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Crisis Care: Traumatic Stress

Posted: 5/6/20 at 4:00pm. Written by Kristen Curtis, adapted from Crisis Care Team:  A Training Manual for Spiritual Care Providers; Dan Franklin, ed.  Copyright 2017 Texas Crisis Resiliency Team; Virginia Baptist Disaster Response Edition.

In my small town of Farmville, VA, my children had a half day of school on March 12 and a planned teacher work day on March 13. Little did we know on the afternoon of March 12 that it would be their last day of school for the year and that our lives would take a drastic turn towards life almost exclusively at home–no softball and baseball, no spring dances, no in-person church, probably no summer camps, and lots and lots of togetherness (with all the joys and challenges that go with it). 

For my pastor husband, this time has meant a whole lot of “invisible” work: finding, learning, and implementing technology to simultaneously live-stream worship to Facebook and the church website while setting up a parking-lot broadcasting station for drive-in church; figuring out how to make Holy Week special and meaningful when none of the usual gatherings could occur; working in an almost empty church every day (hard for the extrovert); caring for church members’ emotional and spiritual needs from a safe social distance; tutoring deacons on how to utilize online meeting apps so leadership can continue to do the business of church life; strategizing about finances when the plate can’t be passed each week; planning for an uncertain future when we are once again free to gather and find a new normal; brainstorming and helping execute ways to minister to our community during this period of isolation; and coming home to occasional meltdowns in the household as the rest of us adjust to simultaneously working and schooling from home (which I’ve done for a while, but not while also teaching my own children!). 

I work with the Disaster Response Crisis Care Team and it’s crazy to me to look out my home office window and see every house intact, no storm debris piled up by the road, no volunteers in yellow shirts cleaning and repairing storm damage, and yet to recognize that most of us are in some ways experiencing COVID-19 in many of the same (though perhaps more subtle) ways that survivors of hurricanes or tornadoes experience a natural disaster. I last wrote about how many of us are experiencing loss and grief. Many of us are also experiencing traumatic stress, which involves a sense that our physical and/or emotional well being are threatened. Traumatic stress can be triggered by a one-time event like a tornado or by long-lasting exposure to traumatic events: in this case, the ongoing threat of illness whenever you leave the house, the threat or reality of lost income, and the threat to emotional well being as routine is disrupted with no clear expectation for when we will move beyond this. The truth is, as a nation, our lives have all been impacted by this in many ways that we will be discovering in the coming months and years. So even if life is OK for you personally in this time, we all are collectively experiencing a traumatic event. 

See if this list of post-traumatic stress reactions strikes a chord (many do for me): difficulty concentrating, flashbacks, reacting to similar circumstances, guilt, anger, sadness, sleep disturbance, eating disorders, trouble with routine tasks, difficulty with religious practices, relationship withdrawal, and/or difficulty being alone. Experiencing some (or all) of these symptoms does not mean you have PTSD or even that you need professional help. It actually means you are having a relatively normal response to an abnormal situation. 

This is a weird time for all of us. Reach out for help if it gets to be more than you can handle. Our Crisis Care Team is standing by to be a listening ear or to give supportive feedback. You can reach them by filling out our short online form here: Crisis Care Support Line and one of our chaplains will quickly call you back or you can reach someone directly by phone seven days a week from 9:00am until 9:00pm at 833-374-3577. We’re here to help. Don’t suffer alone.

Kristen Curtis is BGAV’s Training and Chaplaincy Coordinator for Disaster Response.