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How Coronavirus is Collective Trauma

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

We are in a wild time filled with uncertainty. At this point, it is likely that everyone in the country is somehow impacted by Coronavirus. We are unsure of our work situations, unclear on how to remain physically safe, and possibly panicked about how we are going to get the basic home necessity of toilet paper. Never before have we, as a modern and advanced society, all undergone something so treacherously terrifying as a rampant illness that keeps spreading-- no matter how much information we have or how much social distancing we practice.

This is what is called collective trauma. Usually, trauma is individually defined, unique and specific to a person, place, and situation. Not now. I walk out my front door and feel the palpable, collective anxiety. It’s like a hushed breath, waiting for what might happen next. And this breath is being held not just in my neighborhood in Colorado, but across the entire globe. Even further, this communal experience can actually enhance our terror and isolation rather than make us feel known and comforted; that’s collective trauma. It impacts us all.

And yet, as we engage this crisis, we all do so specifically. I would argue that we are all responding to COVID-19 in the same way we have responded (or wished we could have responded) to harm during our developmental years. Maybe it is hoarding supplies like paper goods, canned foods, and anything else to keep your heart rate (barely) contained. Could this be because, at an earlier time, you were left wanting in some area of your life and thus promised never to be left vulnerable again? It could be through ravaging through information, voraciously ingesting news stories at a lightning-speed pace. Might this be a response to feeling that, as a child, if you simply had enough information, maybe you could prevent yourself from experiencing any more harm? Your posture might also look like feigned - or felt - indifference, wondering why everyone is making such a big fuss about this little illness. Is it possible that in your story, making a ‘big deal’ never got you the attention or care you wanted, birthing the futility of, ‘why try anyway?’

These are only a few examples. For me personally, I have found a tendency to unify and bond my community as I see people war on opposing sides, resurfacing the way I acted as a sort of accordion for relationships in younger years--pulling and pushing to keep everyone on the same page. Because then, if everyone was happy and connected, I could escape potential abandonment.

These are not easy topics to have bubbling up as you are likely confined in close quarters, unable to use work, socializing, or any other activity as a balm to soothe your angst. And yet this is where we find an invitation. Can we use this time to examine these deeper questions, and look more closely at ourselves? Because that may lead us to the lessons we truly need to learn in this crisis.

How to Care For Yourself During a Pandemic

Could it be possible that as an overly busy, work-addicted American, the Coronavirus quarantine could be used to help you personally find rest and healing? That’s my intention with this blog - to help you care for yourself, even just 1% more than you already do.

We have the painful and yet good opportunity to find new ways to soothe. I would say that the biggest starting point to try this is by validating your felt experience. In stress we regress, so would it feel possible to tell yourself, “Of course I look longingly at the extra toilet paper rolls in my local store, I have always tried to control or stockpile things that won’t fail me (IE are not human).” You might not do this normally (and if you do, it is still not cause for condemnation), but in trauma states we find ourselves grasping at anything that will help us survive. The invitation is to get just a little closer to being truly grounded, which really just means present to the moment. When we are present, we are not afraid to feel our feelings. When we are present, we can notice the fear in someone’s eyes and not be panicked into fixing it. When we are present, we can tune in to what will actually give us space and rest.

Further than validating our experiences, there are many tangible things you can do to stay in your body. Find therapists on Instagram doing deep breathing videos. Look at yoga studios offering free livestream classes (Kindness Yoga lets you do the first three free). Light a candle, incense, or sage and let that scent represent peace, security, or kindness to you in this scary time. Ultimately, all of these practices incorporate our physical bodies. And in states of collective trauma, we have to calm our bodies before we can do any deeper work. Sometimes, calming our bodies is all we can do.

As you likely spend more time alone and distanced from others than you have before, try tuning in to yourbody. Is your heart racing? Do you feel shallow in your breath? Does your stomach drop even as I invite you to try this? Do you feel absolutely nothing, indicating that you had to leave your body a long time ago? None of this is meant for judgment, it is all information telling you hints about how to care for yourself.

And ultimately that’s the point-- learning how to care for yourself even in a time of crisis.


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