Trauma and Retraumatization during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Certainly, the current pandemic and subsequent quarantine has been a challenging time for all of us. For those struggling with trauma this time can be especially difficult. Access to resources, support systems and even fresh air is difficult. In addition, the current environment may be causing retraumatization for those who have undergone trauma in the past. This article will briefly explain what trauma and retraumatization are, how to know if you’ve experienced it, ways to alleviate the symptoms of trauma or retraumatization and when to seek help.

Trauma is our emotional, physical and physiological response to an event. When something horrible happens, we interpret the event with our emotions, our senses and our thoughts. Sometimes, we are able to process through the trauma and recover. Other times, the trauma becomes stuck inside of us leading to side effects such as anxiety, depression, paranoia or difficulty in relationships. Retraumatization is the intense triggering of past trauma. It occurs when a person’s past trauma is triggered in such a way that they feel as if they are reliving it. They are taken back to the emotions and physical symptoms connected to the original event and may feel disconnected from their present reality. While a person may be physically safe when retraumatization occurs, they may feel panic or a sense of immediate danger.

While the triggers from trauma that lead to retraumatization may vary from person to person, certain events such as news reports of natural disasters and mass shootings, seeing someone or something that reminds a person of the original trauma or experiencing a new trauma may lead to retraumatization. The COVID-19 pandemic may be especially challenging for those with traumas connected to hospitals, medical procedures, loss, difficulty accessing their basic needs or isolation. You may be experiencing retraumatization if you are suffering from intense flashbacks, nightmares, overwhelming anxiety, depression, persistent feelings of pessimism, paranoia or other feelings that were connected to your past trauma. You may also be experiencing retraumatization if memories of the past trauma are coming up for you more than you might consider normal.

While one can’t fully prevent the experiencing of trauma, coping skills, mindfulness and meditation may help alleviate the symptoms and prevent retraumatization. Coping skills include things such as deep breathing, taking a walk, listening to calming music or talking to a friend. Mindfulness is our awareness of ourselves in the present; noticing our emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations without judgement. Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness, and can be used to relax the body and mind. While one can practice these activities alone a licensed therapist can fully assist a client in practicing these skills and make a plan for other ways to prevent triggering.

It’s important to know that if you’ve experienced trauma or are suffering from retraumatization you are not alone and you are not “crazy”. There are mental health professionals that wish to help you on your healing journey. Nick Finnegan Counseling Center is here for you, please call our office at 713-402-5046 if you are interested in meeting with one of our counselors.

By April Henderson, M.A., LPC