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Caring for Your Mental Health During Collective Trauma

Everyone is impacted by stress to some degree in their daily lives. Some stress is healthy because it motivates you to challenge yourself and grow, like the stress of a first date or changing jobs. On the other hand, prolonged or chronic stress can have a devastating impact on your well-being. According to Medline Plus, long-term stress can impact your physical and psychological health as you find yourself getting sick more often and or feeling more easily upset. Collective trauma is an example of chronic distress that has steadily grown and cascaded throughout people’s everyday lives. Therefore, addressing the impact of collective trauma can support learning how to respond to collective trauma in healthier ways.

At The Guest House, we know you lead a busy life with countless responsibilities in your high-powered career. When you have many other responsibilities and obligations to manage, it feels easier to ignore your trauma. It can be especially easy to convince yourself that events tied to collective trauma have not impacted you. However, when felt unaddressed, the stress of collective trauma can impair your psychological health and contribute to self-defeating behaviors.

Your emotional well-being is more important to your overall health than you may realize. As noted by the National Institute of Health (NIH), emotional wellness is your ability to handle life stressors. Moreover, emotional wellness is your ability to adapt to change and challenges in healthy ways. When your emotional wellness is impaired by the chronic stress of collective trauma, you find it harder to deal with life stressors. No matter how many distractions you throw at your distress, the pains of collective trauma manifest in harmful ways.

Thus, at The Guest House, our mission is to provide a safe, comfortable, and stress-free setting to support your healing. You deserve the opportunity to reclaim your physical, mental, and emotional health. With support, you can address collective trauma to recognize and dismantle your self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors for your long-term well-being.

Now you may question what is collective trauma. How has collective trauma created chronic stress in your life?

What Is Collective Trauma?

According to Frontiers in Psychology, collective trauma is a psychological reaction to traumatic events that impact an entire society. Unlike other kinds of trauma, collective trauma does not happen to one individual or a particular group of people. Collective trauma encompasses traumatic events that are represented by the collective memory of the tragedy that extends beyond those directly affected. Through collective trauma, the trauma continues to be remembered and felt by those far removed in time and location from the original trauma. Collective memory is not only a reproduction of the traumatic events but an attempt to understand and make meaning of the trauma through reconstruction.

Moreover, the collective memory found in collective trauma can happen both across generations and within the same generation of people. As the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) notes, collective trauma persists across time and generations all across the world. Through collective trauma, people all across the globe are emotionally connected through traumatic experiences that leave people feeling collectively:

  • Helpless
  • Loss
  • Uncertain
  • Grieving

Furthermore, collective trauma not only links people throughout the world emotionally but also across countless other societal landscapes. Thus, collective trauma highlights the interconnected nature of health, education, social, economic, and political landscapes interwoven into everyday life. The intersection of collective trauma in all areas of life when left unaddressed can become a threat to identity. Many communities have differences, but there are some collective aspects that seem to connect people regardless of when and where they exist in time. For example, throughout history and across the world, art and music represent a collective sense of self-expression and group identity.

Many artistic forms like music, painting, and sculpting have a universal language that fosters connection, belonging, and community through shared life experiences. Therefore, collective trauma can be a threat to collective identity as shared traumatic events violate individual and collective ideas and expectations about the world. For instance, collective trauma can disrupt ideas and expectations about ways of being and living life. The disruption to a collective sense of self and understanding of the world can come in many different forms. Some examples of collective disruption include natural disasters, manmade traumatic events, and health crises. In recent years, there has been a cascade of traumatic events that have contributed to the increase in collective trauma felt throughout society.

Examples of Collective Trauma

IES notes that there are a variety of collective traumatic events throughout history that have impacted individuals and society. Listed below are some examples of historical collective trauma that continues to impact society today:

  • Black plague
  • The Holocaust
  • Atlantic slave trade
  • HIV/AIDS epidemic
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Thailand tsunami
  • September 11th terrorist attack

In addition to historical collective trauma, in the last several years there has been a cascade of collective trauma that has impeded societal well-being. According to “The Mental Health Toll of Cascading Collective Trauma” from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, cascading collective trauma is a rising form of trauma in which tragedies happen in a short amount of time. Many of the traumatic events that make up collective trauma feel like they are happening one after another with little to no room to breathe or recover. Some examples, of cascading or cumulative collective trauma include:

  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Mass shootings
  • Community exposure to violence
  • Hate crimes
  • Systemic and historical oppression
  • Natural disasters
    • Wildfires
      • Hawaii
      • California
      • Australia
    • Flooding
    • Hurricanes
  • Climate-related disasters
  • Political unrest
  • Economic crisis
  • Wars
    • Ukraine-Russia war
    • Israel-Hamas war

While the world can have many dangers, most people start developing tools to support a sense of safety in childhood. Your sense of safety in the world allows you to function in your daily life. When you feel safe, stable, and secure, you are able to adapt to different situations and focus on your life goals. However, experiencing direct or indirect life-threatening events can shatter your sense of safety and security.

The Impact of Collective Trauma

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the sudden or build-up of stress over time from shared traumatic experiences can harm your well-being. Experiencing firsthand or witnessing collective trauma disrupts your sense of safety and security. Collective trauma leaves you feeling confused and uncertain about the world and people. Moreover, witnessing the traumas of others in your community and throughout the world leaves you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and helpless to do anything to help. Feeling overwhelmed by collective trauma leaves little space to address the challenges of your personal life and find ways to help others.

Moreover, in the article “Stress of Mass Shootings Causing a Cascade of Collective Traumas,” Zara Abrams notes that the stress of collective trauma like multiple mass shootings on the heels of the pandemic has increased psychological distress. Everyone experiences and responds to stress in different ways. However, the cascade of collective trauma has led to increased feelings of panic, distress, and numbing. Further as “Stress in America 2023: A Nation Recovering from Collective Trauma” states, the long-term stress of collective trauma increases your risk for mental health challenges. Listed below are some examples of mental health challenges and distress that can develop from chronic stress include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
    • Post-traumatic stress order (PTSD)
  • Panic attacks
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Increased fear of others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Feeling numb
  • Survivors guilt
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)

Moreover, collective trauma can also have a significant impact on your physical health as well. There is a mind-body connection between your psychological and physical well-being. Thus, the way you think impacts the way you feel and vice versa. For example, when you have anxiety, you may experience physical symptoms like:

  • An elevated heart rate
  • Upset stomach
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Trembling
  • Sweaty palms.

Therefore, when you experience stress, especially chronic stress, it often manifests itself in your body as well.

Listed below are some of the ways the stress of collective trauma can harm your physical health:

  • Increased risk for chronic illnesses
    • High blood pressure
    • Arthritis
    • High cholesterol
  • Sleep issues
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Digestive issues

The mental, emotional, and physical impact of collective trauma can impede every part of your life. When you are overwhelmed by chronic stress, your outlook on life, stress management, and goal skills becomes impaired. Furthermore, the distress caused by collective stress has increased across most age groups since before the pandemic in 2019. Yet,  why has collective trauma been felt more intensely in the last several years, especially since the pandemic?

One of the factors that has contributed to the advance of collective trauma is expanded access to information. As the DHS points out, collective trauma cannot only happen firsthand but also through exposure to the media. Today, you have access to 24-hour new cycles presented through traditional media sources like articles and news programs. In addition, you also have access to news 24/7 through social media and other online platforms. Regardless of the source of the news media you consume, through advancements in information sharing, you can find out what is happening locally, nationally, and globally in an instant.

On the one hand, access to more information allows you to stay informed and expand your understanding of the experiences of others beyond the bubble of your life. Whereas, on the other hand, keeping up with a slew of traumatic events happening all over the world can become overwhelming and lead to information overload.

Addressing Information Overload

Mass media still plays an important role in how many people get information about news happening locally and around the world. However, the expansion of the internet and the development of countless social media platforms and apps have changed the landscape of how people consume information. Today, a significant number of people receive their news through social media like YouTube, Facebook, and the platform formally known as Twitter. Having access to information about things happening all over the world opens the doors to more knowledge and awareness that impact the way you engage in the world in both positive and negative ways.

However, the intertwined relationships between instant access to information and more exposure to traumatic events have increased the prevalence of collective trauma. As noted in Frontiers in Psychology, the overconsumption of news can lead to information overload. News information overload from traditional and digital news sources can lead to increased stress, anxiety, avoidance, sadness, depression, fatigue, and feeling like you have lost control. The mental distress from the constant influx of news pushes your brain to its cognitive processing limits as you are forced to use all your energy and cognitive abilities to evaluate and analyze the information you receive. Thus, the cognitive overload of news ends up leaving you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

Furthermore, as Charlotte Huff points out in “Media Overload is Hurting our Mental Health,” the psychological strain from experiencing, witnessing, and or hearing about negative and traumatic news is not new. However, collective trauma is born out of a constant and seemingly unending onslaught of distressing news stories. Now you may question how you recover and or avoid the distress caused by collective trauma when your everyday life is deeply intertwined with the internet and social media. Addressing the impact collective trauma has had on your life allows you to start building healthier coping skills to manage personal, community, and global stressors. With support, you can stay informed while avoiding doomscrolling for your long-term well-being.

How to Cope With Collective Trauma

The first step toward healing is recognizing that trauma is not an isolated event experienced by one individual or small group. Trauma can impact multiple communities throughout history and disrupt the core attachments to your loved ones and other important cultural systems in your life. Collective healing takes time and group efforts across community, organization, and government sectors to reestablish trust, safety, and belonging in wider community contexts.  From memorials and monuments to grassroots memorials and heritage places, communities find ways to try to make meaning of the tragedies of collective trauma. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Monument Quilt, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice are a few examples.

However, healing from collective trauma is not purely a community effort for awareness, knowledge, understanding, and healing. You can support your individual healing from collective trauma by engaging in healthy coping skills. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, learning how to cope with stress in a healthy can support your well-being in multiple areas of your life. From your own physical and psychological health to the well-being of your loved ones, adaptive coping skills help you build resilience to daily and collective stressors.

Stay Healthy and Informed at The Guest House

Listed below are some tips on how you can stay informed while reducing the effects of collective trauma:

  • Take a break from the news/limit how much news you consume
    • Disconnect from your screens for a bit
    • Limit how many times you check news sources in a day
  • Engage in self-care
    • Eat nutritious foods
    • Move your body
    • Sleep routine
  • Spend time outdoors
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness activities
  • Express your thoughts and feelings through journaling
  • Build mutually supportive social connections
    • Connect with your loved ones
    • Spend time with family and friends
    • Join hobby groups
    • Volunteer
    • Participate in advocacy groups
  • Reach out to mental health support services

Everyone’s needs are different, but these adaptive coping tips give you a place to start finding the tools that work for you. Moreover, with support from expert mental health clinicians, you can work together to find the path to recovery that makes sense for you. At The Guest House, we know maladaptive coping mechanisms often stem from traumatic events. In the hustle and bustle of your busy life, it is easy to get consumed by the doomscroll of the news.

Being overwhelmed by collective trauma without healthy coping examples opens the door to self-defeating behaviors like substance misuse. Therefore, we are committed to treating the roots of your distress with holistic care that addresses your specific needs for healing. With a wide variety of experiential therapies coupled with individual and group therapy, you can build a recovery plan to support you throughout your life. Through holistic healing, you can truly start to heal in mind, body, and spirit for your long-term wellness.

Unaddressed collective trauma can lead to increased mental and emotional distress and self-defeating behaviors like substance misuse. However, reaching out for support can give you the healthy coping skills you need to learn how to stay informed while balancing your mental health. Moreover, building adaptive coping strategies can help you dismantle self-defeating behaviors at the root of collective trauma. Through a holistic approach to care and a variety of therapeutic modalities, you can find whole-person support that addresses your specific needs to balance the individual and collective stressors of life. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing a variety of evidence-based therapies to support your well-being throughout your life. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more today.