Stress is Trauma

As the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a reality we are being asked to make sacrifices and work together to prevent unnecessary deaths.  While the United Kingdom is experimenting with a herd immunity strategy, containment and mitigation are the strategies the United States is engaged in at the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO).  Italy had a more relaxed approach, but then later adopted the WHO strategy.  We hope that it is on time to stop the exponential increase in death.  I am also hopeful that our nation has reacting on time and can prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed from rapid spread of this disease.

As this all unfolds memories begin to rattle in my brain, and I remember September 11, 2001 as if it was yesterday.  The attack and collapse lasted only minutes, but there was this moment where time stopped and every community across this country came together, united in a specific cause.  On that day no one knew what to do, but everyone did what they could.  My brother, and I jumped into my father’s dump truck with him and drove to Manhattan to help clear the rubble in hopes that this would somehow save lives.  We did not know the devastation had already claimed so many, and that the work to clear that disaster would take months.  We did not know there would be virtually no one to save.  The moments leading to the decision to go and the moments of realization that we could do nothing are seamless in my mind.

Although this is not the same type of stress, it feels very much the same.  The yearning to want to help.  The helplessness of waiting.  The recognition that I am not trained to save lives in an ICU setting.  So what can I do?  What can we all do?

  1. Stay informed. Information is cheap these days.  There is an unprecedented number of voices on social media. However, not all opinions are equal.  Find a trusted resource for information, with appropriate credentials, and be mindful to avoid hysterical or divisive voices in this time of crisis.
  2. Take the time to consider your choices more carefully.  Now is not the time to be cavalier and act in a unilateral way without considering the impact on others.
  3. Recognize that this is a stress on your mind and your body.  A person without fear is not brave, that is a person that is ignorant of risk.  There are real lives at stake in this moment.  Our choices can make all the difference if we act collectively.  As one, then two, and then four people begin to ignore the recommendations of health advisors, that contagion spreads as quickly as this virus.  Before long we are faced with a race against the virus that will overwhelm our systems. Consider the fact that we are all making sacrifices and that these sacrifices have a cost.  Find meaning in your actions (or even inaction) so that we can feel the sense of unity and pride we did when our nation came together during the 9/11 crisis.
  4. Talk to your family and friends about your fears.  We are all experiencing this together.  You are not alone. We will be a bit more socially isolated, but we can still lean on our social networks.
  5. Develop a routine.  Get some light exercise, some time outdoors, meditate, read, and maybe use this time as an opportunity to do something you have been neglecting.  Open your mind to possibility.

Wayne Dyer once quoted a story in which a teacher asks his student a question:

Teacher: “What do you get when you squeeze an orange?” 

Student: “Juice.”

Teacher: “What kind of juice?”squeeze orange

Student: “Orange juice.”

Teacher: “Not apple juice? or grape juice?”

Student: “No.  Orange juice.”

Teacher: “What do we get when we are squeezed? …If stress causes you to become, angry, bitter, cowardly, then that is what you have harnessed inside yourself.  When you harness love, gratitude, bravery, kindness, then that will emerge in times of stress.”

Take the time today to count your blessings.  Recognize your place in your family, your community, and be at peace knowing you are doing what you can to make a difference.  Even if that is just staying home and avoiding the spread of this virus.


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