Emotional Survival: Finding Your Calm in a Climate of Fear
By Laurie Nadel, Ph.D., author of
April is Stress Awareness Month.
We're not talking regular everyday stress: getting to work on time, taking care of your family and friends, paying bills and taxes, and meeting deadlines.
Since life turned dark in a heartbeat, everyday stress is now in our rear view mirror, making April COVID-19 Stress Awareness month because we are now going through acute stress.
Acute stress is a very different animal.
Suddenly, we find ourselves living a nightmare: Contagion meets Twilight Zone. The familiar patterns, habits, and routines that guided us through life have been ripped away. Our map of reality feels like London after the Blitz. Unlike the Germans' bombing during World War Two, we hear no warning sirens nor are there any truly safe places to seek shelter.
We are stumbling through the darkness together, fearful of what lurks around the corner.
Fear, too, is contagious. Like any sudden act of mass violence, we are flooded with horror, helplessness, and acute stress.
Trauma is Not a Bad Hair Day
We tend to say "trauma" whenever we mean "upsetting."
But trauma is not a bad hair day.
Trauma means you have been exposed to sudden, unexpected death. Directly or indirectly, trauma imprints the soul with awareness that life itself is uncertain, fragile, and beyond human understanding.
And yes, you can be traumatized by the terror you see online and on TV. V.T. -- vicarious traumatization -- is real and leads to acute stress reactions.
You are a normal person having normal reactions to an abnormal situation
Even first responders and emergency medical personnel who go mano-a-man with life and death on the job suffer from acute stress. It doesn't mean they are not professional. It means they are human.
The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICIS) provides peer support for first responders after disturbing calls where they were unable to save lives. As a member of a critical incident debriefing team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the school shooting in which 34 people were shot, I was privileged to work with leaders in the field who provided information about acute stress and how to cope with the unthinkable.. "You may never understand why this happened," said Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, a former paramedic and founder of ICISF, "but in time you can come to terms with it."
The first step in coming to terms with a mass fatality event like the pandemic is to accept that your reactions are unique to you and that you are a normal person having normal reactions to an abnormal situation.
Here are some of the main signs of acute stress:
The good news is that acute stress usually resolves on its own.
We wake up and start our day without feeling dread about what happened. Our normal appetites and sleeping patterns resume. (Acute stress that resurfaces or continues months or years after the event itself becomes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder/PTSD at which time it is important to seek professional help.)
COVID-19 STRESS: 5 Things You Need to Know
Laurie Nadel, Ph.D. is the author of The Five Gifts: Discovering Hope, Healing and Strength When Disaster Strikes. Follow Dr. Laurie at www.laurienadel.com
Dr. Laurie Nadel, author of The Five Gifts, will be joining HCI Book Club on Thursday, 4/16 to discuss her book and answer questions from readers. The meeting will run from 7 - 7:30 pm EST. Join the Zoom Meeting at https://zoom.us/j/710117077. Meeting ID: 710 117 077. To join the book club, please email Camilla.email@example.com and request an invitation.
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