The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any situation most people have faced. A vast majority of people are overwhelmed by the experience and are having to quickly learn ways to cope with feelings of anxiety and panic. If you are a person that has experienced trauma, however, you may find that you do not share these same feelings and question if it’s okay that you aren’t struggling mentally and emotionally during this time. Trauma survivors may find themselves well-equipped to maintain a sense of “normal” during times of adversity, having often done work to find healthy ways to cope with their personal struggles.
Trauma Survivors and Resilience
There is a resilience that is built from surviving any traumatic experience, from a car accident to childhood abuse. Those who have experienced trauma have the potential to be more resilient than their fellows, simply because their life circumstances have necessitated it. Regulatory flexibility, or the ability to enhance or suppress emotional expression, is a possible reason that trauma survivors are more resilient. Trauma survivors often have the learned ability to appropriately express their emotions in specific situations. Those who have experienced trauma are sometimes more likely appraising a triggering situation, seeking the next right course of action as a means of self-preservation. In a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, someone who has survived trauma may have sought out information early on about what course of action to take to protect themselves, how to take care of their loved ones, and how to be best prepared for challenging circumstances. Doing this allows for regulatory flexibility to express their emotions in a way that keeps them feeling safe.
Learned Coping Skills
Another part of regulatory flexibility is that it can assist someone in being “flexible in the deployment of coping strategies for effective coping with diverse types of situations”. Trauma survivors that have sought help through therapies for post-traumatic stress symptoms have often learned a number of coping mechanisms to aid them in dealing with triggering events. The higher number of available methods of coping, paired with a stronger ability to be flexible in which method is applied for a given situation, puts those who have survived trauma in a position to better navigate the current global pandemic. Here are some of the coping mechanisms on this scale that are most beneficial during times of uncertainty:
- Knowing the “window of tolerance” – The concept of the “window of tolerance” suggests that we each have a personal range of emotions and experiences where we are able to operate optimally. Certain triggers can bring us to the edge of that range, one side bringing us to a state of anxiety and hyper-vigilance and the other bringing us to a point of depression and numbness. Those that have experienced trauma may be more aware of what their window of tolerance is, and they may be more aware of which situations trigger them in one direction or the other. As with many mental health challenges, awareness is a key first step in helping us to take action in order to maintain stability. For example, having an awareness that seeing others argue back and forth on social media is anxiety-inducing for you can help you start to recognize that you need to limit your exposure. From there you can notice warning signs of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and shallow breathing, and know that this is a point to log off social media for a period of time.
- Validation of feelings and experiences – Trauma survivors have learned the value of talking about their feelings with others, especially, perhaps, ones they do not wish to talk about. They have learned that a safe and trusted source can help to validate that what they are feeling is normal and natural. Feelings are not necessarily reality, but they are helpful informational tools that can help us navigate our way through situations that make us feel panicked or uneasy. Talking about the fears that you have about COVID-19 may be the best way to help take the power out of the emotions behind those fears. Hearing a trusted source validate fears of financial instability or anxiety about becoming ill can be the first step in gaining freedom from the controlling nature of certain emotions.
- Grounding techniques – Those that struggle with PTSD or trauma that induces flashbacks or can be triggered by events that remind them of their traumatic experiences use grounding as a way to bring themselves into the present moment. Bringing yourself back to the present when you are struggling with fears of the future or the unknown can be an incredibly useful tool for anyone struggling with anxiety over the current health crisis. Breathing exercises, guided meditations, and engaging the five senses are all simple practices that can assist in bringing thoughts to the present moment.
If you are a trauma survivor and you find yourself not experiencing the same struggles with anxiety and panic that others seem to during these times, these are all potential reasons why. Those who have experienced and healed from trauma have done extensive work to have gained the ability to navigate the unknown or uncertain. It’s okay to feel okay during the global pandemic.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.