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Monday, May 4, 2020

Change Can Be Debilitating

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Healing from the trauma caused by COVID-19 outbreak

“Weird times!” That's been my go-to description when I chat with friends and family about life according to COVID-19. After six weeks, there's finally light at the end of this lock-down tunnel. Louisiana is just a few weeks away from Phase 1 of reopening. Everyone is excited to get back to business as usual and put all this craziness behind us. While that seems straightforward on paper, mentally and emotionally it may not be so simple. Some of us may find that we don’t feel “normal” as the world around us returns to its routine.

What we’ve experienced in the last weeks is more than just “weird times.” For many it can only be described as trauma. While we frequently reserve that label for war veterans or abuse survivors, the reality is that a wide variety of experiences can be registered as trauma by the body. Trauma can be thought of as anything that is too much, too soon or too fast and causes us to become overwhelmed physically, mentally or emotionally.

This was certainly the case here in Northwest Louisiana in March. On Monday, lives and work were normal – COVID 19 was a blip on the radar. By Friday, schools were shut down, kids were home, employees were moved to remote, businesses were closed, wages were suddenly lost, and grocery store shelves were cleared out. Our lives and routines were completely upended in a matter of a few days.

Unfortunately, the initial shut down was followed by much more stress and uncertainty. How will I pay my electric bill? Will my son fail third grade because I can’t teach fractions? Will I be able to get all the groceries I need this week? Why won’t my stimulus check come through? Is this shortness of breath or a panic attack? We’ve all continued to experience a blend of unique, yet universal stressors that made us feel unsafe. Few have been immune.

As life transitions back to normal, be mindful of how you’re feeling and try to be kind to yourself as much as possible. It’s OK if you’re irritable. It’s OK if you need that extra hour of sleep. It’s OK to pass on that dinner invite. It’s OK to cry for no particular reason. The body needs time to organize and file away all the overwhelming emotions from the last few months. If we push ourselves to be “normal” before we’re ready, those emotions will eventually resurface with a vengeance. Give yourself permission to put your needs first and recover at your own pace.

Grey Rogers is a registered dietitian and health coach for the MLK Health Center & Pharmacy.

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