Learning from COVID Trauma

How to learn from the trauma inflicted by COVID 19


Whether we want to admit it right now or not, COVID is not just a virus. It is trauma. Most of us have survived other traumas in our life and the odds are we will survive this trauma too. That’s good news. The bad news is that many of us have never seen trauma like this and without experience or the right tools to deal with it, trauma shakes us to the core.   


I have never seen such an existential collapse in public trust in my lifetime. Whether it’s of our government systems and our public safety, or in our perceived “control” of our lives, it’s hard to imagine the long-term impact of this trauma on our lives. With 10% unemployment, millions isolated in senior citizen homes, and millions more working mostly isolated at home, it is not hard to believe that for every one person directly affected by COVID-19, so many more are affected by mental health, economic or relational perspective.


It is important right now to think and reflect on the times in our life we have experienced trauma and learn from those moments. About ten years ago, I started down a path of self-destructive behavior that eventually ended my marriage and caused trauma to me and my precious family.    Within six months of my divorce, I had lost my job as well. The depth of the despair and hopelessness I experienced was indescribable. if you have not gone through something like this, I hope you don’t. 


However, I am about three years on the other side of the rock bottom and have learned some things about the trauma that may apply to what you are feeling.   


1. Trauma disrupts our core beliefs. I know when I went through my period of self-destruction, I questioned myself, my faith, and what was real or not. I had little desire to move forward and wondered what my life was about. With COVID, our core beliefs regarding many things have been tested, if not shattered. I’m referring to our deeply held beliefs about our safety, our ability to protect ourselves, the wisdom of our leaders, our ability to plan for something that was so predicted, and/or humankind’s ability to coordinate and cooperate.


2. Trauma makes us react emotionally. When I divorced, I was angry at myself, angry at others, terrified of the future, and lost as to what my life could be going forward. I struggled with deep anxiety and situational depression. WIth COVID, we would not be human if we were not frightened, angry, or to some degree anxious or depressed. If we are not emotional about the disease itself, we are likely to be emotional about the lack of preparation for one of the most predicted crises of the human species.    


3. Trauma can make us lose hope. After my divorce and leaving my position at SeaWorld, I had no desire to move forward. I had lost hope. I pray none of you are feeling that way, but I am afraid some of you are. I see many employees making a special effort to inform others of what they are doing, trying to prove their value because they are scared. I see many friends disgusted with so many of the decisions being made they want to give up. I get it, but we cannot give in to despair. We need to restor our hope.   


Because I have been here and found my way through, I want to share a few things I did right in my recovery from trauma that may be helpful to you.  


1. Regain our core beliefs. Once I told myself the truth about my mistakes and asked my creator and others for forgiveness, I was able to regain a foothold on my core beliefs. I believe if we are honest about our situation today and realize we will come through this, we can take hold of our belief system again.  My faith in my core beliefs deepened during my trauma. I believe yours will, too.      


2. We must talk to the right people about your emotions. After I resigned from SeaWorld, I found a really good psychologist who I could be completely honest with. Sometimes, untrained people can be a very unsafe place to share how you feel. If you need emotional help, get it from someone who understands trauma and that is usually a trained therapist. 


3. Take control of our thoughts and thought processes. Remember, the only thing we can truly control is how we react to events in our lives, how we think about them and process them. It may sound cliche but it is not. We must feed positive thoughts into our minds. Research says 96% of what we are afraid of never happens. Use this fact to encourage others and encourage yourself!


4. We must embrace hope. We will find a vaccine soon and life will return to the new normal. However, we must hang in there and not let this trauma destroy us physically, mentally, emotionally, or economically in the meantime. There are a few ways you can do that:


a. Focus on something you love outside of work to give you joy and peace. For me it is playing the piano, playing golf with Shannon, or studying the birds outside our porch. Find what it is that gives you peace and embrace it.


b. Serve Others. I love my time serving as the Chairman of Orange, a nonprofit that serves churches in 42 countries around the globe. I also love serving on the board of the Salvation Army as I feel I am contributing in some small way to help the poor and needy. Serving others when you feel down really does help the soul.


Although it may be hard to see, this trauma will make us grow spiritually and make us stronger. It will strengthen our relationships with those we truly love and make us appreciate all that we do have. This is a heavy time, but we are in the home stretch. Hang in there.