in this time of the circumstances you are operating in, the choice points you can see in this moment and of your thinking as you navigate. These notes can be written, voice memos, drawings, bullet point memos, testimonial scraps, etc. Speak to your future self; remind them of your current experience.
Below are some suggestions to implement now. Think of these strategies as a path to your Self as you do the work of living through this time as well as when you must do the psychological and spiritual work of creating post traumatic resilience. If the trauma you experience becomes disordered [PTSD] these foundational strategies can speed your healing.
Strategies for self care, emotion and thought management, and inoculation against distress:
- Remember that you have spent a lifetime coming to this time and place. You have what you need internally and spiritually. If what you have does not feel like enough, trust in this learning process. There is no way to live through the time of Covid-19 without growing pains, losses and successes. Allow space for your humanity. You may surprise yourself.
- Have a “Covid Buddy” or three to check in with on a regular basis.
- Sometimes our trusted friends remind us of our humanity. If needed equipment isn’t available, one cannot save a life. Sometimes one cannot save a life even if equipment is available.
- Use Touchstones: those items we can touch and see that remind us who we are and where we come from. This can be a literal stone, a rabbit foot, a spiritual symbol, a key, a ribbon, etc. Sometimes these touchstones give us psychological and spiritual space to be re-made in these unknown times.
- Leave breadcrumbs for yourself: use voice memos, photos and notes to remind yourself of the chaos of this moment. Document this moment [day, hour], especially if you are starting a hospital shift or mid-shift and things are quiet for a moment. Include what you have and do not have, what you know and what you don’t know. Include what you left behind or grabbed in order to be in this moment. Document the chaos and limited sight of this time. Your future self will have all of the information you do not have today. Remind your future self of your current experience.
- Pay attention to your inner narrator. What story line does your narrator feel most comfortable with? Does it prefer a downtrodden narrative or a hero narrative? All is lost or [some] all is found? If you note your inner narrator is telling your story with fear and distress, redirect and see what happens if you tell your story, realistically, from a more hopeful stance.
- Ground yourself in breath, prayer, memory, [breadcrumbs], oaths and intentions. Firm footing is imperative in this time of swiftly changing phenomena.
- Make a gratitude list on a regular basis. If you can, take a step further and appreciate one or two of the things you are grateful for. Allow yourself the luxury of resting in appreciation for a moment. [If you can’t create a gratitude list, you may be aiming too high. How grateful are you for flushable toilets?]
- Remember that, if we cannot intervene or change a circumstance, we are left with being present, witnessing and partnering. When this is all we can offer, know that being Present to someone else’s experience is powerful. Do not underestimate the power of listening, praying, watching, attending and FaceTiming or Zooming with someone [today’s chosen equivalent of sitting beside someone].
Whatever you implement should give you some safe haven and structure. These strategies will also give you a way back to your center.
What strategies have you used in times of chaos and unpredictability?
How are you managing your thinking and your mood?
What do you appreciate these days?