Post Covid-19 stress: How to recover
Closer to 3 million people have died of Covid-19 deaths around the world. Many of us are experiencing that loss, and the grief of knowing that the death of our loved ones was a traumatic, lonely one.
But, none of us has escaped the experience of vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma is the distress witnessed by someone who is in contact with other people suffering from trauma. It's clear to see how first responders may have been traumatised by the horrors they have witnessed.
But, we have also been affected by:
- Constant horrific news updates. Fear of catching or passing on a deadly and horrific virus.
- Civil unrest. Fear of instability.
- A focus on appalling prejudice and abuse. This may have forced us to have a personal response and may have resurfaced past trauma.
- Continued isolation (whether alone or with the same people). This has brought up so much anxiety, depression and hopelessness, for so many. It may also have resurfaced past trauma and abandonment.
- Job, work and livelihood loss. This causes powerful feelings of anxiety, distress and despair.
Burnout and fatigue are to be expected. Burnout occurs when the nervous system is overwhelmed and overworked. Our bodies get tired of responding to danger, drama and crisis. You might experience apathy, negativity, or feel distant.
As we start to come out of the pandemic, we can expect to be exhausted for, perhaps, a long time to come.
How to combat burnout and recover
Becoming aware of your body sensations and functions can be incredibly calming. Body practices like yoga, exercise, going out for a safe walk, may all help to calm the nervous system down.
I explained a little about our systems being in 'fight or flight' in my last article, Feeling wobbly about leaving lockdown.
The point of self-regulation is to bring your nervous system out of that stress, to a more calm state. When we are worried, shocked, stressed, or grieving, our bodies go into a sensitive 'hyper-aroused' or an underactive 'hypo-aroused' state. Our need is to bring the body back to our more balanced 'window of tolerance'.
A self-regulation exercise
This exercise may help you start to balance your nervous system, immediately. You can do this exercise lying down, sitting comfortably, or standing.
- Turn your head to one side, looking as far to that side as comfortably possible.
- Wait until you achieve a yawn, deep sigh, or breath.
- Turn to the other side and repeat.
The key to self-regulation is being able to acknowledge in the first place that your system has gone out of your 'window of tolerance'. Just accepting this can be half the battle won. Then, these techniques are designed to help you relax further.
Self-soothing is another way to calm your system from stress. There are a variety of ways to soothe yourself.
Meditation, mindfulness and visualisation help you to get into a different part of your brain and, so, a different state of mind. This doesn't have to be long and difficult. You can shift rapidly with a soothing voice, and by focussing on your breath. In fact, just taking a deep breath can help you to calm down.
Perhaps try this now. Take a breath and see how it feels.
These techniques help you move into the part of your brain that is rational, reasonable, and compassionate. This is a different part of your brain from the part that deals with stress. It's where you regain a sense of self, and can make good choices for your well-being. This part can stop you from overworking, using comforts and addictions, and can choose to rest.
It is possible to find lots of these kinds of guided techniques for free online. Tara Brach's 'Rain' is an easy and comforting way to start.
3. Responding to your feelings and needs
Taking time to acknowledge what you feel may be all that you need to shift. Sometimes just saying it out loud helps. Crying is also designed to make us feel better, by releasing chemicals that calm us down.
The body is where emotion begins. By staying focussed on your bodily experience of emotion, it can be understood and moved through quite rapidly. You can also internally step away a little; observe the feelings and states that you experience, from a slight distance. Your feeling state is only one part of you, and only one state that you experience as a human. You are so much more than that.
This may be something you need professional help with. Sometimes it takes time to learn how to trust your feelings. The effects of Covid-19 may have caused you to block off your feelings, to cope. Often this may reflect a previous trauma too. But, understanding how you feel and addressing what you need can be done, with care.
One of the most positive things to come out of the pandemic is how much we may have strengthened our closest relationships. This has been a way for many of us to cope.
When I asked my TikTok followers what has got them through lockdown, the answer that it has been certain friendships and relationships was unanimous. So, if you can, find someone empathetic to talk to. It's probably going to help.
The way we've coped in the last year leads me to wonder and to hope; could it be that we now care more about how our loved ones feel, and about our mental health?
In next week's article, I will talk about the effects of Covid-19 on our relationships. Please join me then.
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