California Therapist Blog

Emotional health, relationship and therapy-related articles by Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT.

The Pandemic is Traumatic for Many

Very few people are alive who have experienced what we are going through in these unprecedented times. The impact of this pandemic is widespread; health, life, job security, social disconnection, grief around losses and worry for the future.  The psychological impact is profound as well, as it contradicts what is familiar and expected in the world leading to confusion and uncertainty. For some, it may be impairing your ability to cope with all that is happening leading to strong emotional responses like grief, panic, anxiety or depression.  Others may still be holding their emotions tightly to their chests, shoving them in different compartments of your mind.  For now.

According to trauma experts Dr. Peter Levine, PhD and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, there are pandemic psychological risks you need to monitor including unpredictability, immobility and not being sure who to trust or they know what to do.

No one knows yet what the full impact to our society and world will be at the hands of the COVID-19. We are wired to asses threat and not knowing what’s coming makes our brains unable to do that accurately which can lead to chronic stress. Our lack of ability to move around in ways we are used to has hindered and removed normal social activities. These are unnatural states that can feel profoundly disconnecting. And the lack of a coherent narrative, conflicting information and deep division around the virus itself and what to do about is causing many to feel powerless and scared.

According to Levine and van der Kolk, there are some important things we can do to alleviate the psychological risks above. They involve reducing physiological distress by gaining mastery where it may feel lost, particularly by getting connected to the body. Self-regulation and other practices can at least help you gain control over your internal systems within the greater chaotic context. We all need different ways to calm ourselves.

Things You Can Do to Soothe a Trauma Response

  • Establish felt agency by jumping in place. Movement brings you to the here and now.
  • Self-regulate with touch.
  • Put your right hand under your arm pit and left hand around the other shoulder for a self-hug.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Talk about “physically distancing and socially connecting” rather than “socially distancing” to help bridge the perceived isolation gap.
  • Hold onto your circadian rhythms by keeping a sleep schedule and not going to bed too late.
  • Make contact with someone or something in the morning to start your day; kids, your pet, a text to family or a friend.
  • Create predictability with rituals like, “Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11A I do a virtual yoga class.”
  • Trauma is about losing a sense of agency so you need to find ways to restore that sense of agency by being in the rhythm of life.
  • Honor your internal and external rhythms.
  • Create internal predictability when there is so little predictability around you.

Trauma recovery is not only about being able to be held by another person – but by yourself.

I’ve worked with a lot of people over the last few months who need help creating structure and habits to self-soothe, regulate and most effectively weather this storm.  Many have suffered with high levels of hopelessness, fear and worry.  They feel lost.  I’ve found creating a container is very helpful to get through each day, create goals and things to look forward to, however small.

If you feel adrift, overwhelmed or otherwise struggling with the emotional impact of this pandemic, contact me to inquire about scheduling an online therapy appointment.

If you live outside of California, I’m not legally permitted to work with you but see the Psychology Today Therapist Directory for other possible closer therapist.

If you are in California and would like to inquire about my online therapy services, CONTACT ME.


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