Between the worst bushfire season ever, a pandemic sweeping the world, and long-overdue widespread focus on systemic racism worldwide, 2020 turned into an entirely different year than any of us were expecting.
Who else had to pivot in a hurry into remote-schooling superparent? (I discovered that it was easier to get my 8yo to learn to clean the toilet than do schoolwork!) Maybe you had to think triple-time and act even faster to bring your business/service/ministry online while also figuring out what you needed to change up to serve your people in these times of crisis and trauma? Maybe you've been confronted with the lack of people of colour or women in your workplaces or hobby groups and communities - and you've started asking why.
Maybe 2020 isn't the year of perfect vision. Maybe it's the year the scales fall off and we start seeing more clearly. I took action this year to upskill in trauma (have you noticed the new branding and certification badge in the footer below?). It was already in my plan for 2020, so it's not a massive change, but when the madness hit? From the 2019-2020 fire season (and who knows what the next one will be like) and now Covid-19 affecting the world through economic shutdown, personal distancing and disconnection, and the death, grief and loss that has sprung out from that. And then the ongoing brutality against women shut behind doors and our men and women of colour... Our world is hurting, folks. Our communities are full of people who have received blow after blow after blow, and some of them are struggling to keep their hold on themselves, their families, their livelihoods and their hearts.
So here are some tools to help - to start with.
The MOST IMPORTANT THING? It's so simple you're going to want to hit me. But it really is. It's your breathing. Slow your breathing down for a couple of minutes every couple of hours in your day. Expand your ribcage (think the WonderWoman pose but put your fists on your ribs instead of your hips).
Chronic stress and trauma affect the subconscious structures of our brains, making us more sensitive to threat and negative thoughts and experiences. (I'm particularly thinking here of the amygdala, the "smoke detector" of the brain. In stress and trauma it's ready to go off at the slightest whiff.) The problem is, these areas are subconscious - meaning they exist and work beyond our conscious control. Therefore it doesn't matter how much you think about it or how much positivity you try to thrust into your brain - it doesn't change the way those structures work.
Unless you also are making full use of the brain-body connection, and pushing the body relaxation connection upward, back into the brain, and you start doing that first. When your body relaxes, it sends signals back up into your amygdala, telling it to chill. Then, over time, it can combine with the thought-based encouragements you want to give yourself, and make your brain's threat detectors less twitchy and help you feel more relaxed and in control of yourself.
Of course, this is only a tiny part of the dealing-with-trauma story - but it's the first place to start.
Want other resources? Generally, there's a whole lot of stuff on my FB page - Grace, Grit and Recovery with Krystyna Kidson. (Notice the rename? You can still tag me with @ThePsychologistCoach though.) I'd suggest you start with the series I did for Mental Health Month last year and check out the FB live series I did when the pandemic started picking up pace.
If you're struggling with climate related trauma or conflict personally or the people you serve are, then you're welcome to join us over at the Climate Pastoral Care Conference: Christian training in Care, Communication & Action. I'm going to be leading folks through a special experiential workshop: 20 minutes and 5 questions: Truly all you need to have a transformative, therapeutic, Spirit-centred, climate-related conversation. (And no, you don't have to be a Christian to get the full therapeutic benefit either.)
You can check out the full program or book tickets here.
And for those of you in ministry, you might like these videos from the Baptist Association of NSW and ACT Churches, who interviewed me for some explicitly Christian mental health pandemic tips. They're generally between 2-5min long, so feel free to dip in and use and rewatch as needed.
For general tips around understanding and managing stress, grief and anxiety at the moment:
For leaders who are tired and depleted from the ongoing push:
For those who are managing chronic illness and social isolation:
For mothers who may still be needing to manage remote schooling (and maybe with remote work as well):
And thoughts for the church as we look to reopen and reenter life and ministry in a post-covid world".
Check them out and get in touch if you've got any questions.