The year 2020 began with an explosion of fire. Ripping through Australia, tearing down houses, and causing the near extinction of millions of animals. Tears were shed for Australia, people expressed their deepest empathy for those affected. The nation felt the trauma.

As the ash started to settle and the smog lift from people’s hearts a lull of exhaustion fell across the nation. Resting to recuperate and rebuild. The world had other plans. A virus silently crept its way across the borders to people already in distress.

COVID-19, a silent fire. Threatening the lives of people. Sent shock waves through the world. Terror for one’s life and livelihood in its wake. The first wave of COVID-19 sent the Nation into lockdown. No one was to leave their houses beyond exercise consisting of a walk around the block and shopping for essentials. Mothers giving birth with no visitors, funerals limited to five mourners, weddings maxed out at ten people. The joyful and the mourners, the wealthy and the poor, all affected by a slow burn. A nation, sent into panic and feelings of uncertainty and unsafety as a result of the fires, is now in a trauma loop of distress as COVID-19 cases rise and fall, threatening lives in great numbers and sending people into lockdown then falling in numbers as people recover and the spread is reduced.

As COVID-19 cases fall, people naturally seek comforts, to feel safe, to re-energize. It’s exhausting consistently living with a sense of doom on the horizon, to live as if your life is threatened every day. So, people move to complacency abiding by the Government restrictions of only five visitors at a time. Restaurants slowly reopen, gyms provide service again. Australia begins to wake up and move.

But it is short-lived.

Once again, the cases rise. This time, cases are unknown, like a slow fire creeping throughout the city. Hard to extinguish when you can’t see where it falls. Schools that endeavour to stay open are consistently closed back down again due to outbreaks sending small communities into a panic. The wave of distress throughout Australia takes its toll. As the wave sinks people begin to rest and recover, attempt normalcy before another wave takes over. Spot fires of COVID-19 increase, followed by another lockdown.

During the waves, emotions run high on social media. Themes of human nature survival reactions take over via memes and comments. A wave of different reactions driven by a fight, flight, or freeze response. If we notice how our bodies react to the threat of COVID-19 we can find positive strategies and develop a support network to manage the conflicting emotions. By recognizing the fight, flight, and freeze responses in others it allows us to check in with those around us and respond to people’s reactions to COVID-19 appropriately.

The Fight Response

Individuals experiencing a fight response may find themselves becoming tearful, clenching their hands, and fists. The jaw might become tense and feelings of anger arise and are projected onto family members or via media outlets. Individuals find a desire to punch or kick things and dreams might be filled with aggressive outlets such as fights, fires, bombs going off, and death.

The Flight Response

Those with a flight response might feel restless, their anxiety increases and the body is fidgetily wanting to run. Those with a flight response will find each lockdown harder to be still. There may be excessive walking around the block during the lockdown and the urgent need to wander the easels of the supermarket in distress. Once lockdown has lifted an urge to get out of the house and return to normality may be strong.

The Freeze Response

When the pandemic became a threat to us all those with a freeze response close their doors to the world. A freeze response can leave individuals feeling like they are physically stuck, their body is stiff with an overall sense of heaviness. There is a dread lingering and no matter what movement is attempted the feelings linger and follow them. Once lockdown has lifted individuals with a freeze response might take time to find normality. The frozen limbs become exhausted and it is difficult to leave the home and partake in social interactions again.

As the wave of COVID-19 rises and falls we all respond differently to one another. Some get angry and want to seek blame and verbalize their frustration, others find it difficult to sit still and the isolation and confinement become mundane and stressful and some people completely freeze. They feel a great sense of danger looming in the distance and find they can’t move. Lockdown is preferable and doors close until there is safety once more.

It is such a sensitive time. People’s safety and livelihood are not guaranteed and we don’t know how long the rise and fall of COVID-19 will continue to threaten our existence. Learn to know your fight, flight, freeze response style so that you can be kind and understanding of yourself and those around you. We are all affected by this threat. We all respond differently. Through understanding and compassion, we can be supportive of one another. We are in this together.

About the author

Rebecca Thomas

Education and Developmental Psychologist (Endorsement Candidate) B.Arts, G.D Edu, G.D Psych, G.D Psych (Adv) M.Psych (Ed & Dev) Cert Play Therapy, Cert IV in Training & As.

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