Collective Trauma - Collective Trauma- An Unintended Consequence of the "New Normal"

Collective Trauma- An Unintended Consequence of the “New Normal”

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It’s an interesting thing, trauma. How like waves from the ocean beating against sandy cliffs, it can literally shape us into its image. Really, it’s our experiences that define us, they make up the mosaic of who we are. And, while each of us holds characteristics that make us more or less susceptible to it, none of us are truly immune to the sheer force of traumatic experience.

Truthfully, most people have had some type of trauma in their lives, whether that be through something as common place as parental separation in childhood, or something as difficult as being the victim of violence or living with the haunting memories of war.

In fact, over 70% of us will lay claim to experiencing some type of trauma during our existence. But, what happens when that trauma isn’t our own- when it’s not unique to us at all? Make no mistake, sometimes a difficult event can be more than just a wave; sometimes it’s a tsunami. In fact, whether you realize it or not, we’re facing a tsunami right now, one that we’re collectively not prepared for.

Really, the true impact of this pandemic is still unfolding, and one would be naïve not to acknowledge that we’ve all been affected. Truth be told, even as restrictions are beginning to be lifted, the idea of going back to life as it once was is a difficult concept at best.

Like so many of us, I want nothing more than the return of normalcy, but, this new normal only welcomes feelings of grief. Really, the mourning of what once was, the human connection that so many of us took for granted. The connection that we’re now being asked to embrace as unacceptable.   

That being said, I traveled for the first time in three months yesterday. Really, I was hesitant to dive back into the grind. Not fearing COVID-19 as many would think, but instead those uncomfortable feelings that would undoubtedly come alongside facing our new reality.

Just as expected, I was bombarded with reminders of life as it was just a short time ago. A life when I didn’t need to worry about whether I was an appropriate distance from others- that in some way my interactions would break a rule or policy. Really, I was reminded of a time when we all had a certain level of naivety. A time when we were free from the stressors that coincide with life in today’s world.  

The thing is, whether we admit it or not, we’re all social creatures. On an evolutionary level, we lived in packs, or, groups if you will. We depended on one another for everything from safety, to getting our basic needs met.

So fundamentally, social distancing goes against every grain of our being, yet our world, and for good reason, requires it of us. But, even if it’s a necessity right now, there’s little doubt that the physical restrictions associated with it will have real implications on the mental health of society at large.

Individually, studies show that social and physical isolation can result in everything from depression, to the development of anxiety disorders, and even to cardiovascular disease. In fact, since we first started seeing the early shock waves of this pandemic, there’s been a spike in PTSD cases and skyrocketing suicide rates across our nation. These unintended side effects only stand testament to the challenges that each of us are facing right now.

But, the impact of this pandemic is bigger than the mental health of any one of us individually. We’re only starting to see its true implications trickle down into our economy on a larger scale.

Truthfully, the quick thrust into remote work has left many feeling the sudden sting of isolation. And, while it was previously common place for Americans to work one or two days a week from home, surveys show that the new all or nothing approach to this type of work has had a steep impact on our mental health. Sadly, research is showing that it’s directly correlated with drops in productivity, with many struggling from isolation and the inability to strike a work-life balance, ultimately leading to burnout.

As we fall into an economic depression, we’re seeing that those drops in productivity, alongside layoffs associated with shocks to the supply chain and stunted consumer demand, are only furthering the impact on our mental health as a whole. Ultimately, many aren’t just struggling with feelings of disconnection, but also from the sharp discomfort of economic hardship.

But, while the vast reaching effects of the trauma we’re all experiencing now may seem disheartening, it doesn’t come without its pearls. Unlike trauma experienced on an individual level, there’s a large, encompassing support system that comes alongside what’s happening now. Really, there’s no shame, no stigma, we’re truly all in this together. And, that in itself is a really empowering feeling.

So, while social distancing continues to separate us physically, it need not isolate us. In fact, for many it brings new feelings of connection that weren’t there before. A bond that we all share from our collective human experience.

But, we don’t want to belittle the fact that many are struggling right now. If you’re one of those people, try to reframe your thinking. Instead of mourning life as it was, embrace the reality that is today.

Be grateful for those in your life. Be grateful for the little things that really, when you step back, actually become the bigger things in the portrait of your life.

Most importantly though, remember that you’re not alone in your struggles, and that together, we will make it through. After every storm there’s sunshine, no matter how hard it is to see that in the moment. We can make it to the other side of this storm, but not one person at a time as we so often say, but together as a nation.

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