July 10, 2024
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We Are All Living Through Collective Trauma

We are all living through a collective trauma. There, I said it. While so many of us wish to never hear the words “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” again, it is essential that we acknowledge the reality of our world at this time: We are living through a pandemic.

I was recently thinking about what it was like—what feels like eons ago—to simply go out and not have to wonder or worry or speculate. To not check statistics or worry about calculating quarantine times. And while this, in reality, was only a few short years ago, it feels like it has been ages. We are still living through a pandemic—it is not yet endemic, and I am choosing to write about this subject at this time from the angle of how we need to remember this from a mental health perspective.

People are not all OK. While, reader, you may have opinions regarding current regulations and what schools, the government, your friends, “should do”—I ask you to read this with curiosity, an open mind, and with the recognition that at the end of the day, we have all been impacted. Earlier I used the word “trauma”—this is traumatic for so many. We are seeing a rise in the number of mood and anxiety disorders, especially amongst teens. I have never received this many inquiries from prospective clients, families, and those in the education/healthcare field regarding concern for disordered eating and eating disorders. Parents are at a loss as to how to juggle—especially those whose children are younger than 5 and cannot be vaccinated at this time.

People are suffering and struggling, and the way we cope is often to identify a person to blame; we single out a system or an individual because anger—an active emotion—can provide some sense of relief or comfort as well as distraction. Blaming uses our energy during a time when we may actually feel grief and helplessness. But isn’t it so much easier to blame than to sit with these uncomfortable emotions?

So we lash out. Or we ignore. We try to hold on to a semblance of what feels “normal” rather than looking at the ever-evolving sense of what normal might be. Because change is so unbelievably difficult for humans who tend to feel safer with familiar systems and predictability. Change is hard. We hold on to ways we can feel as if we have agency or choice. Or we tend to live in a state of fear, afraid of how much life has already changed, our beliefs about ourselves, others, or the world shifting due to such an unexpected event altering how we live.

And that is what I meant by collective trauma: Our belief systems have changed, people are experiencing higher activation, and overall we are trying to manage an alternative way of life while also attempting to hold onto hope. We’re trying to manage while also living with fear, anxiety, frustration and limitations. And I think—somehow—as a group, we keep forgetting this.

We’re trying so hard to hold onto a sense of normalcy and look ahead; and we’re feeling so fatigued from this cycle that it can be easy to forget what is actually happening. We forget to check in with ourselves, our loved ones, our communities about how we’re actually doing. Oftentimes we prefer not to talk about it, or don’t know where to start. But I think that ignoring the situation is not helping us to actively heal and cope. Instead of pushing down our emotions or pretending, we need to face the reality of fear and exhaustion and sadness. Of grieving what we’ve lost, what could have been, and our perceptions of perhaps where we thought we would be by this point.

In some ways we’ve seen growth and in some ways there can be relief, but in other ways we are suffering or have not had a moment to process feelings and beliefs from nearly two years ago. Please check in on your friends. Please check in on yourselves. Ignoring, pretending, and directing anger may feel like they alleviate some of what you’re sitting with, but they aren’t truly helping you heal. See how you can find space for healing, or at the very least—for coping.

Yes, we can—and likely need to—complain or vent or look at solutions. But we also need to simply be with these feelings and create space for those around us to be able to feel, to feel seen, and to embrace the dialectic of fear and hope. When we are divided, we are less likely to heal.

Let us come together and be open to offering and receiving a space to feel and to be, even when venting is easier. Start with the simple, “How are you?” and create room to listen with patience—not reactivity. When we work together to combat this virus—not only physically but mentally—we allow for collective healing and illumination during what continues to be a dark time.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com.

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