We have just lived through two years of a pandemic. Whether we got COVID or not, we have all been affected in so many ways - personal loss, community loss, nationwide loss, loss of life, loss of health, loss of freedom, loss of feeling safe, loss of socializing with friends and family…. Our work/life balance has been upended. And even though the cases are way down, some stresses remain. Do we still wear masks? Can we take masks off in some places? Are we safe now? Can we repair the rifts of friends and family who approached the pandemic differently than we did? These, and so many more questions, may be going through your mind. We yearn to go back to how things were before March 2020 but are not sure that we can, either physically or emotionally.
We usually think of trauma as something horrible that happens, often as a one-time event. Others may experience chronic or ongoing trauma. This is called complex trauma and can be more ingrained since our bodies and minds change over time to be able to bear the ongoing stress. Trauma can have a significant impact on how we deal with the world. While we don’t often think of the pandemic in terms of trauma, this has been a traumatic two years for each of us, in so many ways. And for those that already have mental health challenges, the pandemic could have greatly exaggerate their symptoms.
You might think that now that the pandemic seems to be winding down, you should be feeling better emotionally and physically. But living like we have for the past two years can take its toll on us. The stresses are cumulative. It will take a while for our minds and bodies to unlearn all the coping skills we developed during the pandemic. Here are some of the common symptoms connected to the trauma of living through the pandemic, even as, or especially as the end may be near:
These symptoms can be due solely to the pandemic but can also be intertwined with other pre-existing mental health issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
Things you can do to help you get through pandemic fatigue:
1. Moving - Moving around can really help calm you down. If you are able, consider going outside for a walk. If it is cold, bundle up or wear layers. Outside air can be refreshing. More than something to do, physically moving releases endorphins which naturally help to calm down anxiety and lift depression. You can also do some exercising indoors. There are many different apps or You Tube videos you can watch to exercise or do Yoga. Find an exercise you can do and you enjoy. Listen to music or audio books to pass the time as you move. Rather than waiting until anxiety is high, schedule these things in your day. Actually write it in your calendar. "Every day at ___ a.m. and ___ p.m. I will walk/exercise/do yoga."
2. Slow Deep Breathing – This helps to calm down the physical changes caused by anxiety and stress. Take a slow deep breath in and then a slow deep breath out. To time it right, count to four each time: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts.
3. Use a mantra – Pick your favorite blessing, or line of a prayer or psalm. Repeat it over and over. You can do this during your deep breathing.
4. Muscle Relaxation - This also helps calm down the physical changes caused by anxiety and stress. Do the slow deep breathing during this exercise. Sit or lay down in a comfortable place. Starting at your toes, consciously relax the muscles in your toes, then your ankles, then your calves… slowly, mentally work your way up your body focusing especially on your shoulders, neck and face.
5. Imagery - Think of a peaceful place you enjoy being at, either real or imaginary. Picture yourself there. Using your five senses, describe what you see, what you feel, what you smell, what you hear, what you taste. (i.e. being at the beach – I see the waves, the sand, the sky. I feel the warmth of the sun on my face and a light breeze. I smell the salt water. I hear the sound of the waves and the cry of the seagulls. I can taste the ice cream cone I just bought. Stay in that place for a while.)
6. Put Your Thoughts on Trial – What you think affects how you feel. Are you imagining the worst? Are you worrying about the future and imagining things that you really don’t know will happen? Question your thoughts. How true are they? How accurate are they? Is there a different, more realistic way to look at this? Can you find the positive in the negative and focus on more positive thoughts?
Life is busy. Sometimes carving out 20 minutes a day to meditate feels impossible. Car or Commuter Therapy is perfect for this. At every red light take a deep breath. Or name something you are grateful for. Simple as that. Use the red light as a tool to bring yourself to the present moment. When you get out of the car, take a moment and find your breath, then open the car door. Same when you return, take a moment before opening the door. If you are on the subway, as the train makes stops, use the opening and closing of the doors as a reminder to take a breath, wiggle your toes (this drops our energy and attention down to our feet and helps ground us), see how present you can stay between stops. If you're a walker, every time you have to pause for a light, use this time to practice - take several long deep breaths, wiggle your toes and get more grounded, do your Kegel exercises. Men, Kegels are valuable for everyone!
These little moments add up in the big picture. Integrate your practice into the tasks you already do. Bring in breath work every time you do dishes. Name things you are grateful for while you pump gas. Work with the time you have and the things you already do, to create a daily practice.
By Devorah Medwin
Today I will begin to uncover my heart.
I will let accumulations of sorrow surface;
Today the cycle of hurt and longing
Arresting my spiral into the maelstrom.
If I falter, frightened of the struggle,
Be with me, my Staff and my Lamp;
Hold out a lantern of courage,
Fortify me, let me persevere.
All my yesterdays describe my future,
Yet I am more than their sum;
I begin the deciphering with trepidation,
Help me to calculate my strengths.
Mark this day with Your kindness,
Reassure my search for wholeness;
Give me patience as I take small steps,
Guide and vouchsafe my journey.
By Debbie Perlman
Each lifetime is the pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces,
For others the puzzle
is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly complete puzzle.
And so it goes.
Souls trying this way and that
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.
But know this.
No one has within themselves
All the pieces to his or her puzzle.
Like before the days they used to seal jigsaw puzzles in cellophane.
Insuring that all the pieces were there.
Everyone carries with them at least one
And probably many pieces
To someone else's puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don't.
And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you, to another,
whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Above all, what you need to remember is that it’s ultimately your choice…
Yes, it’s your choice.
You are choosing right now.
And if you’re choosing…
to blame… t
o be stuck in the past…
to act like a victim…
to feel insecure…
to feel anger…
to feel hate…
to be naïve…
to ignore your intuition…
to ignore good advice…
to give up…
…then it’s time to choose differently.
But, let me also remind you that you are not alone. Generations of human beings in your family tree have chosen. Human beings around the world have chosen. We all have chosen at one time or another. And we stand behind you now whispering:
Choose to let go.
Choose to be present.
Choose to be positive.
Choose to forgive yourself.
Choose to forgive others.
Choose to see your value.
Choose to see the possibilities.
Choose to find meaning. Choose to prove you’re not a victim.
By Marc and Angel Chernoff
2 I cry aloud to God;
I appeal to God loudly for mercy.
3 I pour out my complaint before the Eternal;
I lay my trouble before You
4 when my spirit fails within me.
You know my course;
they have laid a trap in the path I walk.
5 Look at my right and see—
I have no friend;
there is nowhere I can flee,
no one cares about me.
6 So I cry to You, O God;
I say, “You are my refuge,
all I have in the land of the living.”
7 Listen to my cry, for I have been brought very low;
save me from my pursuers,
for they are too strong for me.
8 Free me from prison,
that I may praise Your name.
The righteous shall glory in me
for Your gracious dealings with me.
2 I extol You, OGod,
for You have lifted me up,
and not let my enemies rejoice over me.
3 Eternal, my God,
I cried out to You,
and You healed me.
4 O God, You brought me up from Sheol,
preserved me from going down into the Pit.
5 O you faithful of the Eternal, sing to Healer,
and praise God's holy name.
6 For the Eternal is angry but a moment,
and when God is pleased there is life.
One may lie down weeping at nightfall;
but at dawn there are shouts of joy.
7 When I was untroubled,
I thought, “I shall never be shaken,”
8 for You, O God, when You were pleased,
made me firm as a mighty mountain.
When You hid Your face,
I was terrified.
9 I called to You, Eternal One;
to my God I made appeal,
10 “What is to be gained from my death,
from my descent into the Pit?
Can dust praise You?
Can it declare Your faithfulness?
11 Hear, Eternal One,
and have mercy on me;
O God, be my help!”
12 You turned my lament into dancing,
you undid my sackcloth
and girded me with joy,
13 that my whole being might sing hymns to You endlessly;
Eternal my God, I will praise You forever.
After this long night of weakness,
I wake again in the morning of return;
Shaking off the terrors and the dreams,
I open my lips to the Eternal.
You are Strength and my Hope,
The Author of my healing;
You are my promise and my Courage,
Duding the steps I take toward healing.
After the winter's darkness and biting cold,
The hidden awayness of my hurting,
The isolation, the fear that settles upon me,
I rise with renewed strength to Praise You.
You are the Wonder of new life,
Warming, healing sun upon my head;
You restore my concern for others,
As I relinquish y constant self-inventory.
You come to me as spring comes,
Circling back to heal the ravaged earth;
You rest Your hand of blessing on my shoulder
And I sigh with relief at Your concern.
I look for you, Divine Healer,
Even as I begin again to take up my life;
I look for You, Complete Healer,
As I begin again.
by Debbie Perlman