If you survived this year without any traumatic experiences, I applaud you. But I have a feeling that most of us experienced not just one stressful event in 2020, but possibly multiple.
Some stress-inducing events this year looked like…
Parenting without help during a pandemic.
Being called in as an essential worker.
Being quarantined with an abusive person.
Finding out friends and family members had contracted COVID-19 or other life-threatening illnesses.
The death of a loved one.
The CDC states that, “when the [stressful] event, or series of events, causes a lot of stress, it is called a traumatic event.”
The thing about trauma is that if not properly processed and healed from, it can store in the body and mind for years after the event has occurred. The residual effects of emotional stress show up through anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, or a “host of medical problems, including cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke, cancer, and obesity,” according to Harvard Health Publishing.
We deserve better than that for ourselves. We did not choose our traumatic events, but we can choose how we cope with the aftermath.
Here are some clinically proven ways to begin the journey toward healing after experiencing a stressful or traumatic event.
Move your body, because you can. This does not mean you need to join a gym or start a rigorous workout routine. Exercising can be going for a walk in your neighborhood, having a dance party with your kids, riding a bike, swimming, doing yoga, or playing a sport that you enjoy.
When you were a kid, what activity kept you so occupied that you lost track of time doing it? Maybe it was writing or journaling, sketching or painting, sewing or crocheting, crafting or cooking, singing or playing an instrument. For many parents, it can feel utterly impossible to even fathom having time for a hobby. Try to carve out whatever time you can to reconnect with your creative side.
Eat what nourishes your body
Food is comforting — it just is. And while it is perfectly acceptable to indulge in a bowl of ice cream or carton of french fries from time to time, you need to realize that these foods are not taking away your grief. Fuel your body with the vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats it needs to stay strong as it heals.
The concept of mediation may seem foreign to you. Maybe when you think of meditating you picture a monk burning incense and chanting in a serene setting. However, guided meditation has never been more within reach than it is now. Download the Insight Timer or Calm apps to your phone. Sit quietly for as little as 10 minutes while trained teachers lead you through deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.
Spend time in nature
It’s OK if you don’t consider yourself an “outdoorsy” person. Just find some way to catch some vitamin D. Golfing, gardening, walking a trail, or sitting on a beach are all great ways to immerse yourself in nature’s healing properties. Nature is one of our greatest teachers.
Connect with friends and family
Oftentimes the absolute last thing we want to do is to expose our emotional stress to another human. It makes us incredibly vulnerable to judgment or negative comments. Setting pride aside and allowing a trusted person to walk with you through your circumstances can also be liberating and deeply encouraging. If you feel you are drowning and the waves won’t stop pounding your efforts to reach the surface, look for the arm reaching down to you, tightly grab hold, and let it pull you up.
Taking care of our mental health can come with a certain negative stigma that for some reason is not associated with caring for our physical health. It is incredibly brave to choose to partner with a professional counselor through life’s challenges, big and small. Check your insurance benefits for behavioral therapy coverage. Or, choose an option like Doctegrity, which charges $29 a month for individual counseling.
There is a reason that airplane safety protocol instructs that in the case of an emergency, you should put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others with theirs. As parents, it seems counterintuitive to provide nurture to ourselves before our children; however, it is not selfish. It is basic human survival. You will not be able to care for those around you if you are not OK.
This year has been hard. We know from our past life experiences that hard seasons do eventually pass. What we lose can be restored. There is hope. You can do this. You will overcome this season.