What. just. happened?!

Twenty-twenty’ing is hard!

Hi all! It’s me! Your neighborhood, friendly, spiderman therapist…

It’s been a while!! How’ve ya been? Silly question… I know. You’ve been twenty-twenty’ing like the rest of us (yes, I’m verbing 2020… it’s my new in-session survival word).

Working from home stress… working in public stress… out of work stress… back to school stress… school from home stress… home alone stress… can’t get alone time stress… All… The… Stress…

While we are twenty-twenty’ing, let’s just go ahead and serve it with some a la cart doses of world events, main stream media, and social media concerns… and the cherry on top: random guilt & shame for “not being enough…”

In the last 7 months, the population of our nation has been living through prolonged trauma. Because of that, life has felt a lot heavier for many. Some may be looking around saying “I had this! I was good at this in March, April, May… but now I am struggling!! HARD! And I can’t seem to do what everyone else is doing!! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!” Others are looking around saying “How on EARTH did you function even in the beginning?? I’ve been swimming upstream since March 13 and I’m exhausted…” Meanwhile, there are the lucky ones who have been able to say “I mean, this isn’t ideal but so far I’m adjusting pretty well… life goes on!”

Do you relate to any of those thoughts? I want you to internalize this: everyone is experiencing this trauma (these traumas) and no two people respond the same to it. Please do not compare your experience with others’ experiences. If this is hitting you extra hard: it’s not a shortcoming, a character defect, or a weakness… If you’re floating along just fine: it’s not denial, lack of empathy, or a super human spidey-strength… Our responses are just those: responses.

The organ of the brain is such an incredible and complex system. Unique as a fingerprint. The intricacies are both primitive and novel. And sometimes the primitive brain (some refer to this as the “dragon brain”) takes over because it is cued to respond to a perceived threat… and the primitive brain does not always align with the logical brain that we have all grown to love and trust… That’s a watered down version of a trauma response.

If our brain cannot connect a new perceived threat with a threat it has survived before (for reference on how to handle the situation), it defaults into SURVIVAL MODE… and that is EXHAUSTING!! In short, your sympathetic nervous system has been working overtime without hazard pay and without meal breaks for several months in a row… and if you’re in the “exhausted” phase of it all, your body is attempting to recover from the boost of “wake up!!” hormones this survival system has been sending to your brain (those were the same ones that made you hypervigilant and maybe made it hard to sleep and concentrate).

If you’re getting to this point and thinking “but I haven’t been scared of anything… so obviously my brain isn’t taking this as a trauma… but I’m still struggling and still exhausted.” I need to remind you: trauma is the perceived or actual loss of power and control. State shutting down: trauma. School closing: trauma. Social unrest: trauma. Loss of income: trauma. Pandemic: trauma.

So what do I do?

Well, there are a lot of things and I’m sure you’ve heard about them ad nauseam… So I am going to start with the main ones.

  • If you are thinking you need help professionally, contact your Primary Care Physician and/or your counselor…. some people have found some success with medications during times like these (meds are not always “forever” and it’s not uncommon for physicians to treat situation-based mood/anxiety disorders with temporary meds). Likewise, therapy isn’t forever… go talk to a therapist who will be happy to hear you out no matter how “big or small” the issue is.
  • Music (I know I know I know… you’re sick of hearing about this one… but hear me out). Music can connect the hemispheres of the brain to help to almost “reset” your ability to bring the logic brain back to the forefront. It helps with relaxation, concentration, and with the right music it helps with overall self-regulation (emotional control). For the best results with this, use headphones to cancel out other noises and pay attention to the notes, volume, and tempo.
  • Decrease your to-do list. No. For real. You need to. Yes, I know you have 12,000 extra things on your plate now but just because it’s on your plate does not mean you must eat it (we are not in 1980 parochial school here, folks… you need not clean your plate before going to recess). One item at a time. When you complete that item, reassess your motivation and energy and go from there with either your break or your next item.
  • Be Nice To Yourself… challenge your thoughts when you wonder “why can that person but I can’t” or “I should just be thankful…” What??? Who is thankful for trauma during trauma??? I mean, I’m thankful for the time I’m having with my family buuuuut that gratitude doesn’t erase the stress of this world… and that other person who seems to be killing this… maybe they are and maybe they’re not… but that has no bearing on your success or perceived lack of success at this. Remember when you would ask your parent to do something or have something and when they said ‘no’ you would say “But HIS mom lets him!!”… what was your parent’s response?? Come on… say it with me… “Well I’m not HIS mom! So, no.” (I know I’m not the only one who has heard or said this…). Well, sometimes your situation says “Well, I’m not HIS situation… so, no.” When those thoughts come, remind yourself “I am doing the best I can with the resources I have. And that is enough.”
  • Go outside. Especially if you’re prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s time to get that boost in Vitamin D.
  • Eat food. (No, not eat your feelings… but man those Oreos are sounding delish right about now). Get food into your body. Score bonus if you add some balance in there. And if you’re noticing your balance is off in your diet, ask your Primary Care Physician what multivitamin supplement might be right for you. Your body and brain need to be nourished.
  • Allow yourself the space and time to grieve. Trauma comes with loss and it’s okay to grieve… even as simple as the loss of normalcy. Feel it, be present in it, and then release it.
  • And my favorite…. drumroll…. set boundaries. Say ‘no’. Be assertive. Stick to your boundaries. It’s okay. You do not need to balance other plates on top of your own right now. You can still be there for your loved ones but you can also still have boundaries in the process.
  • Oh, also, put on your favorite comedy… find time to laugh your head off. It actually can be extremely therapeutic.

So in short… remember my mishap in the beginning?? Referring to myself as Spiderman?? Well clearly, I am not he… and he is not me… and I am no superhero at all. None of us are. So why hold ourselves to those same standards?

We are human. We are grieving. We are loved. We are worth it & enough.

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