Navigating Collective Trauma in a Post-COVID World

May 11, 2021

Today I’m going to dive into several topics which I believe will be useful to you as business owners as we move into what I think we’re all hoping will be the post-pandemic era.

I’ll be talking about Collective Trauma and some ways that you can re-enter society—the world—since all of us (and think of the magnitude of that phrase because when I say, “all of us,” I’m not just talking about the United States or those of us in business—I’m talking about every single human being on the planet.

Let that resonant with you for a moment because never in the history of mankind has there been a world event where ALL of us have been directly impacted—at least not to our awareness.

Even as I make this statement, I feel compelled to note that every single event whether at an individual or collective level does in fact impact all of us because we are a collective society.

If nothing else, the pandemic has proven this fact to those of you who still cling to individualistic thought or even nationalistic tendencies. We can no longer ignore the societal, political, ecological, and economic factors that alert us to this reality—and to do so, I might add—is irresponsible.

So, what does one do when it is all so overwhelming?

Well, if we acknowledge that each of us is a part of the collective, then we can also recognize our part in contributing to all that’s amiss in our world—absent judgment and blame—and, in doing so, we can find ways that we, as individuals, can also contribute to the solution.

In short, we are in an intense evolutionary period and if we are to sustain our world, solutions begin with every one of us—to include our individual thought, actions, and capacity to adapt to changing systems on every level.

So, we’ve been in this pandemic war for well over a year now. Many of you have experienced the loss of loved ones, the loss of business. We are seeing more and more evidence that relationships have been severed due to the current political climate. People you thought you knew and trusted are no longer a part of your life for whatever reason.

I have been silent through much of this year. Little writing. Less speaking because I’ve been watching and listening. And, like you, I’ve been trying to keep my business alive, stay healthy, and stay connected with the people I love and care about.

The long hard winter is not yet over, and we will be researching and studying the effects of this pandemic for years to come on every level, to include the advances in our health systems, the psychological, emotion, social, and environmental impact of this world event, and, of course, the economic impact but the one thing I want you to remember as you move through this transitionary time is that you must honor what you have endured over the past year. Failure to do so—meaning if you jump back into life as though none of this has happened, well, this will only result in potential disease or additional loss in the future.

Your family and your business, your community, your nation—everything you know, and love has been enveloped in collective trauma over the past year. Ignore this reality, and you will miss the opportunity to grow into a resilient human being capable of far more than survival. You will miss the opportunity to thrive and fully realize a meaningful life.

Everything has changed. And, as difficult as this has been—this is not necessarily a bad thing because what it tells us that we are evolving as a human race.

I know. I know. The evening news would have you believe otherwise, but this is exactly how evolution happens. Every system is being challenged. Every system.

You have a choice to fight these changes and self-destruct in the process—or lean into them closely and ask yourself how you might further a better world.

Doesn’t mean you have to be the solution to every issue—but it will probably require that you reinvent who you are.

Collective Trauma:

So, let’s talk a little bit about why this is important—beyond the obvious—and I’m going to be offering you some ways to integrate yourself into this new world order—for that’s exactly what is required—the capacity to integrate your past year experience with where you are now so that something new can arise

I want to first start with a very introductory conversation on Collective Trauma because whether you realize it or not, we are, as a human race, in a state of Collective Trauma.

I’m hearing about, and experiencing myself, the impact of this collective trauma every day.

People uncertain about how to re-integrate back into work environments. A sense of fear and trepidation when out in public. The inability to concentrate or focus. Irritability. Fear and uncertainty. Increased health issues. Anxiety attacks. Sleepless nights.

In myself, I’ve even noticed tension rise up in my own body when watching a late-night movie and the screen flashed to a group of people at a party or in a bar. My first thought is, Oh, no. They’re too close to one another. It’s not safe.

There are dozens and dozens of ways that we are being socially, emotionally, and psychologically impacted by this pandemic—and I’m not even going to get into the shocking increase in homelessness and other societal issues that we’re facing.

The bottom line is that collective trauma effects all of us and whenever a society experiences a world event whether it be a war, pandemic, natural disaster or the like—that trauma remains in our consciousness and in our body.

Trauma literally changes the nervous system, and if not properly attended to will pass through generations. I say this because I want you to be keenly aware of how your reactions to this moment will greatly determine how your children and grandchildren respond to and recover from this time of collective trauma.

As the renowned Thomas Huble writes in his recent book, Healing Collective Trauma, “. . . researchers around the world have learned how certain repetitive and pervasive traumatic stressors, even when they may not directly pose a risk to life, can nonetheless present a genuine risk of injury to spirit, psyche, and body—and, in particular, to a child’s chances for healthy development.”

The impact of collective trauma is not just something that shows up in descendants of Holocaust or Syrian survivors. It is something that is showing up right now in you and in your children.

What I’m suggesting then, is that it’s not enough for you to focus on how to keep your business up and running. For the sake of your own health and the future health of your family—and the world—it’s equally important that you look at how you are responding to this world event—what is happening in your mind, your body, and your spirit—and where do you need supports to heal from this moment?

There is no shame in seeking support because the very nature of trauma indicates that we simply cannot do this deep work on our own.

What I’d like to now is shift, for a moment, to some things you can realistically do to move yourself through this time of transition in an uncertain world.

Obviously, if you are experiencing intense levels of stress or PTSD as a result of this moment, you’ll want to seek therapy or medical assistance.

But, if you’re seemingly moving through life—perhaps even pushing yourself to “get back to normal” but something just isn’t yet right, there are things you can do to support this process.

One of the resources I lean into for support is meditation. I’m finding that this resource is becoming increasingly important to my clients as they struggle with more and more pressure in their daily lives.

Too much information coming their way. Overwhelming business decisions. Working from home with small children—the list goes on and on. All family and business systems are being taxed—and you’re in the middle of it all. And let’s not forget zoom fatigue which has rapidly become a real phenomenon that most of us are experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

Now, for those of you who think mediation is some type of woo-woo experience for left over hippies from the 60’s who play guitars all day—let me state that meditation has been scientifically proven to be one of the most effective ways for us to heal and restore mind, body, and spirit.

Researchers and experts like Jon Kabat Zinn, who is renowned for his work in mindfulness with cancer patients, and even the earlier works of Dr. Herbert Benson in The Relaxation Response have all led us to a deeper understanding of the positive effects of a meditative practice.

Depending on your area of interest, every spiritual and religious tradition has an equally convincing approach to meditation—so there is a wide range of opportunities that I encourage you to explore.

I have colleagues, for example, who practice Zen meditation, others who practice Transitional Meditation, and if you’re a Christian and have some negative bias toward the act of meditation—you need go no further than the work of contemplatives like Thomas Merton or Thomas Keating to know that the path of centering prayer is a very powerful way to effort less, love more, and deepen your experience in God.  

Author David Frenette speaks to the depth of this method in his book, The Path of Centering Prayer. In this work, he references specific methodologies for centering prayer that include using a sacred word, the sacred breath, or the sacred glance.

All this to say, that there are many options worthy of exploration if you are experiencing the effects of collective and individual trauma as a result of the pandemic.

What I recommend to my clients who have never experienced any form of meditation or mindfulness practice is to start with a simple practice that focuses on the breath. Start with 10 minutes a day and move up to twenty when you’re ready.

There is no right or wrong way—although you will struggle with wanting to “get it right” and that is part of the practice. Like any sport, practice is necessary to train the mind to let go.

Again, as Thomas Huble states:

Contemplative practices such as meditation, mindfulness, presencing, yoga, or centering prayer can help us to become aware of the effects of trauma, which include dissociation, suppression, and disconnection.

The only way out is through.

The world is waking up to new systems. As individuals we must do the same if we are to be a contributing force to this evolution. Your life and the life of your children depend on your capacity to do so.