BY 

My wife works for an educational company and her past few weeks have been busy working with schools and districts across California as they face the herculean task of adapting to distance learning for the remainder of the school year. One of my favorite stories from last week comes from a training that one of her colleagues was conducting with a school site. During the training, without skipping a beat, the trainer announced that his daughter had just handed him their pet mice and he was now doing the training with two mice in hand. What I love about this story is that it reminded everyone on the call that the guy who was doing the training is also a dad doing his best to manage his own family life.

For those of us who are lucky enough to work virtually during these unprecedented times, the stories about working remotely and the sudden ramp-up in video calls are often hilarious. Zoom bombs from spouses and kids asking what’s for dinner. People forgetting that the camera is on while going to the bathroom. People showing up to calls in pajamas.

But in addition to being hilarious, these stories are also very humanizing. We are seeing windows into people’s lives that we often don’t encounter in a working relationship. At least one onscreen pet is now pretty standard for any video call (and a welcome addition). 

As someone who has three kids and has worked from home for years, having to manage background noise and distractions (albeit not for an entire workday) is nothing new. But what is new is no longer having to have to pretend that all of this other “stuff” is not going on in the background. Just a few weeks ago, I would desperately search for the mute button if my dog Oliver barked during a call with a client or make sure to prep my younger kids if I had a call scheduled after they were home from school. A couple of years ago when I had a weekly series of early morning virtual trainings with a client on the east coast dead smack in the middle of what is often the noisiest time in the house, my wife graciously turned it into Friday pancakes at IHOP to get the kids out of the house. My wife also works from home and the contortions we have both engaged in over the years to keep the pretense of having everything under control in the background have been sometimes funny and often exhausting. We have both been known to take a conference call from our car when desperate.

To say the least, all of those pretenses are gone. Suddenly, it’s ok to give an authentic answer when someone asks you how you are doing or to admit that the reason you aren’t available at a particular time is because your kid needs your help. And there is something very human about all of it.

I am struck by how many lessons of the trauma-informed and resilience-building movement are so salient right now–the importance of physical and emotional safety, the power of relationships and community to heal. I guess it makes sense–we are all experiencing a collective societal trauma right now.  Dr. Rob Anda, one of the co-authors of the original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, a body of research that is foundational to our understanding of the impact of toxic stress physiology on health and behavior, reminds us that “It’s not just ‘them.’ It’s us.” This is one of those rare moments in time when I think we all truly understand what he meant.

The individual and collective suffering is no doubt real and will likely get much worse. By the end of last week, the number of deaths and infections continued to climb. Health care professionals, grocery stores workers, and other essential workers continue to put their lives at risk on the front lines of this pandemic. People are losing their jobs at an astonishing clip. The dad/trainer with the mice was furloughed from his job for three months (and my wife was reduced to 80%).

But the collective trauma and vulnerability we are all facing has also revealed acts of humanity, both large and small. It has led to unanticipated intimacy in places we may not have expected it. Seeing a toddler unexpectedly pop onto a parent’s lap (and the parent embrace them with a hug instead of shooing them away) during a zoom call is an act of astonishing beauty.

As Brene Brown says, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

And somehow every puppy that slobbers on a computer screen during a zoom call right now reminds me that we are indeed all in this together.

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Lori Chelius is a co-founder of Origins Training & Consulting. Origins helps educators, health care professionals, social service workers, and other leaders integrate a trauma-informed approach into their work so they can build more resilient organizations and communities. She lives in California with her wife, three kids, and their dog, Oliver. Learn more about Origins’ and its online training offerings at www.originstraining.org.

 

awareness during a pandemic resilience

BY ANDI FETZNER 

Costco is out of toilet paper and CVS is out of cough syrup. Your group fitness class and your favorite restaurant are closed. Your cousin keeps posting memes on instagram about some conspiracy theory and your co-worker brags on about how she hasn’t been sick in years so she’s not worried about germs. This is not a nightmare. This is real life in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, aka the coronavirus.

On March 11th, three months from when the first cases of pneumonia were reported in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. With a composed and articulate delivery, WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed that this declaration could lead to a response of “unjustified acceptance that the fight is over” or “unreasonable fear.” He wasn’t wrong. With what seemed like an air of hope, he also reported that this declaration should not change the approach governments are taking to stop the spread, or flatten the curve. Fear is quite the motivator. As we introduce in The Basics, fear can activate our  stress response system (aka our survival brain) and when that happens, reason and logic can go out the window. We have a reaction to a real or perceived threat to safety that affects our body, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In this scenario, COVID-19 is the trigger that activates unique fears and responses in each person. For some, the response might be fight or flight. For others, it might be freeze or fawn. Some people get angry and might fixate on finding someone to blame, other people might feel overwhelmed and shut down completely or go on with life as usual, Still others feel guilty that people are suffering and turn to people-pleasing or caregiving. We adapt

 

You may be wondering, “so what am I supposed to do about it?” 

 

First, we can take a trauma-informed approach when responding to one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses the 4 R’s: realizing that each person’s history of trauma can affect them today; recognizing the ways people are thinking, feeling, acting as a normal response to an abnormal situation; responding with compassion and understanding (while still holding them accountable and practicing healthy boundaries for yourself); and reducing re-traumatization. The key principles of a trauma-informed approach include safety at the forefront. 

     

     

Second, we can all practice getting and staying in our resilience zone. When we read news headlines or talk to a co-worker that seems to be communicating with exclamation points, it can be contagious. If we’ve had a life full of stress, trauma, and adversity, it can become even more difficult to distinguish between what is “reasonable” and “unreasonable.” Some of us may have a hard time putting our thinking cap on when emotion is in the driver’s seat. During times of high stress, feeling angry, guilty, and overwhelmed makes perfect sense given the person’s life experience. But staying staying there or allowing those emotions to inform our behaviors can impact our health.

 

Strengthening our “resilience muscle” starts with awareness. What am I noticing in my body, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors? Am I inside or outside of my resilience zone? When I read a headline or hear some news and the words are upsetting, what is my reaction? Do I stockpile toilet paper or do I think about ways I can continue to connect with others or support those who are more vulnerable during a time when physical distancing is a necessary intervention? That balance will be the difference between succumbing to the frenzy and chaos and moving through this pandemic with resilience. 

 

To learn more about what your baseline in the window of tolerance might be…

GET YOUR ACE SCORE HERE or TAKE A RESILIENCE INVENTORY HERE

Image credit: TW @SIOUXSTEW based on Thomas Splettstöber TW: @SPLETTE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

/BY 

Sitting on my bookshelf in my office is a framed copy of Time Magazine from April 14, 1997. On the cover is a picture of Ellen DeGeneres with the headline “Yep, I’m Gay,”

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