COVID-19 and Your Mental Health

COVID-19 and Your Mental Health

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Your Mental Health

As trauma therapists, we’ve seen the impact of COVID-19 and quarantining first hand. And we’ve even felt the impacts ourselves. From spending more time than usual at home, to hearing statements like these more than we ever thought we would:

“How’s your quarantine coming?

“How are you holding up with all of this craziness?”

“Do you like my new facemask? My grandma made it.”

“Hey, do you know what day the store stocks toilet paper?”

It’s odd… isn’t it? That these statements are our new normal. Most of us have been stuck at home for almost two months now and the end may be near in Dallas, but the fear that comes with that can be debilitating. We all have so many questions that go unanswered and yet have so much time to dwell on the unknown.

Maybe for some of you, this quarantine has been a great time to catch up on things, get that extra workout in, and spend more time with your loved ones.

For others, it may not seem so pleasant.

This may be the first time that you’ve truly felt out of control, you don’t know what’s coming next and the idea of staying in the house another day seems almost unbearable. You want your freedom back, you want your routine back, and frankly, you just want your life to feel like your own again. For some people, COVID-19 is amping up their anxiety. For some, their response is manifesting as depression. For others, it’s activating past experiences of trauma and feeling out of control. 

Today we’re going to dive into some difficulties that some of you may be going through during this pandemic and we’ll explore some coping strategies to help you get through COVID-19.

Common responses to COVID-19

Although there are some people that are enjoying this quarantine, the majority of people are starting to feel it wear themselves down. It seems that the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. Anxiety is spiking. Depression is louder than ever. Social isolation is tough.

But… no matter what you feel, you’re not alone in this and your feelings are valid.

Most people have never been through an experience like this before and it can be difficult to know how to respond. So let’s take a look at some of the difficulties you may be experiencing right now:

1) Social Isolation

We are naturally social beings. Yes, even you introverted ones need people too. Most of you will say that being with people gives you energy, makes you feel loved, and keeps you more active.

This may be the longest you’ve gone without seeing friends or relatives and it’s starting to take a toll.

Going without your loved ones may be causing you to feel sad, lonely, and maybe even a bit lost.

2) Anxiety

Maybe you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a long time and this quarantine is making it more difficult to maintain balance. Or maybe you’ve never had any history of anxiety and yet you find yourself feeling restless and worrisome with uncontrollable thoughts. These anxious feelings are normal in times like these.

Feeling out of control is scary and if we only knew what came next it would put your mind at ease. But we don’t, and the thought of the unknown is keeping you up at night.

3) Dreams and nightmares

This is a common response to any sort of crisis. You are constantly hearing about the negativities coming from COVID-19, you have so much time to dwell on it, and it has impacted your everyday life immensely.

Being surrounded by talk of COVID-19 and the stress that comes with it can definitely lead to vivid dreams and scary nightmares. In a way, it can be an outlet for your mind to try and process the craziness of your everyday life.

Dreams and nightmares can also come about when you are feeling a lack of control in your life. You may be feeling tired, exhausted, and stressed with a yearning for peace again.

4) Drinking more than your normal

When people drink, they typically do it because they want to “loosen up” or even let go and feel less in control. So it makes complete sense that in the middle of a pandemic you start drinking more. Drinking may be your way of coping with some of the worries you have around this pandemic.

Or it can be less about your worries and more about things like.. you’re in the house… a lot, you don’t have to stress about early mornings with the kids, and…you’re probably bored. It’s important to make sure that your increase in drinking doesn’t become your only outlet for your fear or boredom.

Although all of these responses to COVID-19 are difficult to be dealing with, they’re all valid. It’s hard to feel alone and it’s difficult to feel like you’re not in control of your life.

Waking up to nightmares and strange dreams can be challenging when you feel like your everyday life is already a nightmare. And drinking may be fun in the moment, but maybe when you wake up you realize your worries haven’t gone away.

So what are some healthy ways to help you cope during this pandemic?

Coping mechanisms for COVID-19

1) Focus on what you can control

It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the things that are going wrong right now. Whether it be an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, a lack of proper materials, or the current state of the economy, they can overwhelm us when we dwell on them too long.

One way to help ease your worry is to focus on what you can control. This is actually a wonderful strategy for anxiety management.

There is a little exercise that can help you put things into perspective for you. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a big circle in the middle. Inside the circle, begin writing things that you are in control of. This can be your daily routine, what you eat, your attitude, etc.

On the outside of the circle, you will write down things that are out of your control. This can include any of the unknown things like when everything will open back up, what the weather will be, how many more people are going to be affected, etc.

The point of this exercise is to help you see the things that you can focus on. It may be important for you to know what’s going on in the world and with the community around you, and it’s great that you want to be informed! However, there’s a difference between knowing and dwelling. When you dwell on the knowledge you begin to worry about things that are out of your control.

When you’re worried about something out of your inner circle of control try letting it go and picking something within your circle that you can work on. This can help bring a sense of control to your life.

 2) Make a routine

As much as you may love a vacation for a week when you can just go with the flow and not stress about anything, there’s a point where you want to have structure again. And that’s exactly how many people are feeling now.

Humans are naturally routined creatures. Have you ever walked into a new class where there wasn’t assigned seating so the choice of an uncomfortable plastic chair was all yours?

Maybe you’re the front row, raise your hand type of student, or the back row, texting in class one. Either way, what happens the next time you go back to that class?

You pick the same seat. Sometimes you even feel like it’s YOURS…

“How dare Becky think she can take my spot the third week into courses!”

Right??

That’s because routines give us control.

They calm your anxiety by helping you know what’s coming next, and they give your mind space to work on other things since you’re decreasing the number of decisions to be made.

This is exactly why making a routine for yourself now may be the answer to your worries.

Insider tip: this is also FANTASTIC for you moms and dads with children. You can create weekly schedules or day-to-day ones to help your youngins have some structure. Maybe less screen time and more say… quiet time? Chores? The possibilities are endless.

3) Exercise or Pick up Hobbies

The benefits of exercising in times like these are immense. You can add it to your daily routine to make you feel more productive, you can experience the rush of endorphins to make you feel positive, and you can be proud that you’re staying disciplined in the midst of the unknown.

You can get a good workout at home in just 20 minutes a day. There’s HIIT cardio or circuit training to help get your heart rate up by doing simple body movements.

20 minutes of this and you’ll be ready to take your second morning nap. Even going outside and walking for 20 minutes can help you feel better! And it’s also a great way to get the whole family involved.

If exercising isn’t your thing or maybe you’ve already been getting your daily sweat in (good job to you!) then another easy thing to add to your routine is a new hobby.

Maybe it’s time to take out those crochet needles, blow off the dust on that piano, or get to smashing the glass for your stone mosaics.

Whatever it is, getting creative and trying out new things can make the mundane of everyday life seem a bit more manageable and even more enjoyable.

4) Journal and Meditate

With all of your new hobbies and your exciting new routine, it can be easy to try and cover up the things that have been making you worry. Of course, as therapists, we’re not condoning ignoring your feelings…

On the next trip to the store get yourself one of those $1 notebooks. Something that can strictly be used for your thoughts and feelings. Now, this isn’t going to be a notebook that gets slid under the couch and forgotten about. This is a special notebook. Do you know why it’s so special?

Cause you’re actually going to use it.

I want you to write anything you find yourself worrying about, any dreams you have, anything that causes your anxiety to spike or that triggers you.

Writing it all down and getting the thoughts out of your head can help you process what you’re feeling. It can help you work through those feelings to help you understand what’s causing them.

And of course, pairing that journaling with meditation may benefit you more than you know. The amygdala in your brain helps to regulate emotions and deals with emotions around fear. And scientific evidence is now suggesting that meditation helps to calm your amygdala.

This means that your consistent meditation can help give you a sense of peace and control over your fleeting thoughts. And it can also be a way for you to decrease the activity of your amygdala leading to higher levels of relaxation.

This quarantine hasn’t been easy for most of you. Maybe you thought you’d really enjoy all of this time being at home, but it’s actually been way harder than you expected. Maybe this experience has been triggering for you, and you’ve been feeling like you have no control of your life anymore.

I’m hoping these coping mechanisms can help make this pandemic a bit easier, but if you’re still feeling the negative impact of this pandemic and want to explore those feelings together, please reach out to us. We’re ready to start this journey with you.

Are you looking for a therapist in Dallas, TX for anxiety, depression, or trauma counseling? Check out our specialty page to learn more about what we offer and to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!

Making Sense of Your Trauma

Making Sense of Your Trauma

Did you know that there are different types of trauma?

I know right… Why can’t things just be simple? Why does there have to be tall, grande, and venti when small, medium, and large have been working out so great?

I agree, we definitely could’ve stayed with small, medium, and large… However, when it comes to trauma it is important to be a bit more specific. Are you experiencing Big T trauma or Little T trauma?

Wait… What about PTSD? How do you know if you’re experiencing that?

Keep an eye out for that post later on…

Knowing the difference between these types of traumas can not only help you understand what you’ve been experiencing but also help you find ways to cope and work through your feelings.

This post is going to give you a bit of insight on two different types of traumas. And it’s even going to give you a few tips from us trauma therapists about what can help.

What is a Little T Trauma?

The word ‘Little’ is definitely not meant to minimize the type of trauma that you’ve been through. Little T traumas involve stressful events that don’t necessarily threaten our lives per se, but they can certainly overwhelm our system.

Has a pet died? Have you gone through a breakup? Have you had ongoing financial stress? Maybe you’re dealing with a relentlessly critical employer. Have you experienced chronic insults or slights from a family member, friend, or partner?

These things may not be life-threatening in and of themselves, but they can be threatening to your emotional state and mental peace. Every person deals with situations differently. Some try to brush off a relationship like it was nothing. While others are laying under the bed (yes under) stuffing their face with the newest flavor from their best friends Ben & Jerry.

These events do affect everyone differently, but they can still be the cause of significant emotional damage. You may have been reading those scenarios and been thinking that they’re just simple parts of life…

And you’re right. But the thing is, if not dealt with, they can lead to bigger emotional struggles. Especially if you’ve experienced more than one Little T Trauma at a time or the Little T trauma is chronic. When you don’t deal with the situation, all of the feelings associated with your Little T Trauma begin to add up and impact your life even more.

Maybe you’re going through these situations or have gone through them feeling like you have to look “tough.” Or you may even be feeling shame that you’re so bent up about them..

It’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to be sad and it’s good to allow yourself to feel. Don’t simply brush them off. Instead, allow yourself to work through those difficult emotions and express them.

What is a Big T Trauma?

Have you ever experienced something that left you feeling completely helpless?

Maybe it was a car accident that left you more shook up than you were expecting, or even left you with bodily harm. You can’t get that image out of your head. Maybe it was that night where saying “no” wasn’t respected. The night you experienced sexual assault and you still can’t believe it happened to you. It may have been a huge natural disaster that left your home destroyed, and you haven’t felt safe since.

Did you notice what all of these scenarios have in common?

They all put your physical, psychological, and emotional self at risk. And they can all leave you feeling absolutely helpless. Like your life is somehow out of your control. You couldn’t control that awful situation so you begin trying to avoid anything like it.

Some people will never drive a car again, relying solely on trains and buses. Maybe you’ve decided to never date or avoid relationships all together because that person you thought you could trust violated you. Others go the opposite way and engage in lots of unsafe sex with the illusion of taking back control. Regardless, the way that you deal with your Big T Trauma can lead to the type of avoidance that affects your everyday life and even your daily functioning.

Avoidance may seem like the answer. Staying away from everything that even hints at the reminder of that traumatic event. This way you don’t have to ever experience those feelings of helplessness again… Right?

Wrong.

Have you ever done the mental game where someone says, “Don’t think about a polar bear?” And then of course what’s the one thing you can’t stop thinking about… a polar bear! Well, this same thing happens when you try to avoid your Big T Trauma.

The problem is, even when you try to forget about it, your body doesn’t let you. You may have nightmares and flashbacks that you can’t shake. Or you may even have physical symptoms that are your body’s way of saying, “Pay attention to me. I need to deal with this!”

Those feelings of helplessness, of shame, or maybe even guilt from not being able to do something about it can’t be covered up. Put an elephant in a room, cover it with a giant blanket, and you’re still going to know an elephant is there. The blanket of avoidance simply doesn’t work.

I couldn’t exactly find an elephant with a blanket on, so this cute pug (above!) will have to do.

Okay. Back to business.

Of course, working through the traumatic experience and the feelings that are involved is scary! You have to be vulnerable and open. You may even have to cry… (Don’t worry, we think crying is great).

But honestly, you may not even realize how your Big T Trauma has been affecting you. All you know is that you should try to work through it because you’re not quite sure if you’ve been dealing with it in the “right” way (which is, of course, different for everyone).

The best advice is to simply not avoid your Big T Trauma experience. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.

How should you deal with your trauma?

As I mentioned, not avoiding your trauma is important. Allowing yourself to experience emotions is an important step in working through your trauma whether it be Little T or Big T.

These are a few of the things that can help you:

1) Meditate

Have you ever tried meditating? I know, it sounds like it’s the next big wave on the scene right now, but all of the studies are pointing to how beneficial it can be for your mental state. And it definitely doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice if that’s not your thing.

Meditating can help you not only be aware of the thoughts going in and out of your mind but also help with controlling the negative thoughts around the traumatic situation that you’ve experienced. That’s not too bad for only 10 minutes of focus a day.

It’s important to note that for some people, mindful meditation can have very positive effects as mentioned above. But for some, it may lead to further emotional distress. Start slow and see if meditating works well for you

2) Go have fun!

You’re probably thinking, “What… that’s your solution?” I know, I know. It sounds way too simple, but I thought you liked simple… Remember the small, medium, and large thing?

Really though, allowing yourself to enjoy time with friends, family, or even spending time by yourself can help remind you that there’s joy in the present (even while you’re working through your trauma).

Remember the things that set your soul on fire, the ones that give you joy, and go do them. Even going on a walk in nature can have more of a positive impact on your mental health than you’d expect.

3) Talk with a trauma therapist

You already knew this one was coming, didn’t you?

Imagine your electricity gets shut off. You know you paid the bill on time, you know you didn’t blow a fuse from using your microwave while blow-drying your hair. So what do you do next?

Call up your local pizza shop since you can’t heat up that three-day old Chinese food? Maybe… But only if you’re not seeing the big picture. Yeah, your microwave isn’t working but everything else in your comfy living situation is being affected too.  And it’s no different when it comes to your mental health.

We all know you should call an electrician when your electricity goes out. You can sit there and dwell on your daily pizza eating habits, but you’ll be baking in the 1000 degree heat of a Texas summer in no time. Not to mention no lights, no charging your cell phone, no tv… the list goes on and on.

So with your mental health, you can sit there and focus on your daily routine. Getting to work on time (Or at least close enough to being on time), taking out the dog when she needs to go, making sure you’ve eaten. But you’re forgetting about the big picture.

The big picture is your overall mental health. Being able to experience joy, not constantly trying to avoid the thoughts and feelings surrounding the traumatic experience that you’ve had, and being able to feel alive again.

But if you’re trying to throw an avoidance blanket over your traumatic experience, and just let it be… You may start to see how these traumatic events begin to affect every single area of your life. No matter how hard you try to not think about it.

Don’t just focus on your microwave. Your feelings need to be embraced. Whether it’s a Little T Trauma or a Big T Trauma, you’re allowed to feel. You’re allowed to work through it. You deserve to feel safe and empowered.

If you want to see how a trauma therapist can help, please give us a call. We’d love to hear from you. And I promise we won’t only talk about animals and food.

 

Childhood Trauma Counseling

Are you looking for a therapist in Dallas, TX for childhood trauma counseling? Check out our specialty page to learn more about childhood trauma and to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!