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One year later...

It’s just over a year since the pandemic started here. One year and four days to be exact. When I started this blog as a way to provide some coping skills and thoughts to support people as they dealt with the pandemic, I never imagined that we would be dealing with this for so long. I doubt any of us did really. Yet here we are, having spent a year of our lives mostly in our homes, with much less physical and social activity, and without the level of human contact which we were accustomed to before. We sacrificed for the greater good and got a crash course in collective care – which, for a nation deeply embedded in individualistic mindsets, had a very steep learning curve.


Because of the sudden and unexpected nature of the pandemic and the intensity of the changes it brought to our lives, I expect that many will emerge from this experience with some degree of trauma response. We tend to see trauma reactions more often when there is an element of surprise in the experience and when we feel a loss of control over the outcomes – both of which definitely occurred here. Beyond that though, a lack of support or disconnection as occurred with the required social isolation combined with the chaos of the previous administration’s guidelines (or lack thereof) would certainly increase that risk as well. Suffice it to say that many of us will need some time to heal once this finally does end.


And it will, eventually. But our bodies are clever and our nervous systems never fully relax until after the threat is assuredly gone. So it will be a while before we really see the full effects of this experience on our minds, bodies, and spirits. There are, however, a few things we can do to help regain control of ourselves and ultimately reduce or even prevent these negative ramifications. This is what we’ll be focusing on today.


One of the most important things that you can do is to focus on what went right and what you did have control over. Although it may not seem like it, we all did have choices to make along this journey. Remind yourself that in choosing to wear a mask, in choosing to stay home, in choosing to limit contact with others you intentionally engaged in actions designed to keep yourself and others safe. And that matters! Those decisions are worth honouring. Spend some time thinking through the last year, but purposely reflect on this from a strengths perspectives which acknowledges how and what you did to stay safe, to stay connected, to stop the spread, etc. Make the strengths narrative your new narrative.


Another valuable reflection is to reflect on what you learned about yourself and others during this time. Consider what you miss most about life before the pandemic. Was it time with friends? Being able to go to certain activities regularly? Unrestricted travel? Holiday gatherings? Ask yourself also what the absence of these aspects means to your overall well-being. Those are the things which needs to be prioritized once you’re able to do them again. Think about what you don’t miss as well, because these things are equally important – this points towards what was causing you stress or what activities you were engaging in unnecessarily. This is an indication of what changes you may need to keep in your life. Also think about what you started doing because of the pandemic that you found out you enjoy. Did you start cooking more? Sleeping in late? Going on walks after dinner? Having more phone conversations? Maybe you started a vegetable garden? These are indications of what is important to continue cultivating going forwards.


Besides this, take stock of what insight you gained from this experience. Some people who were frequently busy and extroverted found out that they really enjoy a little more time alone. Some were surprised at how much they need physical connection with others more than they had realized before. Others took a chance on applying for jobs they would have never considered before or started learning a new skill or hobby. Maybe you found that you love staying home with your family……or always thought you would, only to discover that you don’t. Consider what you learned about those around you too. If you have children, chances are you’ve gained a whole lot of insight about their learning styles this year! We've also learned that we have the capacity to do a lot of things differently...millions found that they can in fact work from home after all. And we all learned just how interconnected our lives are in this process. The list of lessons learned could be quite long! Perhaps we can use some of this new knowledge to make permanent changes to our expectations of ourselves and of others.


Finally, take some time to sit quietly and scan your body. Notice any spots of tension or tenderness, any areas that feel different to you, or places which might need attention. Trauma and stress reside in our bodies, and it’s important to pay attention to any subtle changes during times like this. Ask yourself what your body may need. Maybe it’s more sleep, more water, more time outside, more exercise….or maybe it’s less of something. Try to bring yourself back into balance by acknowledging and honouring whatever it is you realize that you need. Give yourself permission to prioritize yourself during this time.


After spending some time understanding yourself and those around you with more clarity, devote some consideration to the larger community as well. We have a long way to go together, too. During the last year, an entirely avoidable consequence of the pandemic has been the sharp rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans or those who appear to be from Asian backgrounds. Didn’t we learn anything from 9/11 when the incidence of hate crimes increased exponentially against Arab-Muslim populations? And once again, women are the most targeted by these actions. C’mon, USA, we need to do better. So spend some time assessing what you can do for your community to ensure that everyone is safe going forwards, as well. Check your biases, hold your friends and family accountable for racist or xenophobic statements, and vow to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. We cannot come out of a collective trauma without a focus on collective care.


By intentionally thinking through these considerations, we are able to actively take back control of what our lives look like going forwards. By paying attention to what we did right instead of what was taken away, we are able to consciously reduce some of the effects of the traumatic experience we’ve all lived through in the last year. And by applying this insight not only to ourselves, but to our communities, we are able to continue creating (or start creating) a collective care model which ultimately makes the spaces we inhabit safer for everyone in them.


So what have you learned in the last year? Share your thoughts below…



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© 2021 by Kayte Thomas, PhD, LCSW.