Living in South Africa, unfortunately means that many of us are exposed to trauma either directly or by hearing about trauma others have experienced. With the emergence of COVID-19, it means that we are all exposed to an ongoing trauma as a pandemic is an extraordinary event, which could quickly overwhelm our current coping strategies, especially if we are suddenly faced with job loss, the death of a loved one and long term health implications.
Trauma affects people in different ways and for some the symptoms take weeks, months or even years to surface. Trauma counselling is a short term intervention.
COVID-19: COPING WITH STRESS DURING A PANDEMIC
Coronavirus was something that no-one was expecting to happen, and it often feels very surreal, as if we are experiencing something out of a movie. Not only is the threat of contracting the coronavirus scary but, many of us are facing stressful life challenges.
Over the coming days, weeks and months you will probably find that there are times when you feel anxious, stressed, scared, sad, overwhelmed, angry, guilty, helpless or even numb. These are all NORMAL responses to an abnormal and extremely challenging situation. Any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma.
You may experience different emotions at different stages of the pandemic. For example, early on, you might feel anxious about what could happen or feel that you are in a heightened state of "readiness". At the peak, you may experiences surges of adrenaline. Over time, you may feel more as if you are running on empty.
You may at times not feel any of these emotions. You may feel there are times when you coping well and times when you feel you are coping less well. Everyone is different and it is important to remember that everyone experiences different emotions at different times. Not everyone handles or processes challenging times in the same way.
It is important to take care of yourself during this time (self-care). The better you take care of yourself, the more you have to give others around you. It is being responsible, not selfish, to look after yourself.
TIPS FOR SELF-CARE
- Ensure you get enough sleep. Go to bed the same time every night and wake up the same time. You can rather take a nap later in the day than sleeping in.
- Eat healthily – avoid excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine. Eat regularly as fluctuating blood sugar levels can negatively impact one's mood. Omega 3 is good for improved mood.
- Exercise a minimum of 15 mins a day. Exercise creates a natural high and burns up excess adrenaline, which makes one feel anxious and stressed.
- Take time to do things that you enjoy.
- Try to think about and use strategies that helped you in the past to cope with stressful situations.
- Stay in touch with family and friends via video call or phone calls.
- Try to limit the amount of time you spend watching, reading and listening to the news. A person can only bear witness to so much negativity before they start to become traumatised themselves.
- Be aware of your thoughts. Remember that emotions play catch-up to thoughts, meaning that thoughts come before emotions.
- Journaling is a great technique to alleviate insomnia and if you feel your mind just doesn't want to switch off.
- Crying is very therapeutic, a basic human emotion and not a sign of weakness. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling.
- Maintain a routine as much as possible
- If you feel disconnected or overwhelmed, "ground" yourself. Do this by walking barefoot on the grass, deep breathing, exercise, engage your senses by smelling something sweet or holding something cold like ice.
- Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as smoking, alcohol or other drugs. They delay the processing of any trauma experienced.
- If you feel overwhelmed, talk to someone who you trust. Be compassionate to yourself and others around you. It is OK to say you are not ok.
- Remember that you can't "save" anyone. Healthy boundaries are important.
- Be realistic in your expectations of yourself, others and things not in your control.
- Share and celebrate the successes and small wins. Be grateful for small things.
- Seek professional counselling if need be. People are surprised that reactions to trauma can sometimes last longer than expected.
Warning signs of compassion fatigue and trauma:
- Chronic fatigue
- Insomnia or sleeping all the time
- Changes in eating patterns (loss of appetite or eating more than usual)
- GIT symptoms such as heartburn, upset stomach, spastic colon
- Heart palpitations and/or chest pain
- Anger and irritability
- Feelings of hopelessness and depression
- Lack of productivity
- Forgetfulness and impaired concentration
- Feelings of detachment and cynicism (negativity)
Most importantly, remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Even though this is a marathon and will most likely be with us for some time to come, it will not last forever.