Written by Kelly Young. Kelly is the President of Baise Communications. She is an OPTIONS Alumnae, Class 2.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly upended “normal” life for nearly a year now and the emotional and mental turmoil it has taken on all of us is enormous. However, I never really thought about the world experiencing mass trauma together until I attended the Women’s Fund Engagement webinar, featuring several health and mental health experts. The topic was self-care. The conversation was eye-opening and valuable.

I associate the word “trauma” with a violent experience, but I’ve learned that you don’t have to experience violence to experience trauma. Trauma is universal. The definition is broad and includes a personal element. During the pandemic, we have all been fearful for our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. Everyone has experienced some form of trauma, the key is recognizing and realizing how widespread trauma is and how it impacts our mental health, coping, and immunity. 

As I reflected on this after the panel discussion, I realized I have probably downplayed the traumatic nature of the pandemic. We have all experienced some form of trauma: loss of a job, death of a loved one, illness, lack of social engagement, uncertainty, and fear. This discussion was based on how we can take care of ourselves and others in a thoughtful, sensitive way – now and as we begin to come out of this traumatic experience.

I appreciated the discussion around coping, knowing that we’re all coping differently. It boils down to taking one day at a time. Each day, we should take stock of our individuality and strength and ask ourselves: “what do I have today to give to my family and my community?” Several months ago, I printed out and posted on my wall the quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that says, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If we compare ourselves to others – how they’re doing during this pandemic, how they’re coping, how they’re surviving – we’re putting unnecessary feelings of inferiority on ourselves, which is emotionally unhealthy.

Sadly, there continues to be stigma and shame around mental health support. As a community, we must use our own voices to remove that stigma. It starts within us and giving ourselves permission to open up in a safe place and find a place of connection. The panelists discussed giving ourselves and others grace as we continue to cope. We need to assume that everyone’s life has been impacted. When we encounter a difficult person or situation, we need to shift from asking ourselves “what’s wrong with that person” to “what happened to that person” – that slight shift will help us be more sensitive to everyone and everything. We should re-enter the world with this attitude. 

The two greatest reminders for me during this conversation were: 1) we’re not alone and 2) what we’re doing is enough. I also appreciated the following closing thoughts from the panelists:

  • Women are getting it done. We are strong and resilient. Yet, we must acknowledge and set our own boundaries.  Find and set quiet time. Take walks. Shut down work and appreciate the night.

  • We must maintain connections as much as possible.  Women are brilliant, strong, and tired, and we are better together. Tap into your network and be honest about what you need. Be comfortable in reaching out for yourself and others.

  • Be open and honest. Meet yourself where you are and honor your own experience.  Find places to share your honesty, such as journaling, walking and talking with a friend, or seeking professional help.

  • Give space to the good and bad of this time. Focus on the positive and the things that spark creativity and joy.

Finally, after listening to this discussion, I think it’s important that we are in touch with how we’re doing – how we’re really doing. I, for one, am comfortable telling you that there are days that I’m not ok – and that’s ok. I will practice more self-care and ease back into the world with beauty and grace.  

A special thank you to the panelists:

Jasmine Graham Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Urban Education Counseling, Leadership and Policy Studies, IUPUI,

Crystal Mehta, DO, MPH, State Director of Psychiatry, Indiana Department of Corrections, and

Cara Berg Raunick, DNP, Director of Clinical Quality and Advancement at Health Care Education & Training.

Moderated by Jennifer Dzwonar, Women’s Fund Advisory Board Chair