Feeling stressed out? Anxious? Afraid?
You’re not alone. These are unprecedented times, and we may all be experiencing some form of emotional trauma.
We mostly associate trauma with violent crimes, natural disasters, and war, but that gives us a limited scope. Our unique experience of an event or stressor, no matter how inconsequential someone else might deem it, can qualify as trauma if that event invokes extreme stress, pain, or fear. That trauma can leave us feeling helpless or too overwhelmed to cope, especially as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic in tandem with dismantling systemic racism.
If we are unable to process the trauma, it can result in stress–based or PTSD disorders, causing a person to reexperience the trauma through nightmares or flashbacks. There may also be a feeling of dissociation or feeling numb, or a heightened state of arousal in which we may startle more easily or become more quickly irritated.
There’s also something known as secondary traumatic stress, which is emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand traumatic experiences of others. That’s right: just hearing about traumatic events can take an emotional toll strong enough to compromise our ability to function professionally and even diminish our quality of life.
Trauma, unfortunately, is very common in society, and has roots in generations of negative experiences, which in turn is passed on through interactions with our friends and loved ones. Experiencing multiple traumas over time, especially if they are not directly addressed, leads to the body being in a perpetually heightened state of fight, flight or freeze. This heightened state can put a person at risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and a higher cardiovascular mortality risk. In addition, people with PTSD are at higher risk of having digestive problems and disease, reproductive issues, diabetes, chronic pain, respiratory system issues, and arthritis. This may explain in part why we are seeing a disproportionate number of people of color becoming ill with COVID-19. Quite simply, historical trauma that remains unaddressed can lead to a compromised immune system and greater susceptibly to illness.
But we can mitigate our trauma. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can all help with this, in addition to self-care, such as eating a nutritious diet, sleeping well, and minimizing the use of drugs and alcohol. Even finding five minutes of your day to be silent and just focus on your breathing can start to strengthen your relaxation response and help boost your immune system.
It’s important to remember that experiencing trauma is not a weakness. People can experience things differently, and it does not make one “less tough” than the other. Our experiences, fears, and emotions are uniquely ours, and when we are faced with rage, grief, and other complicated feelings, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for others is to process those emotions. Through understanding them, we can better move through them, and use them to help us grow.
If you have felt increased stress recently and are struggling to process your emotions, we encourage you to reach out to someone. In addition to meditation and yoga, you can also journal, and consistently remind yourself of all the reasons you have to be grateful, however small. Exercising, speaking with a therapist or coach, or spending a few minutes in nature can also help.
As we become more aware of how past events impact our trauma response, we can find ways to process that trauma and find our way back to joy.
Vice President Advocacy and Community at Sanvello
Roxane Battle works to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health issues. Prior to coming to Sanvello, she spent 20+ years as a journalist and writer, including work as an award-winning television news anchor and reporter for the NBC Minneapolis affiliate KARE-TV.
As a sought-after speaker Roxane presents on change, resiliency, and finding joy during times of transition.
Roxane was named an Architect of Change on mariashriver.com and has been featured in Working Mother and Ebony national magazines, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
A Minnesota native, Roxane earned her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She completed her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia
Her self-help memoir, Pockets of Joy: Deciding to Be Happy, Choosing to Be Free (Whitaker House 2017), became an Amazon best seller in multiple categories.
Roxane lives near the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and has an adult son.
Follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. @roxanebattle