7 Min ReadHealth 20 May 2020
I close my computer screen, but the headlines remain etched in my mind like the voices of my father and mother when they told me I had to follow their beliefs, or I would not be saved when the fire rained down from heaven When I let in the onslaught of social media and voices of worried friends and neighbors, it brings me back to a frightening time. A time when I grew up with a looming dread of Armageddon. Listening to how people talk about the pandemic has triggered these memories.
I wonder — how many people are also feeling triggered by this pandemic?
The feeling of impending doom, not being sure how to respond to said doom, and the barrage of negative messages coming at us from every direction are bound to trigger the vast majority of people. The constant anxiety-inducing messages are creating a sense of chaos in large swaths of the population. If we don't ease up on lockdown, what will become of our society?
I have held off talking about this as it has been too raw. I needed the time to move through it, sit with it, be with it, yell at it, and then come to make friends with it. I now see the necessity to share my experiences in case there are readers who also grew up in dread of any type of doomsday prophecy, or life-threatening events. I made it through to the other side and am grateful for the opportunity to clarify these triggers.
I wonder — how many people are also feeling triggered by this pandemic?
Those who grew up in households where they never knew how a parent was going to react, may be feeling a familiar fight or flight response. The low-grade full-body tension leads to a sense of "I have to get this right or something bad will happen," which in turn leaves you scrambling for all information possible in the drive to " get it right."
Those who have been through traumatic events like wars, or have escaped from horrific conditions in their home countries to immigrate to the U.S., might also be experiencing a familiar "I'm not safe" feeling. Even though survivors of trauma continue to be surrounded by the same walls which a few months ago felt safe and comforting, they may experience a shift of perception that induces extreme fear.
Those who have experienced any sort of religious indoctrination with a doomsday prophecy" — as I have — could also be experiencing a flashback type of experience triggered by people who choose to view and talk about the pandemic as if it were an inevitable death for all.
Those who grew up in households where they never knew how a parent was going to react, may be feeling a familiar fight or flight response.
For the most part, I love being alone, so staying at home with my cats is not that unusual. And, keeping a distance from people has kind of been a relief; too many people have no awareness of personal space. However, what has been the most difficult is flashbacks prompted by the pandemic. Worse, I have barely breathed a word of it to anyone.
It would be impossible to estimate how many people fall into the category of "flashback re-traumatization," however, I would estimate that upwards of half of the population are affected. A classic flashback symptom is that you experience a past event as if it is happening today. For the war veteran, they may be pulled back to battle, hearing the same sounds and smelling the recognizable odors once again.
In a "pandemic," our brains try to reason that we are "just over-reacting" to the current events. It becomes more challenging to identify a flashback of feeling unsafe or impending doom under these circumstances.
When I feel overwhelmed and want to pull the covers over myself as I binge-watch Ozark (probably not the best choice), I feel like I am taking stuff on from others. What is actually going on are flashbacks of fear and dread; emotions used as brainwashing and control tactics from the cult that I grew up in. There are layers buried in this kind of manipulation tactic, and it can take time to unravel it. Always there, always looming is the feeling that I was never quite "good enough," so I was not likely going to survive (or so I was made to believe).
According to researchers at the University at Albany and the University of California Los Angeles, many forms of memory and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be caused by early childhood trauma in which emotions return via flashbacks, but the memories do not.
It would be impossible to estimate how many people fall into the category of "flashback re-traumatization," however, I would estimate that upwards of half of the population are affected.
Because of this, people who are experiencing flashbacks attempt to feel safe in any way possible. Some seek out massive amounts of data, some stockpile and over-consume, while some feel the need to control others. Each person attempts to regain a sense of control in their own way.
When we can clearly identify where this loss of control is coming from, we can then take steps to correct what is happening. If you grew up in dread of any type of doomsday prophecy or trauma and are finding it hard right now, there are ways you can release your fear.
So what can you do if you feel this way?
1. Say It Out Loud!
Giving voice to the emotions that are rolling around in your mind allows you to feel a level of release. Our brains do a great job of escalating any situation when we keep it in our heads. The act of saying it out loud helps us to hear it from outside our brains. This immediately gives us some perspective on the situation.
So, go to a place where you are not worried about others overhearing you and get it out of your head. Say everything you are feeling and worried about. Remember to keep breathing, and if this process feels overwhelming please seek out the help of a professional. Most therapists, physiologists, and counsilors are working remotely these days.
2. Name It For What It Is
Let's STOP calling it irrational behavior and see it as it is: safety-induced reactions. Stocking up on toilet paper seems illogical on the outside, however it can be motivated by a good intention from your subconscious to keep you safe. Your behavior, be it stocking up, sleeping till noon, or binge-watching Netflix, are all signs that you are attempting to take care of yourself.
Once you can see that, you can choose to alter your behaviors to activities which will give you a deeper sense of "safety." You could opt to go for a walk, imagine giving your inner child a hug and some re-assurance, do some deep breathing, or call a friend. A small change in your behavior can result in feeling safe again, in recognizing that this is not the past and you are okay.
Always there, always looming is the feeling that I was never quite "good enough," so I was not likely going to survive (or so I was made to believe).
3. Resist Temptation
Now that you have given yourself space and time to honor your own emotions, making small changes in your behaviors will help you resist the temptation to make other people feel wrong for what they choose. This sets up the perception of us vs them, and if you have experienced any of the situations named earlier, you'll see that attitude is a huge part of not feeling safe. For many, this means choosing to not open social media and cut out any news sources until you can find your own sense of self amidst the uncertainty. Granted this is far easier to write than to implement.
This is a unique time in history where the world is on pause: creating a space for us to heal our pasts and begin creating the future in a way that works for us. It is okay to remind yourself that you are safe now and to go in and give your inner child some hugs and reassurance.
Be safe, breathe, and together we will get through this.
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist