Mass Trauma: 5 Steps to Protecting Your Mental Health We are currently experiencing massive global trauma. Even if we don’t contract COVID 19, we live under the threat of it. Living in fear is one of the main precursors to PTSD. I did some research and quickly discovered that primary and secondary stressors can cause significant mental health challenges. For many of us, the daily news tally of the dead and the forced quarantine is a major stressor. For others, adding to this contracting the disease or seeing a loved one struggle and perhaps die, is an even bigger primary stressor.
Secondary stressors begin to accumulate. Children deeply feel the loss of routine, friends, and the joys of life’s celebrations, such as graduations, dances, and birthdays. Their parents suffer too, but from more life-threatening conditions. problems like job loss and the specters of homelessness, food shortages and the threat of death. Adults see a bigger picture than children, and their health suffers for it.
I found these recommendations in an article, find it here one of whose major contributors, Patricia Watson, Ph.D., is affiliated with the National Center for PTSD. I tell you this because important research points to these five steps as crucial in protecting both children and adults from permanent trauma. I’m not saying this is entirely avoidable, but anything that can significantly increase our resilience will help us get through what is truly a global disaster. So take these steps seriously. They can save you and your children from further harm once the COVID 19 virus is defeated.
1: Mass Trauma Recovery: Promote a Sense of Safety
Anxiety, particularly separation anxiety and anxiety about specific events, sleep disturbances, and depression, rear their ugly heads during any natural disaster, including a pandemic. So the way to promote a sense of safety is to look for ways to restore normalcy. A challenge even in good times, normality includes refusing to participate in conspiracy theories or fixate on currently rising death rates. We usually spend our days going through our to-do list and making sure the kids do their homework, eat, bathe, and go to bed.
During a massive trauma, we sometimes become obsessed with how dangerous the world seems. This anxiety can be mitigated by putting the danger in context. At this time, we must wash our hands and pay attention to hygiene to be safe. By taking shelter, we can greatly increase our security against this virus. Also, focusing on the things that bring us joy, from worship music to silly cats on the internet, actually protects our cerebral cortex from becoming overloaded due to fear. You do not believe me? Read the attached peer-reviewed article. Lastly, they recommend avoiding a constant stream of news. Our brains store that information and prevent us from concentrating on any of the normal rhythms of life.
2: Mass Trauma Recovery: Promote Calm
Stress does one of two things to people. We either go into hyperarousal where our emotions are in constant turmoil or we dissociate, numbing ourselves to protect ourselves from hyperarousal. When either one continues for a significant period of time, then we have a mental health problem. One of the most important weapons we can deploy is to broaden our range of emotions. By watching inspiring movies, engaging in positive self-talk, and focusing our attention on the good things, we calm our minds and spirits. Philippians 4:8 says: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one last thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, just, pure, beautiful and admirable. Think of the things that are excellent and praiseworthy. Keeping our mind fixed on these things greatly improves our peace. Otherwise, we can easily slide down the spiral of fear and doom.
3: Develop a Sense of Own and Collective Efficacy.
We easily fall into a sense of chaos when enduring any kind of massive trauma. Consumed by a sense of helplessness in the face of an imminent threat, we rehearse our losses and those things over which we have little or no control. Instead, if I try to control the things I can do, then that feeling of being trapped isn’t permanently burned into my brain. I can wash my hands. I can be careful what I come in contact with. I can sew a mask if necessary. I can protect myself and my family by following the guidelines.
One of the deepest wounds that massive trauma can inflict on people is the feeling that they can take care of themselves. Our sense of security and calm depends on our ability to take the necessary measures against harm. Focus on what you can do and teach your children to have a proactive mindset. You will go a long way in helping both your children and yourself get through this time successfully.
4: Promote Connectivity
The Internet, despite its tendency to be a massive collection of junk, is also a gateway to community. It is important to attend churches online, talk face to face with family members, and hold online conferences. Emotional isolation is harmful. We humans are far from easily falling into the illusion that we are alone. Loneliness can greatly increase depression and anxiety. I find that concentrating on the presence of the Lord in my home improves my well-being. Sharing silly memes with my kids also helps. They live throughout the US and Europe, so even a daily nudge helps me feel connected to them.
5: Mass Trauma Recovery: Promote Hope
Research shows that hope, like gratitude, has a significant effect on the brain. I think the two are related. Hope empowers us and helps us see beyond the present difficulty. And if the story is correct, nothing lasts forever, not even the plague. Promoting hopeful scenarios is crucial to protect our hearts and minds from permanent damage. Hopelessness creates a deep groove in our neural pathways that is very difficult to heal.
God has built evidence of resurrection all over the earth. Spring reminds us that winter does not last forever and cannot kill flowers. As Easter approaches, we must remember that humans have risen from the ashes of war, natural disasters, and even plagues. Love still wins, if we fight for it. As a friend of mine said, There is always a third day. The crucifixion of Jesus seemed final, but from it came a new vision of hope.
My father, just before he became a Christian, went to an Easter service where the pastor preached a three-word sermon. He is risen! He hit him hard. He realized that if Jesus rose from the dead, everything would change. The belief took root at that time. For us, who suffer a season of death, we put our hope in that resurrection. Even death cannot surpass what love has done. The love that God shows us, the love that we share with others, that will survive any virus.