It feels as though 2020 in America has finally turned a corner and the sweet relief of a new tide is rolling in. Many of us have been holding our breath for the last four years and this weeks election results have given us the opportunity to finally sigh it out. The immediate reaction is relief, but what shortly follows is what I have dubbed trauma fallout.
Trauma fallout is the series of symptoms (emotional, psychological, and physiological) that unfold following the end of a traumatic experience. This is the acute phase after a trauma that can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. The deeper healing process that must take place after this acute phase is finished can take significantly longer.
Trump as president has created a painful schism within our country and for many this has been deeply trauma-inducing or re-traumatizing on a number of different levels. When you’re in the midst of a crisis, your remarkable psyche can’t allow you to fully grasp the complexities and nuances of how awful a situation is because you have to use all of your mental and physical resources to simply survive the crisis. Once survival is no longer threatened, then the psyche allows in the weight and severity of what you’ve just endured. It’s during the trauma fallout phase that you take stock of all that you just went through and begin to process the enormity of the feelings you’ve been holding but haven’t been fully consciously aware of.
Here are likely symptoms to expect during the trauma fallout phase:
Emotional: sadness, apathy, bouts of crying, irritability, short-temperedness, confusion, isolation
Psychological: depression, anxiety, fear, expectation of something bad right around the corner, disbelief of reality, judgment of self or others, sensitive or raw as if you’re missing a layer of skin
Physiological: lethargy, extreme fatigue, mental fogginess, increased or decreased appetite, sensitivity to light and sounds, aches and pains (from tension), decreased immune system so you’re more likely to get sick
Trauma fallout is overwhelming and sometimes quite scary to move through, so here are some ways to move through it with a bit more ease:
1. Stay connected to safe people
– Surround yourself with others that feel similarly to you, that are good listeners and can give you comfort and peace of mind when it’s hard to give that to yourself
2. Stay connected to your breath
– Our tendency is to hold our breath when we’re going through something hard or scary in life. You’ve made it out the other side of this one. Now you can breathe much more easily. Throughout the day be aware of your quality of breath; ensure that you’re taking deep gulpfuls of air that fill you up down into your belly and you regularly let out that breath in a gentle sigh.
3. Decrease social media intake
– We’ve all been absolutely inundated with more information than we can actually process. Decrease your social media intake for at least a week or two in order to give yourself time to process the information that you’ve already taken in before you bombard yourself with more. No more doom scrolling for a while.
4. Prioritize comfort
– Comfy clothes, comfy environment, comfy people, comfy pets, but be careful of comfort foods because they can make us feel slow and sluggish, which will make it harder to deal with some of the emotional side effects of trauma fallout
5. Care for your body
– Move slowly and gently, eat food that gives you energy, give yourself at least an hour extra of sleep a night, stretch regularly to help loosen up your muscles that have been tense and rigid for long periods of time, and exercise in a way that your body is asking for (if you’re feeling agitated and in need of shaking some stuff out, go for a more intense workout, but if you’re feeling tender and sensitive, choose a workout that honors that).
6. Healthy distraction
There’s a very big difference between dissociation and distraction. Dissociation occurs when we disconnect from our body in order to disconnect from our experience. Distraction is when we disconnect from our experience while staying embodied. During trauma fallout, the tendency is to go toward dissociation, simply because it is so effective at helping us manage our experience. Unfortunately, when we’re dissociated, we’re more likely to make poor decisions, to neglect our physical needs, and are even more prone to injury and making mistakes.
These are examples of healthy distraction: reading (nothing trauma related), watching shows or movies (especially ones that you already know and love), doing puzzles or games, arts and crafts, doing literally anything in nature, any type of movement
7. Find yourself a healer
– Because of our over-indulgence with individualism in our country, we have the tendency to suffer alone in silence. Break that habit immediately. Even if you have a strong support system/community, working with a healer can be a profound experience that often speeds up healing tremendously. Choose your own adventure: therapist, counselor, sponsor, shaman, medicine person, curendera/o, swami/guru, etc.
The most vital thing to remember is to be patient with your process. No matter the wound, be it physical or emotional, we need two things to heal: medicine and time. As long as you can honor yourself with both of these, you’ll move through this. Not only that, but you’ll rise through this.