Surviving the crisis – the world expert on trauma gives advice on how to protect your mental health during the Coronavirus lockdown.

The world’s most authoritative expert on healing trauma is Dr Bessel van der Kolk, MD.   His book, The Body Keeps the Score, is a seminal, ground-breaking work, describing how our bodies process and hold trauma, which in turn impact our mental health.

He started his studies in the 1970s, working with veterans from the Vietnam war.  But trauma doesn’t only mean surviving a war zone, it can be caused by experiencing events in ordinary lives – accidents, sexual, physical or psychological abuse, working under horrendous conditions, such as our NHS teams are experiencing now. These can all cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr Bessel van der Kolk MD.

Earlier this week, Dr van der Kolk produced a free, online 30-minute video about how our body and mind are being impacted by the Coronavirus crisis. Watch the video online.

Dr van der Kolk’s key message is that we are experiencing pre-traumatic conditions, in that we have lost

  • predictability
  • mobility
  • connection
  • a sense of safety
  • a sense of purpose

Surviving the crisis – best advice

Here is his best advice:

1) Predictability. Create a schedule and book in something to look forward to such as drinks or share a meal online with friends on Zoom or FaceTime.

Create a calendar of connections – a time scheduled to phone or on-screen time with friends and relations.

2) Immobility. In a trauma, we lose our bodily sense of agency, to take control of our fight or flight mechanism. This usually deals with the adrenalin caused by fear. So now, move your body in other ways – housework, gardening, skipping, marching, chopping vegetables. Yoga is very helpful in calming your relationship with your body and mind.

3) Loss of connection.  We all need to hear voices and see faces, so connect with someone. If on your own, call up friends. Make music together, play games, dress up for a family meal. Laugh, cry – we need a connection.

4) Loss of purpose and safety. You may feel in your darkest moments that this will last forever. It won’t.  Lean to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that are coming up for you and notice your breathing. You will find your thoughts shift as time passes.  We are living organisms and we change with time.

Importance of touch and privacy

Touch is one of the most important elements of safety. Hopefully you have someone you can safely hug.

And we all need privacy, a place to withdraw.  In your home dedicate a chair, corner or bed to be your private place.  Make sure everyone has one and respects each others’ privacy. “When I am in this chair, I am in my private place. Please don’t talk to me or ask me anything.”

Domestic abuse

Finally he added that a lockdown can be very unsafe for those who suffer domestic abuse. You must get external help. 

In the UK call Refuge on 0808 2000 247. They are open 24/7.

In an emergency call 999.

Bessel van der Kolk book The Body Keeps the Score
The Body Keeps the Score. Bessel van der Kolk’s best selling book on healing trauma.

If you need help during this crisis you can get in contact with me.