Making Sense of Your Covid Story
How we head into this new year does not have to be defined by the past two.
Posted January 1, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Many are afraid of re-experiencing the painful aspects of the past two years, including isolation and uncertainty.
- Making sense of our story by writing a coherent narrative can help us heal from unresolved trauma.
- A study showed that creating coherent narratives about positive autobiographical experiences increased emotional well-being during the pandemic.
New Year’s is often seen as a time to create a new story. This year, with a new surge in the pandemic, many people are left with the unsettling feeling of moving backward instead of forward. Most of us are afraid of re-experiencing the painful aspects of the past two years, the isolation, the uncertainty. However, how we head into this new year does not have to be defined by the past two.
One of the most powerful ways to enhance our mental and overall health is to prepare for this next period and reclaim our story by creating a coherent narrative of our experience thus far. Every one of us has a story of the way the pandemic reached into our lives and tossed different aspects of it into upheaval.
Our prolonged exposure to uncertainty and instability has forced many of us into a state of continual shock and perpetual coping. With so many changes being thrown our way, very few of us have had time to fully process the personal and collective trauma that we’ve experienced.
As much as we would like to “move on” or forget about the painful events of this pandemic, research suggests that we cannot resolve our trauma without creating a coherent narrative of our experience. Whether COVID-19 led to the loss of a loved one, a rupture in a relationship, a threat to our sense of security, a shift in our career path, or a fundamental change to our way of living itself, there are likely many traumas large and small that we endured.
Failing to process the “big T and little t” traumas can cause us to become stuck in our pain. We may continue to be affected in many areas of our lives in ways of which we aren’t even aware, and we may struggle to adapt to new circumstances.
Making sense of our story can help us heal from unresolved trauma. Because our response to trauma has much to do with our past, it’s also sometimes necessary to reach back further and explore how our earliest adaptations inform how we react to perceived danger today. When threatened, many of us turn to a series of old psychological defenses that can actually limit or hurt us in our lives and relationships.
In an upcoming eCourse I’m teaching on “Making Sense of Your Covid Story,” I’ll draw upon principles from attachment theory and separation theory to help people understand how these early adaptations affect our current responses to stress.
In addition to making sense of negative experiences, it’s equally important to identify the profound moments that connected us to what matters to us. Throughout the past two years, we have all likely had instances of awe or meaning that changed us.
A recent study showed that people who created coherent narratives about positive autobiographical experiences increased their emotional well-being during the pandemic and strengthened their social support systems. Creating coherent narratives of our experiences not only enhances our own mental health but impacts our connections with others.
Taking time to identify and process the events that impacted and changed us in the time of Covid is a worthy endeavor. We may ask ourselves questions like, “Are there moments I wasn't able to fully process or resolve?” “What lessons did I learn about who I am and what matters to me?” “Were there instances that caused me overwhelming sadness or fear?” “Were there experiences that connected me to feelings of awe or joy?”
When we make sense of our past, we empower ourselves to peel away layers that no longer serve us and, therefore, have more awareness to shape our future. In this way, creating a coherent narrative can help strengthen our resilience rather than defaulting to defenses from our past. It can also help connect us to a personal sense of meaning that can be a guiding light for how we want to live our lives.
Though it may feel like looking back at the past two years is the last place we want to go, it may be the best way to move forward and create a new story for ourselves in 2022.