Join Snake and the BAAM team to discuss ‘Mental Health in the Age of COVID’ on our Wisdom Track Zoomcast, 4pm Saturday 20 March. Register here.
I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to scoff at blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and isolation. Few people linger outdoors when arctic winds race down from Canada. The city-parks empty from November through April, and neighbours are seldom seen – even then only from behind the warmth provided by a triple-pane window. Minnesotans are familiar with isolation.
As the novelty of winter snow gets packed away with holiday decorations, we approach January, February and March with trepidation. The thought of starting another Netflix series evokes little but a bored yawn, all the cupboards have been organised, (twice), books read, and the grout in the bathroom scrubbed with a toothbrush. When the ‘to do’ list is complete we have little choice but stare into the abyss. Boredom, anxiety, stress, and isolation combine to create a psycho/emotional storm equal to any arctic wind.
Navigating winter successfully demands endurance, resolve and discipline, avoid panicking. We anticipate spring and trust winter will eventually end, it always has. The sun will feel warm again instead of simply being bright, and tulips will once again rise from the frozen ground.
Anticipating spring is of little utility in today’s pandemic world. The emotional coping skills developed over many winters fail to be effective when winter never ends.
Indeed COVID has forced us to contemplate an everlasting winter of isolation with no end in sight. Experts warn that it’s unrealistic to believe all the distress wrought by its impact will just disappear. At the minimum mostly everything we took for granted has changed, and constant uncertainty places our emotional well being under tremendous stress.
The cost of COVID, in lives and treasure, continues to accumulate. Children never leave for school. Thanks to Zoom many adults haven’t worn pants to work in months. A smiling face has become a distant memory, and even the dog is showing signs of depression. Our lives have been turned upside down.
The pressure we’re feeling is the full impact of trauma. Unlike a car crash or an illness the trauma we face today is on-going and seemingly without end.
We’ve all earned a case of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS).
PTS is a healthy human response to extraordinary circumstance. An emotional response to the unexpected is normal, until the response becomes habitual. When past trauma exerts far too tight a grip on the present we risk Post Traumatic Stress Dysfunction (PTSD).
The last year has been full to the brim with ‘extraordinary circumstance’.
Wellness and self-care disciplines influence what we eat, how we exercise or how often we visit the gym, yet we tend to deny, resist or neglect our psycho/emotional health.
If a ray of sunshine is to be found in the pandemic, it’s the growing realisation that a healthy mind is every bit as important as a healthy body. One need only consider the rise in domestic abuse, depression, anxiety and suicide over the last year.
A healthy body requires a healthy mind.
Psych/Emotional professionals note a dramatic increase in people seeking help. Many are searching to reconcile the trauma-related emotional compression they feel.
This ability to reconcile the daily trauma we endure remains a major factor determining psychological and emotional health. The duration of COVID induced trauma has an extraordinary and unfamiliar impact on our emotional coping mechanisms. Unfamiliar in that after a year we continue to endure isolation, loss and grief.
Imagine if a car crash lasted a year and threatened to continue?
To achieve mental and emotional health a major misconception must be confronted and overcome. A common fear is often revealed among people seeking help.
“If I open my Pandora’s box of emotions I’ll never get it closed again.”
The misconception is that the box was ever shut to begin with. Humans come equipped with emotion. Denial or suppression of emotion increases compression and the risk of implosion. Sadness, grief, anger and joy often complicate life but are intended to inform our humanity.
It’s worth noting there is no universal blueprint for emotional wellness. Our needs and desires are unique. Many suffer in isolation. Others say, “Thank God!”
Reconciling trauma and building emotional resilience demands we acknowledge what we feel and learn to accurately interpret the information emotion provides.
The seemingly endless winter of COVID is far from over. Isolation, frustration, grief and anger will continue to bubble up for the near future. Sunshine eventually will return to melt the ice. The question is whether we will remain healthy and resilient enough to welcome its warmth.
‘Snake’ Bloomstrand is a a coach and therapist based in Minnesota, USA who acts as a consultant for BAAM and the Leader Emeritus of the Mankind Project.