Yes, it’s true January 6th is over. The election is over. Or is it? Post-trauma is ripe in its presentation — you know the facts of the change or shift, yet your body and mind don’t believe it. The body and the mind (aka brain) hold onto all memories. The experience of trauma is different for anyone who meets it. Now more than ever, there is a global experience of trauma because of the pandemic, and a national one because of the political and racial systemic digressions seen and heard around the country.
How Trauma Feels
Trauma in the body feels like being in a persistent sense of high alert. Heart pounding, temperature control in the body is off, sleep is agitated, and self-care is fractured. Grief is part of the trauma reaction. It feels like your mind and body are on steroids. Edgy alertness exists as one of the signs of post-trauma, as well as feeling tired, overwhelmed, burned out, having difficulty concentrating, difficulty relating to others, and having significant dreams which feel like realties. These are all reactive hallmarks of trauma.
Waiting for another moment of violence to erupt, looking for another sign of danger — a danger lurking behind what used to be safe. Safe is not what it used to be. Trauma informs your sense of waiting — the waiting is your way to attempt protection. Right now it seems best to shield yourself from the unexpected. Living in a state of vigilance is part of the protective buffer needed when dealing with trauma.
Trauma: Living in a Constant State of Alarm
Simply because it looks as if we are going into a new ordinary with a new administration doesn’t wipe out the memory of the past four years, regardless of what side you are on. What has been experienced cannot be unknown or unseen: displays of pain and anguish in the voices heard and the breaking into and onto the Capitol grounds, displaying a fight to take over. We were living in a world long divided before the grave disruptors invaded the hallowed ground of the “mother ship,” the Capitol of the United States.
We are in the public eye, for all to see, and hear and feel, and the display of the violence around the world is incomparable to anything remembered in our time. In a country filled with political warfare, fear and anxiety ramp up for millions of observers who are powerless to change the immediate outcome. Whatever the individuals that make a nation believe, the Capitol is like the mother ship, the mother Capitol. It's been defaced and what happens when there has been a defacing in front of you? It affects not only those close to the incidents, but it also affects the emotional mindset of the country.
A collective and countrywide grief is a reaction to irrational and terrifying acts. Grief is complex and different for everyone. However, some of the similarities are dread, a sense of impotence, and sorrow. Partnered with individual helplessness and strong feelings of wanting to do something, but not being able to. So how do we navigate through a complicated and often-prolonged period of mourning?
Manage Trauma in Real-Time
Here are three ways:
1) Stay with the Facts and Only the Facts
If you can change the situation then do it. Donate money, call and leave messages on lawmaker’s machines, organize Zoom calls meant to process emotions, then put energy into what is right in front of you. Make a vow to the self to remain in touch with family and friends, notice obsessive thinking, or lack of sleep, and keep the body moving with some kind of daily exercise. To be in the present, right here, right now, keeps projective trauma at bay and keeps you in greater emotional and physical calibration. Trauma, grief, and anxiety like to take you for a ride into the future. If you can stay in the moment, you have a better chance at tackling the post-trauma experience.
2) Anger and Regret? S.T.O.P.
Anger and regret often emerge when coping with trauma and grief. From irrational outbursts to becoming reclusive, anger and regret need to be acknowledged. If you notice anger rising within your body or in your thoughts, take a S.T.O.P. moment.
S- Sensory scan - Where do you feel the anger/regret?
T - Tension release - Identify where the tension is and release it. Breathing helps.
O - Open your heart to replacing the anger and regret with curiosity and new cognitions.
P - Pause for a moment — notice when the body and thinking shifts.
When you take time to notice your anger, outbursts can be tempered with intention and noticing. Other mediums to use in releasing anger include venting to a like-minded friend or going for a long walk while listening to music. Identify your means of release. It’s ultimately up to you.
3) Choose Your Quiet
Listening to agitating news stories or arguing with friends or family who enjoy a good quarrel to make a point may cause a trauma response. Shut them off and shut them down. This means boundary setting by you, and ultimately for you. This is an opportunity for you to find your governing voice, remembering the boundaries are for you, not them. If there’s information on the internet, radio or TV that agitates you, turn it off. If you really need to know what’s going on, wait until your tolerance meter feels better able to listen without agitation. Respect yourself in this way.
Still Feeling Overwhelmed?
If all else fails, stick to the facts. What happened on January 6th was shocking. The pandemic has isolated us at home. When post-trauma presents itself it creates role confusion (like, “who am I now that I’m in this post-trauma experience”) while anxiety and fear creep in and linger. The normal stress reducers for post-trauma, like seeing friends, in person, or going to the park or a concert, or having gatherings, are not as available as they once were. This is the time to explore who your allies are in this journey of post-trauma.
Don’t do this alone — text a friend, find a chat of like-minded folks through online groups that are easily found with a search for interest groups. Reaching out to the people in and out of your immediate circles in a small act of unification, something we could all use a bit more of in the new ordinary.
Post-trauma affects more people now than you can imagine. Don’t go it alone. You have the power to change outcomes. Don’t let trauma stop you, let it push you to shift out of the mindset you’re in.