Trauma and COVID-19

An event which has long-lasting impacts on a person’s well-being can be understood as a trauma. At some point, you have probably been asked, “Where were you on 9/11?” Most people remember. We remember because it was a catastrophic event, which resulted in stress. Essentially, the brain sends a message saying, “Danger! Danger! Danger!” Without going into all the brain science (and I’m not qualified to do so), anxiety-producing events get stored in the brain and body. There is a spectrum of severity. The person in New York City on that day will be at a different end of the spectrum than a high-school student who saw something on TV in a math class in another part of the country. It should also be noted that traumatic events can also result in the loss of memory if the event produces too much stress for the brain and body.

Many things associated with the Danger get stored. This is how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) works. All things considered, it is a relatively new area of study and understanding. Suppose a person near the World Trade Center was listening to a certain song, eating something, and performing a task when the brain started screaming, “Danger! Danger! Danger!” The signal is now programmed, and it is there to keep us safe. The next time the person hears that song, smells that food, or begins to perform that same task, the brain will most likely start screaming, “Danger! Danger! Danger!” sending the individual into a fight, flight, or freeze response. This can be quite challenging and confusing for the individual and for those nearby. The individual might start to fight with someone or flee the room, as a result of seeing muffins, or whatever the case may be.

Years from now, we will ask, “Where were you during COVID-19?” People have experienced the loss of loved ones, the loss of jobs, and the loss of all normalcy. The COVID-19 crisis has been a traumatic event for many in the truest sense. There will be those, who, when they hear someone cough or sneeze, their mind will recall their loved one who passed, and their brain will scream, “Danger! Danger! Danger!” There will be those who, when they hear the song that was playing in the background when they lost their job, will be flooded with emotions when that song comes on the radio again. There will be those who, when they see a mask or wash their hands, will hear “Danger! Danger! Danger!” and recall the things that didn’t happen their senior year of high-school or college.

In the days ahead, let us engage mercifully and compassionately with those around us, lending a helping hand to those in need. And let us listen to the One on the throne who says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).