Trauma Triggers Wide Range of Distress

by Tara Burns, MA, Counselor

George Floyd’s senseless, avoidable death sent shock waves of pain throughout our communities, our country and worldwide. Trauma’s effects ripple out into the world and leave us with feelings of pain, sadness, anger and grief. For many of us, the emotions from recent weeks of protests were not just about the death of George Floyd, but also deep trauma from institutional and systemic racism in our country. Witnessing the recent violence firsthand or through television or social media can be triggering for those who have experienced violence themselves, especially the African American community and others who have experienced persecution because of their race, sexual orientation, political beliefs or religious beliefs.

The distress of recent events is affecting us in many ways. People may be feeling a range of stress symptoms, including sleep problems, memory problems, fear, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, irritability and frustration. For those who already struggle with depression, PTSD, or anxiety, recent events may have made their symptoms feels worse. Others may notice they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from the barrage of information (and mis-information) and negative stories on the television and social media. We may find ourselves short-tempered with loved ones, friends, or co-workers, or fearful of what the future holds.

The COVID pandemic and stay-at-home order were already taking a toll on people’s mental health, and the George Floyd murder only compounded an already growing sense of anxiety and loss. Many who wanted to join in solidarity with peaceful protests or show their respects to George Floyd and others were unable to do so for fear of public gatherings and COVID. We may fear physically consoling others, reaching out for a supportive hug, or crying on a shoulder, which only prolongs our sense of sadness.

People of all backgrounds will be struggling with the trauma and grief in the coming weeks and months. What you may be experiencing is real, and it’s okay to experience those things and then find ways to deal with it, from conversation to advocacy, working on your own biases, or talking with a mental health professional. No one can control the future or tomorrow’s events; however, we can control how we choose to respond to fear, sadness, anger and the unknown.

It’s vital we get all the guidance we can and support each other. We are here to provide support and healing for everyone experiencing sadness, grief, pain or trauma. We have adapted to the pandemic and have become skilled in providing support through phone or video.

If you are experiencing mental health stress, JFS is here to help through our Community Support Program, our Counseling & Mental Health Services and our PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active & Rewarding Lives for Seniors) and PEARLS for Caregivers.