The Trauma Hangover 1

The trauma hangover

Perhaps this week you have felt “fuzzy” in your mind, quite emotional, unable to make decisions, not quite settled and very, very tired. My good friend calls this a “trauma hangover”.

Following the unrest in South Africa two weeks ago, how are you really doing? Have you had a chance to process what has happened on a personal level?

Perhaps this week you have felt “fuzzy” in your mind, quite emotional, unable to make decisions, not quite settled and very, very tired. My good friend calls this a “trauma hangover”.

The week of unrest we all experienced (acknowledging for many that it has been even longer), could be seen as an acute time of stress and/or a trauma. Stress and trauma exist along the same continuum in that the lived experiences and responses can look and feel quite similar. What is important about the definition of trauma is that it is based on the perception of the person experiencing it. Some people may have experienced the unrest as “merely” stressful; others will still be feeling the impact of it as trauma.

Duros & Crowley (2014:238) state that trauma could be thought of as “what happens to a person where there is either too much too soon, too much for too long, or not enough for too long.” (in Dana, 2020).

The unrest could have felt like just too much for too long for many of us. Neurologically, we live in states of either protection or connection (Dana, 2020). When we are in a state of protection, we live in “survival mode”. We know we simply need to get through each day doing what it takes to keep safe.

We may have felt like we were living in survival mode when shops were closed and we had nothing left to eat, no idea of when food would be coming and in the background, there were gunshots, billowing smoke in all directions, and a constant stream of videos of looting and violence on the news and social media. There may have been a really personal sense of possible threat if you or a loved one were part of the patrols through each day and night.  Another friend refers to the week of unrest as “the apocalypse” and there’s something that rings very true about this!

When we are in a state of protection, we have less capacity to connect with others, and very little capacity for change. You may have found yourself simply shutting down from others, not able to answer phone calls or messages, and with very little capacity to take on board new information. Instead, you may have found yourself cleaning compulsively, or moving about restlessly desiring to do something useful to help but feeling immobilised in the face of it all. In this state of protection, things can feel discombobulated.

The connection state allows for health, growth and restoration. We can only be in connection when we are no longer in survival.

In my experience, queuing for food one day helped to move me from protection into connection. I found myself in a public space with others who were going through a similar experience to me, and yet there was an air of calm and cooperation. I was able to obtain food for our family and others. For those who lived in areas where there were no shops or the queues took all day, I would guess that they lived in a state of protection for much longer than I did.

As parents, many of us were probably living in a protection state and yet trying to do everything we could to present an outward state of connection to our children in order to shield them from the severity of what was happening. Now this can leave you feeling discombobulated as you essentially live two realities at the same time. No wonder we may have a trauma hangover.

All this is to tell you; you are normal. You are normal if you feel like crying a lot. You are normal if you’re feeling furious. You are normal if you’re still a bit jumpy, suspicious, anxious, fatigued, fuzzy, confused and overwhelmed. Whatever else it is you’ve been experiencing recently, you’re normal.

Hangovers do pass. You have to treat yourself with care and delicacy while they’re around, though. And if after another two weeks or so you feel like you’re still hungover, it may be time to seek extra help. Or even now is a good time to seek help especially if you haven’t had a good opportunity to talk through your experiences with others in a way that feels healthy for you, or your trauma hangover is stopping you from functioning day to day.

Make time to process your experiences, seek healthy connection, be kind to yourself.

Reference: “Polyvagal exercises for safety and connection.” by Dr. Deb Dana. (2020)

Coming up tomorrow!

24 June 2024 Just a reminder about the Journalling Taster online tomorrow night!

Read More

What children say about their parents

17 June 2024 UNICEF recently released this very powerful video. They asked children to act like their parents and they videoed them. Their parents then watched the videos and for many it was a very confronting experience.   https://fb.watch/sLwSyJDuBq/ If this was your child, how would they be imitating you? In South Africa it’s the…

Read More

Coming up!

17 June 2024 In June and July I am looking forward to chatting with you! All talks are online (Zoom), at 7pm SAST and last one hour. Each talk is R50. I’ve called these talks ‘short and sweet’ because I aim to give a little bit of input and then facilitate a lot of discussion.…

Read More

Emotional Connection around the Table

31 May 2024 How do mealtimes in your home go down? What would you like to change about them? What if you were to have one meal a day together as a family in order to intentionally connect? What difference do you think it could make? According to research, a whole lot of difference, actually.…

Read More

Explore more: inspiring awe, wonder and connection

24 May 2024 We went to the mountains last weekend and it was a gift in so many ways. We were the only ones in the campsite, which was delightful to us because we simply enjoyed the quiet and the space to ourselves. (After our experience of being quite packed in to the campsite over the…

Read More

What to try before bringing your child for Play Therapy

3 May 2024 I often get asked a really good and important question: When do I bring my child in for play therapy? Most often, the thing that flags the need for play therapy is a child’s behavior as they become dysregulated and struggle with day-to-day normal, healthy interactions. Dysregulation is when the individual feels…

Read More

The Question of Why

3 May 2024 Something that I hear fairly frequently from parents is their frustration at when they ask their child “why” they did this or that, their child is unable to answer them. Or, that every time they ask them “why” they get a different answer. Parents, of course, are really trying to understand what…

Read More

Working Holidays

19 April 2024 You know how when you’re at school, you get back from holidays and usually the teacher gives a task to write or draw about your holiday? Well, here’s my holiday in words and pictures. It’s been really, really good. Just keep learning! The feature image on today’s blog was snapped on my…

Read More

It’s the HOLIDAYS!

22 March 2024 Hi everyone! Easter holidays are upon us – well done parents of South African children, term one done and dusted! In the words of Fat Amy… Acabelieve it! (And if you don’t get this reference then you have never watched Pitch Perfect. And that means you have some more movie-watching homework. Not…

Read More

Broken things

15 March 2024 “Our hearts are broken about things that are broken…” Jennie Allen. This has been resounding in my soul ever since I read it. I have times of feeling heartbroken for people and situations who are broken, including myself, I think most of us do.  None of is completely whole all of the…

Read More