Dealing with COVID-19 Triggers

By Jenn Rockefeller

The current COVID-19 pandemic has kept many domestic violence survivors in their homes and changed the way we live. These changes have elicited triggers that can bring a survivor through varying degrees of challenges while fighting to survive and thrive post-abuse.

Triggers Survivors Face

Domestic violence survivors will no doubt face numerous triggers because of the pandemic. These triggers may range from mild inconvenience to downright debilitating. These triggers can cause a survivor to feel like they are taking hundreds of steps backward in their healing journey.

  • Isolation – Each community and state has instituted safer-at-home orders and in some areas, stay-at-home orders. This may cause the survivor to feel out of control  Survivors cannot go out and be with others and because of the feelings of isolation, it will no doubt dredge up other feelings like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. According to Safe Harbor, an agency that serves domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in Wisconsin, isolation can also cause feelings of neglect.
  • No support system – This is not to say that survivors have no support during their healing journey. On the contrary, actually. So many survivors have amazing support! It’s just that this pandemic is literally keeping the survivor away from family and friends. Survivors are not having that in-person quality time with their most cherished support.
  • Anxiety and/or depression – For those who already deal with anxiety and/or depression, the pandemic has certainly heightened that and likely even exacerbated the feelings.
  • Stress – The feelings of stress can come in many forms, depending on your role in your family and your job. Due to safer-at-home orders, you might be facing more responsibility towards your family to take care of them. Likewise, your job may have you now working from home, which can place even more stress on you. When our usual routine is disrupted (as is everyone else’s normal routines), there is added stress and uncertainty. All of the added stress piles on and can manifest itself by breaking down our physical and emotional health.
  • Fear – When survivors are in the throes of their abusive situations, fear becomes a daily feeling. Even in the aftermath and subsequent healing journey, survivors still deal with fear. The pandemic does nothing to help, either. The fear can become overwhelming at times, because the unknown is what is ever-present.
  • Low energy – As humans, we are used to being consistently on the move. But this pandemic has ground many of our activities to a screeching halt. That means we aren’t as active and as a result, we may face having little to no energy to get through our day. This low energy trigger can unfortunately cause a flashback of sorts for many survivors and emotionally place them back in their situation. Often, we didn’t have the energy to do really much of anything when we were with our abusers out of fear that if we DID do anything, that it would result in the abuser retaliating against us. So we just stopped doing housework or watching a favorite movie or even talking to what little support system we had left at the time.
  • Negative thoughts or feelings – Being quarantined can certainly trigger negative thoughts or feelings in regard to our past trauma. The post-traumatic stress (PTSD) can certainly cause many survivors to feel like they are taking steps backward in their healing journey.

How survivors can overcome 

Coping mechanisms that survivors have used up until the pandemic may not be enough to help them through this unprecedented time. Survivors will need to figure out new ways to cope, and maybe even forge new uncharted paths.

It is certainly understandable and normal that survivors will go through a wide range of emotions and triggers. How can survivors cope with these triggers and overcome them?

  • Reach out – It is imperative to remember that because of what’s going on with the pandemic, reaching out to loved ones during this time is crucial. This will mean thinking of new ways to connect with friends and family. Try video apps like FaceTime, Google Duo, Zoom, or Skype. In fact, one thing that really helped me recently was connecting with old college friends via Zoom. We were on that Zoom call for over an hour and a half! This meant the world to me and really helped me feel connected to the outside world again.
  • In with the new – In these strange times, we need to be adaptable to change. This includes creating new routines. And in creating new routines, we can find some solace because of the habitual nature of it. We are creatures of habit and once we keep doing something, it becomes second nature.
  • Exercise – It has been stated that exercise is good for the mind and body. Just because we are in the midst of a pandemic, does not mean we can’t find ways and reasons to move our bodies. There are plenty of ways to still do so. Try searching for simple videos on YouTube, or taking a quick walk around the block. Remember that it is still safe to go outside!
  • Be gentle – Give yourself a little bit of leeway and if you need to, remind yourself that it’s okay to feel what you are feeling. Be gentle with yourself during this time. It’s okay to cry, to feel fear, to experience anxiety, or to feel overwhelmed.
  • Take breaks – Sometimes it might be necessary to unplug from technology. It might seem that checking news updates or your social media accounts is your only way to connect to family and friends, but putting down technology for a few hours each day will do wonders for helping you feel less overwhelmed and stressed.

Once you find a way to cope with the triggers, stick with it. Create a routine for yourself and let it become second nature. Once you do, you’ll hopefully find that getting through the uneasiness will become more manageable.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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