Fixing the trauma caused by 2020

coping with mental distress

Q: As I go into 2021 I don’t know whether to duck or look forward to a better experience. I want to be optimistic but feel like I’ve got Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) from 2020. Is it possible for a global crisis to give you PTSD as an adult and if so how are you suggesting your clients cope with the emotional trauma?

A: Yes indeed when you experience a severe event that shreds your former life it can truly create a Post-Traumatic reaction in an adult. Symptoms can include: nightmares, severe anxiety or depression, flashbacks, numbing out, self-destructive behavior, irritability, negative beliefs about self or world and diminished concentration.

The above list is not complete but many people during 2020 developed these kinds of symptoms. Mental health experts expect that 2020 will leave scars on our individual and collective psyche. We are not, however, powerless after traumatic events. Our reactions to events is where we all have super powers.

Part of our recovery is to not shame or criticize ourselves for having the symptoms of PTSD. If we can accept our current compromised functioning we’re more prepared to heal. If we chose to just feel bad about feeling bad we compound our suffering.

Once we can accept where we currently are we have options to react differently. The usual recipes for self-care will make a huge difference in recovering from 2020. Sleep lots, eat well, lower alcohol and sugar intake, connect and talk with people that love you, and slow down your demands on yourself. Now is not the time for multi-tasking, pushing yourself or adding stress.

National statistics tell us that both depression and anxiety have increased about 50% during 2020 but use of mental health services has decreased. Ironically the more overwhelmed and numb we feel the less likely we are to ask for help.

A superb New Year’s resolution would be to find a competent therapist that gives practical and wise advice to dig out from last year. A gift of 2020 is remote therapy is now easily available from the comfort of your home. Also you are not limited only to therapists in your geographic area but can chose any therapist you want that offers remote work.

If you know you’re struggling with anxiety or depression consider finding a psychiatrist to help assess whether medication would help. Sometimes a temporary dose of medicine that stabilizes our mood can see us through the worst life challenges.

What research tells us is that when the going gets rough therapy is extremely helpful. Separately medicine is helpful. But, the best recipe for rapid healing is to combine both. Psychiatric medicine doesn’t change who you are, and doesn’t work if your brain chemistry is normal but can be a revelation if your brain chemistry is struggling. Normalizing brain chemistry means you can easily learn the powerful tools a good therapist will offer you.

We can’t heal if we just keep doing more of what is numbing us out. Despite all the jokes about alcohol use during 2020 high alcohol use doesn’t help us adapt. When we are numb we cannot think or feel to see better options during a crisis. Our emotions, even if painful, create energy that motivates change and growth.

Comfort food, being sedentary, and staying distracted may all feel good in the moment but being comfortably numb just takes our ability to problem solve offline. We need our feelings, even if we’re uncomfortable, to be motivated to make helpful changes.

As a therapist one of the hardest sales jobs I do is to convince clients that their current comfortable habits may not be their richest life choice. My clients always prefer the devil they know then the angel waiting around the next corner. Healing from PTSD requires us to leave behind our familiar routines.

You’re never permanently stuck in any hell an adversity creates in your life unless you refuse to change and grow during crisis.

The last word(s)

Q: I am so bone weary right now I think I’ll never feel rested again. Is there any technique you recommend to recover from profound exhaustion?

A: Yes, I’m a huge fan of the Transcendental Meditation technique and a long-term practitioner myself. Unlike many other techniques this tool helps you discover you have a 24 hour access pass to a temple of deep rest and rejuvenation inside you when you sit quietly.