Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA) has served the community since 1972 as the only sexual violence resource center serving Boulder County, Colorado.

The Resurfacing of Old Traumas During COVID-19

As we all adjust to living and engaging in a new way with COVID-19, the feelings of uncertainty and fear may bring up past traumatic events and increase trauma symptoms. Some of these symptoms may include nightmares, repeated thinking about traumatic events, startling easily, feeling anxious or depressed, or feeling numb and disconnected. These are normal responses given the current abnormal situation. Below are some tips and tools that you can use to bring yourself back to the present which may help to reduce trauma symptoms.

First, it is important to recognize that past traumas may be getting triggered. This means that it can feel like past traumatic events are happening now – even if they occurred months or years ago – and you may be experiencing certain physical, emotional, and behavioral responses.   Below are some tips that could be helpful for dealing with these traumatic responses.

  1. Pay attention to what is happening in your body.
    • Are you experiencing your muscles tightening?
    • Is your jaw clenched?
    • Are you holding your breath?
  1. Notice some of your emotional responses.
    Are you feeling…
  • Irritable?
  • Helpless?
  • Anxious?
  • Depressed?
  • Guilty?
  • Low self-esteem?
  1. Notice some of your behavioral responses. Are you experiencing…
  • Sleep issues (too little or too much)?
  • Appetite issues (eating too much or very little)?
  • Using alcohol or other drugs to numb the pain?

Some tips for working with traumatic responses:

  1. Take deep breaths.
    • Deep breathing helps reset the nervous system.
    • Take a deep, full breath in (feel your lower belly expand), hold for 4 seconds, and slowly release (feel your lower belly deflate).
  1. Focus on the physical sensations in your body.
    • If comfortable, focus your attention on where you feel tightness or discomfort in your body.
    • Try not to judge what you are feeling.
    • Try this for 20-30 seconds and notice if the discomfort lessens or passes.
  1. Name your emotions and express them in a way that feels right to you.
    • Write down the emotions you are feeling in a journal.
    • Express emotions to a friend or loved one using “I” statements, such as “I am feeling…”
    • When you say “I’m feeling depressed” vs. “I am depressed”, you are expressing the feeling you are having in that moment instead of making a statement about who you are as a person. Feelings change and can be temporary.
  2. Limit your exposure to news and social media.
    • Try to stay away from reading or watching the news first thing in the morning and just before bedtime. During these times your brain is most vulnerable to negative stimuli.
    • Try to read or listen to the news instead of watching television broadcasts, which may contain disturbing images.
    • Get an update once per day on COVID 19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one site you can reference:
    • Limit your time on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, etc.)
      • Think about hiding people on your feed that publish negative posts or information.
      • Instead, follow social media that makes you laugh or brings you joy or calm.
      • Limit contact with people that you feel are unsupportive or increase your feelings of low self-esteem or negativity.
  1. Engage in creative outlets.
    • Writing
    • Painting
    • Coloring
    • Cooking
    • Dancing
    • Puzzling
  1. Self-soothe through self-care.
    • Spend time with your animals by petting them, playing with them, or taking them for a walk.
    • Take a bath or shower.
    • Watch a funny show or video.
    • Write down one thing you are grateful for once per day.
    • Physical distance does not mean you can’t engage with people. Engage with friends and loved ones through phone calls, texts, face time, email or writing letters.
  1. Move your body.
    • Dance
    • Clean
    • Walk or hike
    • Practice stretching or yoga
    • Participate in online exercise classes
  2. Finally, give yourself some grace and patience. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can today.

Lindsey Breslin, LCSW
Hotline Supervisor
Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA)