Subtle Trauma: Working from Home & COVID-19
Coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, stay at home order, flattening the cure, these are new words and phrases in our everyday conversations that we never heard of months ago. Social distancing is a new practice we are doing out of love for one another and our love of our community. I find it ironic that we thought some people were distant socially with the overuse of devices. Now here in this pandemic, the very technology we feared was distancing us is connecting us and drawing us closer together. In some cases, it is a lifeline. If you are like me, you are hearing information from many sources. Some of the information conveys words of encouragement, and some doom and gloom, depending on who you listen to. This is a time of trauma. It is so important for us as we go through this time of trauma to process it with one another and connect, thus decreasing the depression and anxiety that may occur as a result.
Trauma may sound dramatic but think about it. Life as we known it has been taken from us. There is no time given as to when we can return to our lives. We are watching numbers of people getting sick and dying, and it is getting worse not better. We are being told the end is indefinite. It is ongoing trauma. It is complex. The longer someone goes without processing a trauma in their life, the more severe the symptoms will be. If we process and work through the trauma as it is occurring, the less likely we will be to suffer symptoms, or at least minimize the symptoms as best we can.
Below, I have listed what I believe are six ways to stay mentally, emotionally and physically healthy during these traumatic times. The trauma is that we have been taken out of our daily lives. The suggestions below are an attempt to bring back some normalcy to our lives. Granted, it is a new normal that has a different look to it. Again, it is a way to process and avoid symptoms as best we can. These are preventive measures so we might come out on the other side of this virus as healthy as we possibly can physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Many are working from home or laid off. This allows opportunities to sleep in, stay in your pajamas, put off showering, watch more news and television, and forget the routine you were so sick of. My first suggestion is to keep structure in your day. To do the things above for a few days is fine but eventually it can lead to depression. You may have heard the expression that describes inertia, “a body at rest tends to stay at rest”. Your resting as stated above can turn into unhealthy behavior patterns. Instead, I encourage keeping structure in your day. Getting up at the same time every day, shower, brush your teeth, dress for a day of work, dress nice for yourself. Your spouse and family will like it too! If you live alone, you will feel better if you dress better. If you dress for the day and believe you look good, you will feel good. It is a healthy practice to eat meals at the same time, go to bed at the same time, and get up at the same time each day. If you are laid off, you are now your own boss. Set goals for the day. Make a to-do list. Write down your goals and cross them off as you finish them. Watch how good you feel as your sense of accomplishment rises with each task. Perhaps there is a neighbor who needs help in their yard. This is a great way to connect while keeping distant. This leads to my second suggestion, connecting.
I heard part of an interview with James Corden, and he had a very wise word. He said, “Let’s not social distance, let’s physically distance; we need to stay connected.” I encourage setting a goal of reaching out to connect to several people in your life. Texting and Facebook are one way, but FaceTime or a phone call are even better. During this time, to minimize depression and anxiety, we should connect as close as daily life used to be. When we were out and about with co-workers, we did not just text them. We heard their voice in the office when we went to the copier. We talked to our sister when we went to lunch. Maybe have lunch with a sister or brother over FaceTime. Perhaps you and a co-worker could have lunch together over the phone. My daughter and I FaceTime or talk on the phone as we walk every day. We are accomplishing two goals at the same time, exercising and connecting. As James Corden said, physical distance not social distance. People are having birthday parties on the streets (practicing physical distancing). They are placing signs on windows, and “touching” hand to hand through windows. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to be creative in your connection with the people in your life. He is a relational God in His very essence. He is One God in Three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He wants us to be connected to the Body of Christ. Seek His guidance. Reach out to others.
Along with structure and connection, it is important to take breaks. Those of you, like myself and many of my family members, are working from home. In the early days of telecommuting, employers and managers worried that workers would be less productive and less committed when working from home. What we discovered is that workers tend to spend more hours working from home than when physically present; they took fewer and shorter breaks, worked earlier and longer, and did not have the natural social interruptions that they had when at the workplace. Today’s situation is even more demanding. Moms and dads have children at home all day, and they suddenly find themselves in a position of being a homeschooler. Children are not permitted to have playdates. They are missing teachers and friends, and the structure of classes and recess and gym. Suddenly, there are no physical boundaries between work, school, and home. Now your office is on your dining room table! Your children’s classroom is in your living room! Now is the opportunity to just keep working straight through lunch. In some cases, it is an opportunity to not work to your standard that you did in the office. You can stop when you want and play a video game or play your guitar, but guilt creeps in and keeps you working. Again, life as we know it is taken from us, and as far as we know, for an indefinite length of time. When setting up your structure it is important to place breaks in your day. Step away from your computer. Play your guitar. Talk to your family. It is important to have a beginning and an end to your workday. There is a reason why so many industries give fifteen-minute breaks to their employees. Experts encourage taking breaks from screen time. Children in schools are given breaks and teachers are given free periods to plan lessons or just take a break. According to research, we are more creative after breaks. Without breaks we tend to increase stress and exhaustion. Moms and dads, allow your children to go off and play outside or alone in their rooms while you have your alone time. The analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first might apply here. It’s important to take care of yourself well. In addition, you are modeling healthy behavior for your children.
I also encourage journaling. This time we are going through will be written forever in history. I think of generations before us who have been through trauma. I also think of cultures that have experienced traumas that we have been spared. I think of the great depression, world wars, civil wars, famines, genocide. It is moving to read letters and journals of those who lived through these times. These writings are ways the writer processed the fears and feelings of their experiences. During the second world war, Ann Frank kept a diary. Here is what she said about journaling: “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” David wrote the psalms crying out to God, many of which were laments. I believe they were his way of journaling his fears and resetting his faith in the One who searched him and knew him (Ps 139). We too can settle ourselves through writing and documenting for ourselves what we are feeling. It is a means to grieve. A way of letting go of things we love and have lost, our way of life that is out of reach for now. Journaling is a way to set goals and search what we really want and don’t want in life. It is also a time to list what we are learning and how we are growing during this time. Journaling can act as valve that we can open to release the pressure and decrease the stress, helping us to face what is coming next.
AWARENESS OF NEGATIVE COPING
Another important skill to use is awareness of old, negative coping mechanisms. During trauma and times of stress we tend to revert to our survival mechanisms we have used in the past to deal with trauma. In some people it may have been an addiction or some other way of self-soothing bordering on addiction. I would suggest having self-awareness during this time about what survival skills you might be using to cope. Some examples might be:
- Eating junk food throughout the day. Now that you are home and the food is readily available, are you eating more than you would before the stay at home order? If so, what might be the consequences? Perhaps moving those types of foods out of sight or not bringing them into the house would be a good way to avoid setting up a pattern you would want to avoid. These types of foods might cause you to feel sluggish and keep you from exercising. Doctor Fauci from the CDC encourages eating healthy food, exercising, and a regular sleep schedule for a healthy immune system.
- Drinking alcohol or using drunks or any other addictive behavior. During this time there is no supervision in your home. Those that may have had a problem with drug and alcohol use may feel it is ok to calm their anxiety at lunch with these substances because no one will know. They aren’t driving and it isn’t hurting anyone. It is so important to remember that these substances and any addictive behaviors such as gambling, pornography, shopping, excessive exercise or any other addiction is only a temporary relief. On the other side of the relief is an increase of depression and anxiety. The first three steps of the twelve step programs point all of us to a place we need to remember in these times we are in. Step One: We admitted we are powerless, our lives have become unmanageable; Step two: Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity; Step 3: Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
This leads me to my final point. It is, for me, such a comfort to know who is on the throne. I know That God is in control. I know so much more than this, however. There are many kings who sat on thrones. But my KING! He is All Powerful “The voice of the LORD is powerful; The Voice of the LORD is majestic. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; (Ps 29:5). He is with us always. “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:20)” He is full of lovingkindness. ‘The LORD, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness… (Gen 34:6).” He is love. “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16).” There are so many things I do not know about God. His ways are not my ways His thoughts are not my thoughts. However, there is a living word full of things I do know about Him. In addition, there are many ways I have experienced His living word working in my life and in the lives of those around me. These are the words and truths I choose to focus on when doubts, and fears begin to overwhelm me. At times they do, as I’m sure they do all of us, because we are human. Please join me in worshipping the God we know when these troubling thoughts come. Two contemporary songs come to my mind when I can’t sit and pray because work calls. I sing these songs in my soul. The first is Lauren Daigle’s song, “Look up Child.” The other is by Big Daddy Weave, ” I know.” If you have not heard these songs, I encourage you to take the time to listen to them. Also, the hymn “It is Well With My Soul.”
In summary, this is a time of trauma: individually, for our families and our community. I have laid out six suggestions to try to get back some normalcy in your life. My first suggestion is to keep structure in your day. Secondly, I encourage setting a goal of reaching out to several people in your life to connect with. Third, it is important to take breaks. Forth, I encourage journaling to help grieve and document for ourselves what we are feeling, including ways to set goals and search out what we really want and don’t want in life. Fifth, I suggest having self-awareness during this time about what survival skills you might be using to cope, being careful not to revert to previous addictive behaviors. These are ways to process and avoid symptoms as best we can. These are preventive measures so we might come out on the other side of these days as healthy as we possibly can physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Lastly, we should come to know Who is on the throne. Nothing outside of Him, the Truth, will bring us greater peace and hope.
May the peace and hope and deep abiding joy of Christ dwell in you NOW and always.
Doreen Weiss, MA, LPC