When COVID 19 first struck, there was a common response among my trauma clients – “I am always anxious, now I feel like the rest of the world has just caught up with me.” This anxiousness is often a manifestation of hypervigilance, a common symptom among trauma survivors where the survivor always feels on high alert in order to protect themselves. Hypervigilance certainly can be beneficial when needed, but it can also be emotionally exhausting when it continues on for long periods of time. Hypervigilance is beginning to have a huge impact on many of us as we navigate the confusing dynamics of COVID 19, but it is especially strong for trauma survivors who are now faced with managing both their painful histories and their frightening and uncertain present life. Because trauma and COVID 19 generate many similar emotional survival responses, COVID 19 can serve as a significant trigger for trauma survivors.
COVID 19 presents many dynamics that mirror trauma – the feelings of being unsafe and at high risk that it will strike us, feeling that we have no control over the current situation, the feelings of uncertainty as to when this will end. Additionally, COVID 19 and trauma share the stress of feeling as if we need to protect our children and loved ones. The social isolation we have experienced through quarantines and social distancing can resemble the isolation trauma survivors experience when they feel that they are alone in their abuse, with no one to turn to.
If you are a trauma survivor and are feeling the impacts of COVID 19 especially hard, you are not alone. Please do not let social distancing keep you from receiving the support you need right now. I can honestly say that all of the trauma survivors I have been honored to work with over the years have demonstrated incredible strength, bravery, and resilience. And sometimes we all just need a little help to feel strong, brave and resilient in the face of crisis once again.
Heather Martin, LCSW has been a therapist with Counsel Connections since their inception in 2016. She has over 25 years of clinical experience, and specializes in the areas of trauma, anxiety, depression and adoption.