3 Simple Steps to Keep You From Drowning in Collective Trauma
A few steps to consider that I learned throughout my journey as a coach handling high achievers and entrepreneurs.
Almost overnight over the past few years, it seems, the world’s new morning routine has become coffee with a side of suffering. From the overwhelming health calamity, staggering economic inequality and loss and undeniable climate crisis, the vast majority have grappled to find solace and safety as the world seems to spin out of control.
Along the way, I’ve heard stories reverberate through the world that echo the undercurrent of chaos and uncertainty we’ve all come to know; would-be brides grieving their canceled weddings and careers that never came to be, college years missed and loved ones lost.
Their pain is felt by the collective. This psychological reaction to a global event that shatters the basic fabric of society is called collective trauma.
The signs have become evident over time, especially to experts like myself. The American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that rates of anxiety and depression have increased four-fold between April 2020 and August 2021, compared to 2019. Not to mention, the early study showed a six-to-eight-fold increase in partner violence in the Spring of 2020. During the first six months of the global health crisis, aggression increased significantly.
I see the effects of collective trauma in my virtual office every day on worn, exhausted faces. Pre-pandemic life felt different. Far more seemed to have an uncanny ability to tame their emotions. Now that everyone is more susceptible to life-altering global events, all bets are off.
Related: Addressing the Stress of Uncertainty
Uncertainty breeds dysregulation
Before 2020 life was rolling along smoothly for most people. Sure, climate change was a thing, and global crises came and went, but most people were able to take in the latest catastrophe and get back to their meme of the moment.
Then the global health crisis came along and slapped nearly everyone out of their laissez-faire lifestyles. Uncertainty abounded, chaos ensued and perceptions and beliefs were challenged. Plans, daily routines, and decisions were uprooted.
Stripped of control, certainty, individual freedom and thrust into fearful situations, people have reacted in different ways, as they have shown throughout this time. Their reaction depends on factors like their past, their emotional regulation and resilience. We have seen people lash out aggressively on the one hand, while others react resiliently on the other end of the spectrum.
Despite significant optimism (70%), stress levels have begun to interfere with daily tasks, which have become overwhelming for the majority of Americans. Additionally, uncertainty compounded difficulties with life in general, including family responsibilities, decision-making, lack of support, and lower satisfaction in relationships.
How a person behaves under traumatic circumstances depends also on past trauma, because early trauma changes a person’s brain and shapes their identity. When a person is stuck in fight, flight, freeze or fawn mode due to unintegrated trauma, true centeredness, and emotional stability can be challenging. This leads to later life difficulties, from depression, anxiety, aggression and addiction, to chronic illnesses.
When the pandemic put all of that into question, a lot of people cracked, even those who thought they were fine. All of a sudden, old, forgotten wounds surfaced. Their controlled life became completely unmanageable, as did their internal reactions to the turmoil.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the wave of collective trauma without realizing it. That’s why, as we head into the third year of the pandemic, it’s vital to take steps to buffer yourself from its pervasive effects.Here are three simple steps to keep you from drowning in collective trauma.
Regaining a sense of control amidst the anxiety, stress, hopelessness and trauma of uncertainty is important. There are things that you do have control over to a degree, so why not build those into your life?
Create a daily or weekly routine that makes you feel amazing. That might mean you play tennis once a week with your best friend. Or perhaps every morning when you wake up, you follow your collagen matcha with a five-minute meditation and a chanting session. Allow this routine to look and feel one thousand percent you. Whatever routine you choose, be sure it lights you up from the inside and helps you feel grounded.
This recommendation is nothing new, by any means. In the context of collective trauma, it can make a world of difference, and a difference in the world. You might take this type of routine for granted, particularly during increasingly chaotic times, which is why creating a stable, inspiring routine is that much more vital.
Mindfulness meditation is a skill that can help ground a person in the present so can stop reliving the past. It can be thought of as an authentic state of flow and being. When honed and practiced in daily life, mindfulness can help ground you in the present so you can stop reliving stressful experiences and collective trauma.
Mindfulness practice is perfect for overwhelming times because the goal is to bring yourself back to the present moment. One simple mindfulness technique is deep breathing. This can short-circuit overwhelming thoughts, calm your nervous system and quell anxiety. Over time, using breathing to interrupt runaway thoughts is a phenomenal way to continually bring yourself back to your body and the here and now. If you forget to breathe, which is common, try using reminders on your phone or a smartwatch.
Our nature as humans is to collaborate in trying times. Whether we are talking about climate destruction, political upset, racial violence, large-scale financial trauma or a global health crisis, we have witnessed attempts by communities to support one another. Although not longstanding, people are longing for connection.
Connection and community can be a lifeline. An impressive, lifelong study by Harvard demonstrated that relationship support and quality of relationships impact a person’s wellbeing and health to a significant degree. In other words, support can drastically alter how you take care of yourself and how your body holds up, healthwise, over time.
This suggests that having support through trauma is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must have. Not to mention, fellow humans can provide relational and empathic support in ways an individual professional cannot.
So how do you find this? Seek out an in-person or online support group, there are plenty to be found. Also, if you’re looking for transformational work, try group therapy or group coaching and see if it’s right for you. You might just find that a deep piece of yourself that was missing is filled.
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