Have you heard anyone refer to this global pandemic as a “collective existential trauma?” If not, I’m happy you’re reading this blog post because it will likely validate everything you might have been feeling the past couple of years.
A trauma can be defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. The evolution of this COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of an emotional roller coaster, and we are still on this ride. Many of us continue to isolate ourselves from one another, unable to be with those individuals who typically infuse us with joy, stimulation, love, and connection. We are restricted to being with those in our household, and this can often add strain to meet some of each other’s needs that would otherwise be met within other relationships.
Maintaining satisfactory employment has been a challenge for many during this pandemic, and we now have a term for the phenomenon of making major career shifts: “the great resignation.” I am just scratching the surface of all the emotional strain on people during this pandemic, including major illness, grief and loss, divorce/separation, abuse, and the colossal existential threat of climate change.
All these things impact many of us in profound emotional and even physical ways. Many of us are in the same boat, and the pandemic presents a new emotional landscape we find ourselves navigating insecurely. It isn’t surprising that during such an existential crisis folks are forced to grapple with their overall fulfillment and quality of life, including work/life balance, general physical and emotional health, and finally, how much joy is experienced daily. Monetary satisfaction is important but not more important than overall well-being and the ability to experience joy. Are we all experiencing enough joy?
I have been seeing clients for psychotherapy throughout this pandemic, and some of the more common issues I continue to work with are relationship woes, high levels of professional burnout, and general anxiety and existential uncertainty. I see these same issues in my personal life with people near and dear to me. Therapeutic modalities for treating trauma, such as Brainspotting, have been incredibly impactful in my work to alleviate the toll of these emotional burdens, but the only standardized medicine I can help to offer my clients is their own joy. Regardless of how clinically serious my clients’ mental health symptoms are, I often engage them in assessing how much joy they are actively cultivating in their lives.
I include myself here when I wonder, how often do we wake up and look out of a window to notice that the sun has come up again and realize that each day is a new day in which to experience a range of emotions, including joy and gratitude?
How often do we sip our warm morning beverages (coffee is a big source of joy for me) and really enjoy their nourishing, and yes, dopamine inducing powers? And how often do we eat a comforting breakfast or any type of enjoyable snack without the grip of obsession about how much or how little to eat? Is there a soft sweater or garment that makes you feel cozy and/or attractive and helps you carry that energy beyond the moment you slip it on?
How often do we look at or even think about a loved one and really allow ourselves to feel appreciation and gratitude for them? How often do we tell them we appreciate them and their love, support, respect, or companionship? How often do we notice what beautiful nature exists around us? I happen to live in the beautiful state of Colorado and am beyond thankful to surround myself with natural beauty. Nature has been proven to have incredibly rejuvenating and healing powers if we simply are mindful and allow ourselves to attune to it.
I’m not here to offer unicorns and rainbows as an antidote to what has been undoubtedly a harrowing couple of years for the whole world. I am only offering some validation for your trauma and your range of emotions during this time. I am also offering a gentle reminder to do what you can within your scope to give yourself joy and, furthermore, permission to feel it and marinate in it, even during this sometimes seemingly apocalyptic time. There is beauty and love around us that we would be remiss not to notice and ingest. If we are to weather these literal and figurative storms, we must fuel ourselves with more appreciation for what we do have moment to moment. Joy and gratitude are good medicine.
Please contact me for help with mental health and mindfulness resources to help you foster more joy and gratitude.
Bozhena Evans, LCSW