written by: Omaha Integrative Care

These are unprecedented times. Never before have we experienced such a far-reaching event as that of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed so many aspects of our lives: Who we see. What we do. Where we work. Where we go. How we interact. Our entire reality has shifted, and it is no wonder that we are all reeling, staggering to catch our footing, wondering why we feel so strange, so rattled. If you, too, are wondering why you’re feeling so “off,” know that there are several processes at play in this, our collective experience.

STRESS

Stress is a normal and inevitable part of being alive. And like all living things, we humans have developed a natural response to stress that is meant to keep us safe and help us survive. You might know it as “Fight, flight, or freeze.” Over the course of human history, the stressors we face have shifted from evading predators and surviving the elements to juggling packed schedules and tackling unending obligations at work and at home. But while our stressors have changed, our stress response has stayed more or less the same: Fight, flight, or freeze. When the stress response is activated, the body prepares to take action by pumping adrenaline and thereby increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. It also diverts energy away from digestion — deemed nonessential in a moment of survival. What this means for us now is that we may be feeling restless, on edge, unable to focus, and may be experiencing digestive problems.

The stress of COVID-19 is also different from our day-to-day stressors in that it is chronic rather than acute. While our everyday stressors are distinct, like specific notes or instruments in a song, the stress of COVID-19 is more like a low and ever-present hum. This puts us in a perpetual state of stress, which can have long lasting negative effects on our minds and bodies.

GRIEF

Whenever we experience a significant change or loss, we experience grief. Consider all the things that have changed or been lost in the wake of COVID-19. Daily interactions with coworkers, friends, even strangers. Celebrations like birthdays, graduations, weddings, baby showers. Handshakes, hugs, and even smiles, which might now be obscured behind masks. We no longer have access to these things in the same way we did before, and we are grieving the loss. Grief takes many forms and might show up as anger, denial, bargaining, or depression, until eventually shifting into acceptance and meaning. Acknowledging this grief can be a first step toward processing it and making peace with all that has changed or been put on hold.

TRAUMA

The global experience of COVID-19 is one of collective trauma. The circumstances that we are experiencing — as individuals and as members of the global community — are overwhelming, distressing, and threatening. We are in the midst of a crisis, and our minds and bodies are responding accordingly. Trauma impacts our ability to function in many ways: Cognitively, it can impair our memory, learning, concentration, and decision-making abilities. Emotionally, it can reduce our impulse control and regulation. Physically, it can increase our risk for many ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, and substance abuse. Relationally, it can alter our concepts of ourselves and of others, perhaps viewing ourselves as weak or responsible, or viewing others as dangerous or not to be trusted.

COPING & REGULATION

While COVID-19 has increased our stress, elicited grief, and exposed us to collective trauma, it has also impacted our access to resources that normally help us cope: exercising at the gym, attending spiritual or religious services, going out to bars and restaurants, attending concerts or events. (Add these losses to the list of things we are grieving.) Many of us may have noticed that because of this, we are turning to other forms of coping. As humans, we have a limited amount of energy — physical, mental, emotional. When our energy is depleted, we turn to the coping strategies that require the least amount of energy, like snacking, pouring a drink, or retreating into a cozy cocoon of procrastination or avoidance. While these strategies make sense and provide some comfort or relief in the short term, they often are not very effective in the long term. Intentionally cultivating productive coping and regulation strategies can help replenish our stores of physical, emotional, and mental energy. Here are just a few options:

  1. Relaxation: The counterpart to stress is relaxation. We can achieve this through specific relaxation techniques, such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation, or through enjoyable activities that boost feelings of relaxation, such as reading, crafting, or cooking.
  2. Physical movement: Physical movement helps us release some of our built-up stress energy (the “flight” in “fight, flight, or freeze”). This movement can be as simple as going for a walk or doing gentle stretching.
  3. Seeking support: Our relationships and connections with others have been shown to increase our ability to handle stress. Seeking support can look like reaching out to friends or loved ones (whether in person or virtually). It can also look like talking to a therapist, receiving medical care, or finding a connection to a community, such as a faith group, hobby club, or other organization.

A PARTNER IN WELLNESS

If you are looking for further support, Omaha Integrative Care can provide treatment and care to support your wellness in mind and body. We recognize that our patients are more than just their symptoms, and we strive to approach each person as a unique and complex individual, shaped by the many facets of their lives, relationships, resources, and identities.

We provide primary medical care, integrative mental health therapy, psychiatric medication management, yoga and meditation classes, and body-focused healing modalities, including massage, acupuncture, reiki, and sound bath healing. Our integrative team of providers collaborates to provide patients with the most comprehensive care possible. For more information, visit www.omahaic.com or call 402-934-1617.