Experiences of trauma are common. It is estimated that about 75% of people will experience a traumatic event during their life. Each of these events can affect the person in all sorts of ways and their pathways to recovery and growth beyond the trauma vary enormously. Complex trauma, however, often has greater impacts than the trauma of a single incident. Complex trauma is repeated, often extreme, and in many cases ongoing. This includes experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation – experienced as a child, young person or adult or complex trauma. Many people, with the right support, also recover from the effects of their complex trauma showing remarkable resilience and for many finding new meaning and connection in their process.
The reality is that new traumas often additionally affect people who have experienced prior traumas. Of course, trauma affects us all in different ways but those living with the impacts of complex trauma, can be affected more than people whose lives have been less affected by traumatic stress. And the effects of the different sorts of trauma can build on one another over time. The last almost 18 months have been a time of uncertainty for the whole world, and we, in Australia, although relatively protected by sea, have not been immune from Coronavirus. While the periodic closing of borders to keep us safer overall, it has also, for many, created additional stresses and disconnection from loved ones and supports.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought fear, illness and ongoing threat. It has been an emotional merry-go-round, not knowing where the next outbreak might occur, who might be infected and how badly. It is to be expected that we might feel overwhelmed at times. The good news is that there are improvements in treatments for COVID and vaccines are being rolled out, although somewhat slower than we would hope. The pandemic has been and remains traumatic, and many of us have experiences assaults to our mental health – through fear, anxiety and enforced physical distancing, social isolation, lockdowns, restrictions and the ever-present not knowing. Businesses have closed, and jobs have been threatened or lost. Services have shut and the supports many people depend on, are no longer as readily available. Life as we knew it is less predictable than it once was. The time of COVID-19, and this is still a time of flux, has created numerous additional stresses for many.
While the sense of uncertainty and threat can be hard for anyone, it can be particularly hard for people who are already living with the effects of previous traumas, especially complex trauma. That’s why it’s important for us to be as gentle on ourselves as we can be and do what we can to look after ourselves, those we care about, and our communities. We also need to support one another and ourselves to stay as grounded as possible, and to walk alongside one another through this difficult time as much as we can.
As always, and even more so during these times, it’s important to focus on the activities and daily routines which we have found have helped to support our sense of wellbeing before. Doing this is not a straight path for many but this is about doing what is achievable, and what has helped before and can help again.
Although some familiar practices may need to be varied during this period, because of restrictions, the following may be helpful. It’s up to you to choose what to try, and to know that you might not be able to do all of these things, and for some people, any of them. So be kind to yourself and see if any of these suggestions are helpful for you:
- trying to get some restful sleep – as much as possible for you
- eating as well as you can and drinking lots of water
- staying active and exercising within your capacity and restrictions
- doing things that you find supportive for you – being creative or stepping outside. Whatever helps you feel better and keeps you safe as circumstances change
- staying informed from reliable sources but taking a break if and when you are feeling overwhelmed. Be careful not to follow misinformation
- making a plan around how to stay connected to the important people in your life and reaching out when you need to, and are able
- regularly practising strategies which help you to calm your nervous system and self-soothe such as yoga, mindfulness, meditation – we are all individuals so whatever works for you
- trying not to use too much medication when doing so has not been prescribed or recommended
- limiting your use of alcohol and drugs as much as possible
- reaching out in safe ways as public health advice changes
- listen to music, watching or reading something you find uplifting or distraction
It is understandable to feel concerned during this time. These are stressful times, and they can be anxiety-provoking. Current anxiety can also trigger strong feelings and memories of previous traumas and can be a time when additional support may be needed. If you or someone you care about would like to speak to one of our specialist trauma counsellors, reach out and please call the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 between 9 am and 5 pm Monday to Sunday AEST.
If you are living with disability and are seeking emotional support, please call our National Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468 between 9 am and 6 pm Monday to Friday AEST and between 9 am and 5 pm Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information about how to care for yourself see https://blueknot.org.au/survivors/survivor-self-care/