Never could I have imagined I would be writing a blog post on how to manage stress during a Pandemic!! Nevertheless here we are. My first question to you all is “How are you holding up through all of this?” Stress is REAL y’all! Just in the last two weeks, I’ve personally noticed my body’s emotional, cognitive, and physical responses to this sudden onslaught of stress!! I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. Now I have a confession to make...I am a bit of a news junkie. Especially when major world events are happening. As I have gotten older I’ve noticed that a story I saw on the news days, months, or even years ago can have a significant lasting effect on our daily lives. Yes we are resilient creatures and we do eventually learn to adapt to those changes that occur but, it still takes a toll on us regardless of our level of functioning.
So back to my “ReRealization” of how stress can impact the body. Towards the end of last week, it all started to catch up with me. I noticed my cognitive abilities weren’t coming as easily as they used to. I was forgetful, having difficulty focusing, and delayed processing of information. Now I know all that sounds scary but because I am so consciously aware of these things prior to this pandemic it was just that much more pronounced to me. Now let's talk about the physiological reactions I noticed since stuff got real!! To start I had a pretty annoying stomach ache for about a week. I know the change in my diet (less fresh fruits and veggies and more processed preservative heavy foods) contributed a great deal to the stomach ache but stress hormones for sure exacerbated the discomfort. I also noticed the quality of my facial skin declined significantly and almost instantly. I have a wonderful skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis. It’s just a fancy way of saying that my face skin is constantly on fire and basically “flakes” off at all times. Well, what do you know when you’re stressed it can cause a flare-up and it did. Lastly, places in my body are aching much more than they used to because my exercise routine has been severely disrupted. Prior to this I was going to the gym about 4-5 times a week and doing pretty high-intensity workouts. Now I’m much more sedentary and maybe go for a brisk walk through my neighborhood every couple of days (weather permitting).
I say all of this to say that while there are numerous amount of factors that play into our daily lives and how we function within them; stress is a key factor that impacts not just our emotional state but our physiological state as well. Our bodies can’t differentiate between emotional stress or physical stress, therefore when we experience one or the other all our bodies know is that something is very wrong right now. The stress hormone, Cortisol, does have a useful purpose however when stress does not ease up it can become detrimental to our body’s internal functions.
Can we talk about trauma right quick?
Imagine all that I described happening to a relatively healthy individual like myself, but couple that with someone who has experienced trauma in the past or is currently coming to current stressors brought on by this pandemic. One of the hallmarks of stress disorders is the direct experience of a traumatic event (American Psychological Association; DSM-V 5th edition, pgs. 265-290). For many of us depending on where we live and who we know, the effects of this pandemic will surely leave its mark for years to come. Now as I pointed out previously we are all susceptible to the effects of stress including trained mental health professionals, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers on all levels, and of course parents, teenagers and children. So this part is for the parent that is at home with their budding teenager who is struggling with managing this crisis just as much as their parent is. The effects of stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways but for teenagers it’s often interpreted as impudence, being bratty, or disobedience. To parents that are having these thoughts about their teenager, I highly encourage you to take a moment and look at the bigger picture here. Could your child be suffering from the effects of trauma?
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
In my previous blog post, I mentioned my experience working with adolescents and their family’s. I also had the privilege to receive specialized training in the highly coveted therapeutic model Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or TF-CBT. TF-CBT is an evidence-based treatment for children and adolescents impacted by trauma and their parents or caregivers (tfcbt.org). The success rates for this therapeutic model is rated as high for the majority of participants (Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Assessing the Evidence; Psychiatr Serv. 2014 May 1; 65(5): 591–602.)
TF-CBT, in a nutshell, allows for children and adolescents ages 3-18* to process their feelings and learn what drives their behaviors after having experienced a traumatic event. Parental/Caregiver participation is an essential component of TF-CBT. The average amount of time to go through the TF-CBT process is approximately 16 weeks give or take a few weeks. Each person is different therefore this model allows for each family to move at their own pace.
*While this therapeutic model is appropriate for children and adolescents ages 3 years to 18 years old. I currently am only accepting adolescence age 14 and up.
Looking Towards Hope
There is hope that we can look towards in this most difficult of times. While many experts hypothesize that we are only in the beginning stages of this pandemic there are things we can do to ward off and minimize the effects this stressful event will have on all of us. Some go to’s that you can implement today are getting outside and letting the sunshine on your face and smile while doing so! That simple and intentional act can go a long way. Also, exercise, eat right and drink plenty of water. This will help keep our mood boosted and strengthen our immune systems; which is something we all need right now. Lastly, get help if you begin to feel overwhelmed. As I mentioned earlier I am a certified Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapist. If you notice that your teen's trauma symptoms have been exacerbated by this recent pandemic please seek professional help for them. If down the line you begin to notice a change in your teens functioning please seek help for them. Some changes to look out for are fear of you going places or your child becoming “clingy”, disturbance in their sleep and or appetite, change in the behavior such as being on edge or easily agitated, persistent worrying and problems with concentration just to name a few.
I hope this information was helpful and if you and or your teen are in need of additional support during this very trying time, please don’t hesitate to contact me to schedule an appointment. While the state is under a stay-at-home order for at least the next 30 days, I am conducting all sessions via telehealth. You can reach me via our website TheReeseCollective.com, Email, or you can call 980-595-4919.
This is an unprecedented time the vast majority of the world is experiencing for the first time and while there are still a great number of unknowns; I do want you to know that help is out there and available. Please, everyone, be safe and remember this is a temporary situation that we will get through in time.