A blog on our response to trauma from Helen Shakespeare.

Is anyone feeling tired even though your daily activity load has decreased? It’s most likely a response to trauma. It’s not possible to combat the virus actively (fight), it’s not possible to run away from it (flight), so the body goes into ‘play dead’ (freeze) mode. It’s an avoidance coping strategy. Isolation, together with the nature of the virus, has robbed us of our coping mechanisms. Added to and embedded in this traumatic situation we are facing is the fact that enforced lockdown has robbed us of choice. It’s one thing to choose to stay at home and tend to the house or garden, but quite another to feel it’s obligatory. Systems in the workplace sometimes cheat us of choices, but home is where we are meant to feel autonomy. It is well documented that an increase in freedom boosts morale. It is therefore safe to say that the removal of choice will lower morale. According to self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci), needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness must be met in order to enhance levels of self-motivation. Could this be adding to our feelings of fatigue?

So, faced with this new predicament my brain raced to find any history of coping mechanisms I had previously known. It led me back to a time when my daughter was seriously unwell and it was this connection that led to me creating the ‘SAFE’ resource  in the hope of helping; helping not just teenagers, but staff and parents, grandparents and children.

A few years ago, my daughter was self-isolated. I mean this in the strictest sense; she isolated herself due to mental health issues that were drowning her. She chose to self-isolate; she separated herself from friends; she saw no point in getting up; no point in dressing; in washing or in attending to the most basic self-care needs. I know from some friends that these symptoms are included in the list of things people are battling with at this time of lockdown. The part of recovery that has relevance here, was an activity which required her to plan for just four things in her day. One had to be purposeful; one relating to achievement; one to closeness with someone and one for enjoyment. It was based on neuroscience research and the brain being triggered into the production of chemicals that enhance our well-being; achievement triggers dopamine; purpose, serotonin; connection, oxytocin and exercise or enjoyment, endorphins. Choosing her own daily goals enabled her to feel autonomy and a boost to her morale. Not only did she feel as though she was achieving things of purpose, but her day began to have structure and by recording her chosen activities she could also measure an element of progress. I have adapted this to form a daily planning activity under the apt acronym of SAFE. Exercise is included on account of its raised importance at a time when none of us can go to the gym or park  – our usual places.

The SAFE activity ends with choosing three blessings. Research has shown that being thankful is beneficial to our well-being. At Aspire AP we practice this at our daily de-brief, even after the toughest of days. It takes some discipline to begin with, before a habit is formed. After a while, your brain becomes trained to look for the positives during the day itself.

Tired we may be – out of sorts – but we must be kind to ourselves. Read more about how the brain deals with trauma and use the knowledge to be understanding of how you are feeling. Find a way that suits you to plan in the positive ingredients to nurture yourself, give you purpose and help you to connect with others. Give yourself permission to rest. Despite our locked down situation, we have in fact got a lot of choice.

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