Our entire nation has been affected by COVID-19, whether directly or indirectly. For some this means becoming ill or watching loved ones become ill, while for others this can mean simply observing the chaos of the pandemic. Each of these experiences can be considered traumatic to the individual, however the entire pandemic can also be considered a collective trauma.
In its simplest sense, trauma is defined as severe psychological distress that is experienced during an event that is possibly life threatening. As Judith Herman stated in her trauma recovery book, “Traumatic events are extraordinary not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life”. Basically, trying to process the event becomes so overwhelming that it results in severe psychological distress.
Psychological distress associated with trauma can manifest itself in many different ways such as, but not limited to:
- Diminished self-worth
- Overwhelming stress
- Physical pain
- Problems sleeping
- Survivor’s guilt
Furthermore, when one or more events causes severe psychological distress in an entire society, as is the case with COVID-19, this is known as collective trauma. In fact, the main causes of collective trauma are genocide, mass violence, war, and pandemcs. Past research on the correlation between trauma and pandemics (specifically influenza and the Ebola virus) has shown that collective trauma often results in high levels of stress, general distress, traumatic stress, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, panic, and grief. Additionally, cases of post traumatic stress disorder were also found to affect people directly involved with the pandemic, such as medical providers or people who lost loved ones.
As we try to pick up the pieces as a nation, many people wonder what’s next. Unfortunately, no one knows for sure. However, for those of us who have experienced direct or indirect trauma from living with a pandemic, we can look to the future as a time of personal growth. In fact, this is one of the primary concepts associated with posttraumatic growth (PTG).
Posttraumatic growth is the idea that trauma can act as a catalyst for positive change. It was formally developed in the mid-1990s by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. According to Tedeschi and Calhoun, posttraumatic growth can affect the following five areas:
Appreciation of Life
- Changes in priorities
- Greater appreciation for one’s life value
- Appreciate each day more
Relationship with Others
- Learns to trust others
- Establishes closeness
- Willing to express emotions
- Feel more compassion for others
- Puts more effort into relationships
- Faith in humanity restored
- Learns to accept they sometimes need others
New Possibilities in Life
- Developed new interests
- Established a new life path
- Able to do better things with their life
- New opportunities that would have not been available otherwise
- More likely to make necessary changes to improve quality of life
- Greater feeling of self-reliance
- Better equipped to handle difficult situations
- Stronger than they thought they were
- Have a better understanding of spiritual matters
- Have stronger religious faith
Keep in mind that you may need some time before you are able to identify ways in which you have grown as a result of living through an event that was collectively and individually traumatic. Additionally, the idea of posttraumatic growth is not helpful for everyone. Therefore, it is recommended that you schedule an appointment with a licensed psychologist if you find yourself struggling with symptoms of trauma so they can help you process things and move forward.
Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability. For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.