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Dealing With Pandemic Stress & Trauma with Justine Sones

 

After over 18 months of dealing with a global pandemic that’s claimed millions of lives plus ongoing racial injustice, police brutality, social awakenings, political coups, and climate change, we’re tired. We’re dealing not just with stress and trauma on an individual level but as a collective. And that’s hard on our minds and our bodies. 

Today, I’m talking with writer and stress management coach Justine Sones about the effects of stress and trauma on our lives and bodies and how we can foster connection with people around us to get ourselves through to the other side. 

Ready? Let’s get started.

In this episode:

  • How to recognize when you’ve experienced trauma and how to safely process it
  • What self-care really looks like and why it’s essential to deal with ongoing trauma
  • How to cultivate safe spaces for processing 

Listen to the podcast here:

Dealing With Pandemic Stress & Trauma with Justine Sones

Welcome! I’m super excited to be chatting with you today about the effects of stress and trauma of our pandemic year on our minds and our bodies. How we can create a better relationship with our emotions and figure out shit in this kind of new normal that we’re all going through. 

I’m very excited to explore this today, because this is an area I’ve done a lot of personal work in over the last year because, honestly, how can you not? How can you have survived this last year without having done some sort of personal work on yourself? 

But before we jump into all of that, tell us who you are and what you do on the internet.

I am Justine Sones and I’m a writer and self-care coach. So those are two, a little bit separate, but mostly related things. So the writer part is I send out an email newsletter every other week, called The Friday Feels, which is all about setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and learning how to process your feelings in healthy and adult ways. 

And then as the self-care coach component, I work with burnt out humans who are at the brink with their stress management. I work with them in a group coaching setting to help get some of those stressors and their stress reactions under control, so that they can show up in their lives in meaningful ways instead of as reactive, resentful, humans.

I love that. I’m making a note to add myself to your newsletter. That’s something I have in my inbox every week.

Yeah, you can sign up at bit.ly/thefridayfeels.

We’ll put that on the show notes page, too, so that people can find it super easily. 

I’m very passionate about the topic of self-care. I’ve written several blog posts on it over the years. I’m sure there will be a podcast episode about it at some point, because self-care became such a buzzy word a few years ago. And as human beings, we want to feel as good as possible. And so self-care became synonymous with “treat yourself”. 

And I think that many times, that’s not always the case. It’s not always about treating yourself. Sometimes it’s about doing the shit that you don’t want to do. That’s just good for you. I hate to wash my face at night. I hate it. I hate to wash my face at night. It’s very annoying. You get wet. I have to wipe up the bathroom after. Apparently I’m very messy. Whatever. But every single night, I do it anyway.

I have this conversation in my head every night. And I don’t want to wash my face but I also don’t want to look like a gargoyle at 40. So I’m gonna wash my face and take care of my skin. So that is an act of self-care that I do because I know that it’s good for me even if I hate it.  

So that is an act of self-care that I do because I know that it's good for me even if I hate it. Click To Tweet

Right? And I have been immersed in the world of self-care for a decade now. My background is actually in massage therapy. So my entry into the world of self-care was that I liked helping people feel good. I like massage therapy because people would come in feeling crappy, they were in pain, and when they left, they visibly looked better. They were more relaxed. They had a smile on their face. It was a really good feeling. 

I realized now in hindsight, how much of that shaped my work now in terms of that it was about helping people feel better, but also helping them learn how to manage their pain and the reality of their condition so that they could continue to function in life because it wasn’t always about coming and fixing things. It was about coming and helping them learn how to be agents for their own wellness. And so it usually meant getting curious about and examining what was hurting, what was causing pain, and then taking the steps necessary to improve that. It wasn’t always about what felt good. Sometimes it was about doing things that were annoying for the sake of the longer term vision or goal.

I think this is something that has become especially important over the last year of the pandemic. It has become especially important as we navigate what this new normal of life looks like. 

The pandemic really cracked open a lot of things for people who weren’t necessarily paying attention before. And I feel like we’ve entered this space where not just race and science have come under attack, but also mental health. 

This is always something that I’ve been very vocal about in the general sense with my friends, but it’s not necessarily something that I share personally about myself. And I’ve just had this deriving desire to normalize this as much as possible, with my friend groups, and on social media, about the struggles that I’ve been having. 

It’s been interesting, because I think as humans are going through things that are hard, we just automatically think that we’re the only ones experiencing those things. So to share those publicly with people, and then hear other people say, me too…it can be very validating. It certainly makes you feel less alone. 

So I would love to talk about the trauma of the past year. How can people deal with that? I don’t know if that’s exactly the way I want to say it, but how can we recognize this trauma and then work through it? 

There’s personal trauma in the sense that maybe you’ve had COVID, and now you’re dealing with long-term effects. Maybe you’ve lost someone from COVID, maybe you’ve lost a job, or clients or revenue. There’s many, many individual traumas that we’ve had. But we’re also experiencing a collective trauma in the sense that it’s been difficult to travel and see your family and friends. We haven’t been able to move around as much as we used to. And then there’s this collective fear and anxiety of getting sick and the number of people who have died. It’s a lot. 

And so how can we recognize this trauma? I feel like some people still don’t necessarily view it as trauma.

My understanding and relationship with trauma really came to light in the postpartum period after my second kid was born. I really struggled with my mental health in the most serious way that I had in my whole life. Managing mental health has been something that’s been part of my story since I was a teenager. I would take mental health days in high school when I felt too overwhelmed or like I wasn’t equipped to cope at the time. 

This has always been a part of my journey but what I see reflected in the year we’ve had of the pandemic that was also true in postpartum was that all of these external methods of support and survival have been taken away from us. Humans are social creatures, we depend on healthy connection for vitality as a species. And everything that we knew was taken away at the same time that all of this scary shit started getting thrown at us. Because it was brand new. 

This is part of where that understanding of trauma comes into play. Trauma is how the body not just processes, but stores, the experience that you have. So it’s not just about the event itself. It’s about how the individual interprets it, the meaning you make of it and how you move forward from it.

Humans are social creatures, we depend on healthy connection for vitality as a species. Click To Tweet

And that’s even to say that other past trauma that you’re bringing forward from early childhood also informs how you react to what’s going on right now.

Right. 100%. 

We see this input and reaction cycle of there being a stressor, which is the thing that’s happening outside of us that we are responding to, and then we have the stress reaction, which is the actual physical response in our body. That’s the tightening of the muscles. It’s the flushing of the cheek, it’s the sweating. It’s the sign that we are taking an input and trying to decide how we’re interpreting the threat. 

Then there’s the actual reaction that we have. All of those experiences stack in our body unless we process them and move them through. So again, because so much of the last year, it’s not just that we weren’t equipped for what was coming. But it was also that things changed so quickly that we didn’t get a chance to process one scary thing before the next thing happened. 

The body depends on the stress cycle coming to completion. It has a stress relaxation response. That’s how we are wired to survive. And we haven’t been able to have that actual completion.

I feel like we’re still looping around this. It’s been things piling on top of things piling on top of things. This has been a very intense year, not just in terms of a global pandemic that has killed millions of people, but also in racial injustices and an attempted coup on the government. There’s been so much shit that has happened in the past year, that affects everyone on a global scale. 

The racial injustices, issues we’ve had with the government in America, that stuff bleeds into the rest of the world, because we are a global economy. And I wish that we didn’t, but we have a lot of influence on the international stage. This isn’t just about us at all, and it is absolutely expanding beyond us.

It’s such a mindfuck to really wrap your head around the concept of what’s happening on this collective level. It’s a reflection of individual choices and these things are so interrelated and mirror back on each other. 

We are being made responsible as individuals for a systemic problem, which to a degree is not fair. And at the same time, as individuals, we are responsible for the role that we play in the systems that are in place right now. 

My brain is trying to give me several thoughts here at once, because the conversation around how we deal with the trauma, how we practice self-care in the midst of everything does involve that practice of inhalation-exhalation. Contract and expand. Individual and collective. Knowing that those things are always going to be innately related.

We are being made responsible as individuals for a systemic problem, which to a degree is not fair. And at the same time, as individuals, we are responsible for the role that we play in the systems that are in place right now. Click To Tweet

Yeah, in this time in history, I keep calling it civil rights 2.0 because I very much think that that’s what we’re living through right now. It is a further dismantling of a system that has pretended to be deracialized. It’s pretended to be equitable,and equal for so long and it clearly is not. 

I think the pandemic highlighted a lot of that as well and brought it to light. It shone a light on a lot of our dark places that people who weren’t actively engaged in anti-racism work were like, oh, we didn’t realize what was going on. We were too blinded by our own privilege. 

So it’s woken up a lot of things and a lot of different people. It’s so interesting watching it on a collective level. But then you have to remember that your own personal thoughts, feelings, actions, feed into how you act towards others, which then becomes part of the collective. 

That’s such an interesting part of what it is that we’re dealing with, because you’re a piece, but you’re also a piece of the whole. You have your individual experiences and then you have the collective experience on top of that. It’s navigating both but to me, I almost think that when you are able to work on your individual experiences and heal that and work through it and be able to process it, it naturally ripples out into the people around you because you then are able to think, feel and show up differently in the world and create a different experience.

It’s the cliche of you can’t pour from an empty cup. I talk about this a lot because how can you talk about self-care without talking about the cup that runneth over. 

So talking about when we look at filling our own cup, we talked about how you can’t pour from empty and you can’t give to somebody else, what you don’t have for yourself. And this is one of those things that we pay a lot of lip service to without actually digging into not only what that means, but what happens if you keep trying to pour past empty. If you do, you start pouring from resent and you start pouring from your worst expression of self. But like you said, when you fill your stores first, it ripples out. And that’s the only time that you can actually have the change that you want. 

So talking about when we look at filling our own cup, we talked about how you can't pour from empty and you can't give to somebody else, what you don't have for yourself. Click To Tweet

I saw a really great Ted Talk the other day and it was a woman who was talking about that exact analogy, the whole pour from an empty cup thing. But she was using a glass that was broken. So the glass is broken and she can only fill it up maybe about an inch or an inch and a half with water. But she’s like, what if your cup isn’t empty but what if your cup is broken because you’re dealing with unresolved trauma or unresolved pain, or you’re not seeking the help that you need to fix your cup before you can even fill it up. So she filled the cup up. And then she was like, this is my cup full. But there’s not a lot of water in here because it’s broken. If I wanted to be able to fill up other people’s cup from my cup, I would have to be constantly refilling my cup and that was possible. 

That’s no way to live. I have to deal with myself and I have to fix my broken cup first before I can deal with others, right? It’s why airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you help someone out. Because if you’re struggling to breathe, you’re not going to be as helpful to the person that you’re trying to help than if you were okay. 

That was one of those things, mirroring the postpartum and pandemic experience, that was really brought to light for me and really shapes the work that I do now because it helped me to identify this framework that I call the four R’s for practicing self-care and setting boundaries. 

When you’re at that place where you have that broken cup and you’re not capable of filling it up, until you take care of yourself, I identify that as being in retreat. When we talk about our stress responses, fight or flight is when you’re dealing with something that is threatening or you’ve been wounded and you need to retreat so that you can heal, so that you can actually show up and start to give to other people. 

Talking about your struggles does not make you weak because it’s actually a sign of health to be able to identify something is wrong and I need to do something about it. 

I think that’s so important because, and this is part of when I was really in a low place with my depression, what starts to happen is that you lose the capacity to challenge that inner narrative that is telling you things that aren’t true. That is telling you that things won’t get better. That is telling you that you can’t ask for help. That is telling you that nobody cares. 

If you cannot challenge those voices, then that means that you are in retreat and you’re actually not too far gone because that’s not the case. But that’s a sign of trouble versus to be able to be honest and identify that something is causing you to struggle so that you can deal with it. That’s actually healthy and that’s when you’re in recovery. That’s a normal part of the human experience.

You have to have a certain level of awareness in order to be able to even seek the help that you need, right? In AA, the first step is admitting that you have a problem or something like that. I feel like that is very applicable to pretty much any area that you’re struggling in. You have to be able to admit that a problem exists. Because if you don’t believe a problem exists or you aren’t willing to look and see where a problem exists, then it’s almost impossible to fix it if you don’t think there’s anything to fix. 

I love that you say talking about it means that you’re going in the right direction because I feel like it’s an issue that a lot of people have because they think it makes them look weak, or ill-adjusted or they don’t have their shit together and it’s like newsflash, no one has their shit together. Some of us are just better at pretending that it’s together than others.

Because if you don't believe a problem exists or you aren't willing to look and see where a problem exists, then it's almost impossible to fix it. Click To Tweet

I think for me, it’s about how attached am I to my shit versus how am I able to just let it be a wave that changes and comes and goes. There’s a lot of imagery for me at play here with the human emotions and the sea, waves and debris and shipwrecks and drowning and all of those things. 

It’s not black and white, like you are healthy or you are not healthy. There’s a gradient in there that you have different signs and symptoms and are you listening to them?

Because negative emotions are a normal part of the human experience. And this is something that took me so long to internalize. I had to read this message. I had to listen to it on podcasts dozens and dozens and dozens of times because I’m slow on the uptake sometimes. Being angry, being sad, being frustrated or annoyed or whatever. These are normal parts of the human experience. You’re supposed to feel those things. 

Sometimes it’s okay if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day and you don’t do anything about it. I woke up yesterday and I was just irritated. I don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t sleep very well. Whatever the reason was, I woke up and I was just irritated. A year ago, I would have woken up and I would have felt irritated for no diagnosable reason. And I would have been mad at myself all day for being irritated for no reason. And then I would have just had a really shitty day. The day would have been worse because I was judging myself for being irritated for no reason. 

Whereas now when I wake up like the other day, it doesn’t matter. And by the end of the day, I didn’t know why I was irritated but I had an okay day anyway because I didn’t make that mean anything about me. It was just an emotion that I was having. I didn’t know why. It didn’t derail me. It didn’t lead me to make bad decisions. It was what it was. 

We have a toxic positivity problem in our society, especially in the world of online business. This leads to a lot of spiritual bypassing in that we assume that we have to think and feel good all of the time. One, it’s fucking exhausting to feel good all the time. And two, it’s not normal. It is not a normal part of the human experience to feel good, positive, happy, excited, whatever, 100% of the time. It’s just not how human beings are wired to exist. And thinking that way is part of the problem.

It is not a normal part of the human experience to feel good, positive, happy, excited, whatever, 100% of the time. Click To Tweet

We miss out on so much if we are too afraid to lean into the things that we aren’t comfortable with, or if we aren’t able to engage with them in healthy and productive ways. I often talk about listening to the feelings, but not always acting on what they say, because the information they contain is important. The ideas that they have for action are not always top-notch. 

If we talk about the stressor, the physical stress or feelings response, and then how we react, we feel this insane sense of urgency to react right away when what we really need to do is create the space to stretch out that processing pocket to actually then lean into what’s there. Because sometimes resolving the feeling or meeting the need, it doesn’t actually involve doing anything about it on the other side. 

How we take care of ourselves on that mental and emotional level is that it’s not always about doing the thing. I think it’s often about just creating that space to process and to be honest, so that when you do take the action, it is the most aligned and honest one because honesty matters a lot here. But the truth isn’t always easy to get to.

Yeah, I love that. Honesty matters a lot but the truth isn’t always easy to get to. That’s a good one. It’s so true because you don’t always need to diagnose the problem. And I think that’s something that gets skewed. 

I know a lot of my business friends, a lot of people in the business community, they read a lot of self-help books. We’re all into personal development. I don’t think you can build a business successfully and enjoy it at the same time without learning about yourself and working through some of your issues and your blocks and all that stuff. So there’s a big message behind personal development that you always need to figure out where that comes from. 

Anybody that has ever read any sort of book, it’s just like, where does that come from? You don’t always need to figure out where the fuck it comes from. It’s okay. When the thing is pissing you off and you don’t know why or you feel like you have to run away or bad things will happen, you don’t have to diagnose what that means in the moment.

When your system is pumping adrenaline and you’re either frozen or afraid or ready to run, you don’t have to diagnose, in that moment, what that means for you. It’s okay to process the feelings when you’re ready and able to process them. I promise as someone who has tried to do this, for a very long time, part of my personal development work was I was really irritated with myself when I could not recognize in the moment of a really intense, anxious situation, why I was so anxious or upset. 

I finally realized it’s not necessary. It’s not necessary in that moment of intense anxiety to know why I’m intensely anxious. It’s okay to have distance from that situation and distance from that feeling. Let my body’s natural mechanisms finish protecting me from whatever they were protecting me from before I tried to logically figure out what was going on there. That’s something that’s so important when it comes to dealing with the very intense traumas that you have. Whatever it is that they are, you do not have to do that from a place of intense physical reaction. This is not something that you have to figure out in the moment.

It's okay to have distance from that situation and distance from that feeling. Click To Tweet

This also works that is never really done. As much progress as I’ve made in my ability to not just identify those elements and to do what I can to improve my reaction, but also to facilitate repair after the fact. I’ve grown so much in my ability to do that. As you keep going deeper into this work, you just start realizing more areas that need it, you start to see where those patterns spill out. And often there’s this moment of like, Oh, my God, this is never going to go away. Because this is part of the experience. We’re trying to build strong connections and relationships with each other. And we cannot do that without a grounded, centered self.

One thing that really helped me is that the goal isn’t to end up perfect. The goal is to create tools for ourselves so that we can handle whatever situations come up and trigger us in the moment. This is especially easy to illustrate when we talk about things like money blocks. Money shit that comes up for people. But I think this is also very apt in the pandemic because I just feel there’s some aspect of this bullshit we’re going to be dealing with for a long time. 

There’s always going to be something else, right? Money is the easiest way to illustrate this. You might be perfectly fine with how you figure out getting to $100,000 a year. You have all the tools that you needed to get you to six figures and now you want to get to seven figures. That is a whole different set of shit that’s going to come up. 

You are not fixed when you get to six figures. You now have to create new tools to get to seven figures because that’s a different place that requires different things from you. When I was able to learn and to figure out that the goal is not to reach a specific destination because the destination will always change. 

The goal is to learn tools to get me from where I am to where I want to go. And then do the process over again. It’s just a continual evolution of who you are and how you deal with your shit, and, and how easy it is for you to recognize that this is a process that is ongoing for you and for your development as a human being. Then, when you embrace that concept, I feel like it just makes it so much less stressful. It just makes the whole process less stressful because you don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong. There were many times where I felt like I was doing it incorrectly because I thought that once I got there, I thought the struggles were going to be over. 

Not accurate. Once you figure out how to deal with the old shit, new shit pops up because you’ve been dealing with the old shit. So the old shit doesn’t trigger you the way that it used to. It doesn’t pop into your consciousness and stop you from doing things the way that it used to. Now you got new shit over here that you need different tools for.

There is no arriving. There’s just where you are. I don’t think it’s possible to get to that place of acceptance until you can step out of judgment for yourself. And like you said, it’s that sense of enoughness. I don’t think that we ever arrived. What we’ve been really conditioned to do is to fill that cup of validation externally and look for those markers of success and enoughness from outside of ourselves. And what this call really is, is to find that sense of enoughness internally first. It sounds so simple to assert that you are worthy and accept yourself as you are, as you’re moving through this experience. Yeah, so simple. Fuck off.

What we've been really conditioned to do is to fill that cup of validation externally and look for those markers of success and enoughness from outside of ourselves. Click To Tweet

Yeah, fuck off, which is exactly what I used to say. There’s a person that I used to follow way back when I first got into online business. And she used to say, when things would come up, things that would put her into like an anxiety response, she would get curious about them. I used to be like, fuck off. That’s not something that people do. But it is. I do that now a lot more than I used to because it is curious to me once I’ve throttled back from thinking I have to address this in the moment. That I have to stop my panic attack from happening while it’s happening. 

The only way I’ve ever been able to do that is just a specific breathing exercise, right. I’m not logically thinking with the logical brain during a panic attack. Those things happen now where I think, that’s so interesting. I used to think that she was so full of shit when she would say that. So if you’re listening, pretty sure you know who you are and I apologize. 

You have to remember that you’re not going to a certain place. You’re just existing where you are, like you said. I think that once you get to that point, the work becomes easier. It becomes different. And to me, it became more manageable.

Looking at how the work just becomes different. Meeting yourself where you’re at to come back to how we’re facing all of this shit. Now, 13 months into the pandemic, when our resources have been depleted for that long but we’re still dealing with the same, if not increasing external pressures. 

When we step into that unpacking of this is how I reacted, it’s so easy to go into that place of judgment. Why don’t I know better? Why am I not doing better and to be able to take that extra step back and say because you’re having a really hard time as a human being and extending that compassion. 

Something the pandemic has really amplified for me is that I’m someone who, while I love my kids, I didn’t take to parenting super easily or naturally because of my personality. When my kids have really big feelings, it’s really confronting for me because I can’t control their behaviors or their reactions. Being able to hold the space for their feelings and then instead of being like, why aren’t you listening? And why aren’t you obeying me to be like, hey, it looks like you’re having a hard time. Can you tell me why you’re struggling? To extend that compassion to myself, as well. It is the only way that I’m surviving the turbulence that we’ve been navigating.-

That’s so good. I started my professional career as a teacher and it was always really eye-opening to me how many adults don’t think about children as being human beings with their own thoughts, feelings, fears, sovereignty. 

We tend to want to make them obey. I don’t know why we’re teaching that. And I don’t know why that’s the core thing we decided we need to teach children is to obey authority. I mean, I could guess. I have speculation. Patriarchy. 

A lot of adults want to bend children to their will. Like, I can make this person who’s going to do whatever I say no matter what. When really, kids get scared. Kids have their own thoughts, feelings, about a situation. And you’re not doing them any favors by teaching them to stuff those feelings down and not address them in a healthy way. Then they become adults who don’t know how to feel their feelings and address them in a healthy way. And the cycle starts all over again.

To reflect that sense of like, you cannot give to somebody what you do not have for yourself. I can’t hold an emotionally safe space for the big feelings of my four-year-old and his rage if I’m not capable of holding a safe space and sitting with my own feelings of rage. Rage is not a bad thing. Anger is a symptom of moral courage, moral injustice. Something is wrong when we get angry. I don’t want to train that out but at the same time, with our feelings comes the responsibility of what we do with them. And with that responsibility, that depends on the role that we occupy.

There’s this line around the relationships that we have with others. How am I managing my feelings as I show up and have my impact and influence and we come back to those ripples.

Rage is not a bad thing. Anger is a symptom of moral courage, moral injustice. Click To Tweet

Absolutely. Whatever you do for yourself, you can give yourself the tools and the space to be able to do for others in a way that is constructive.

There’s a bit of a paradigm shift from that idea of teaching up. Do as I say versus do as I do.

Yeah, do as I say, not as I do. I heard that a lot growing up. Many people in our age group did.

We call bullshit on that value gap.

We don’t like that. No, we don’t. Very hypocritical grown-ups. 

So when we talk about the effects of the stress and the trauma of this pandemic year, how is it that we can address that? What specific steps can we take to acknowledge it if we haven’t acknowledged it yet? I have friends of mine, we’re constantly reminding each other of what we’ve been dealing with. She’s like, I don’t know why I’m so stressed. That’s a very common phrase that pops up in a lot of my friend groups, and I’m like, oh, gee, let me just list off everything that you’ve been going through for 15 months. No wonder you’re stressed. 

It has just become a normal part of our existence at this point to be dealing with all this stuff. And I think a lot of the time, we’re not even recognizing it on a conscious level. We are still going through a collective, and in many ways, individual traumas. If you’ve been personally touched by COVID, or the racial injustices or police brutality or so many things to list, the trauma is ongoing. Especially if you’re in a marginalized community of color, the trauma is ongoing. 

How can we recognize that in ourselves and then also take care of ourselves in such a way that we can come out the other side and begin to heal when we have the opportunity to do that? I know that’s a big ask.

It’s hard because the longer that I do this work, the less that I feel like I can list off a “how-to” for anybody. I know what’s gotten me through this last little while, for better or worse, has been being able to create that safe space, setting the boundaries, so that I can process the clusterfuck of input that I am taking in. So that I can sit with my feelings and work through them to get to the other side. To name them and then meet them in the capacity that I have. Because my brain keeps trying to come up with the word when two things are in contradiction, and I can’t come up with that right word right now. That thing of knowing that we don’t have the capacity to fully tend to everything that’s happening, but being able to put a pin in it and tend to it in the ways that we can so that we can keep making it through the day, and getting up the next day and fighting the good fight. 

That safe space for me, what that looks like, is a combination of journaling and writing. It is the best way for me to get through the clutter of my thoughts. And also having those people that I can talk to. I use Voxer a lot and group chats, but knowing specifically that, for me what a safe space means is, it’s people who understand that when I’m saying something, I need it to be received with impermanence. Just because I’m having a flare of intrusive thoughts doesn’t mean that you have to call a social worker, per se. 

When we can validate each other's feelings, then we find that anchor. Click To Tweet

To be able to tune into that and also, to know that I don’t always need to solve for it. So having people who can provide that space and then also be able to mirror back to me, a version of myself that keeps me grounded. When we can validate each other’s feelings, then we find that anchor. That honesty piece becomes really important because if I say to my friends, I’m so stressed today, the kids are out of school again because of a COVID exposure, work is doing this, and they’re just like, but on the bright side, you haven’t lost your house. It’s just kind of like…

Oh, my god. I hate that shit.

Thank you, Karen. I know that I still have a house. That does not invalidate all the other difficult things I’m going through right now.

Safe space says, of course, you’re struggling. What you are going through is such a hard thing.

Cultivating those spaces is so important. I don’t think I would have made it through the last year, as put together and level as I am, despite how difficult this year has been in a myriad of ways for me personally, without those spaces. Certainly, I think the pandemic has made me so much more cognizant. 

Before I even say something that I’m struggling with, I specifically ask for what I need out of the conversation. There are times where I’ve gone into the conversation, where I’ve just been dealing with what I call mind trash, it’s just shit that is floating around in my brain. I know that it’s not true logically, but it’s just in there and it’s stuck. And I’m in some sort of anxiety response. And I’ll go into a group chat that I’m in with my two best friends and I’ll say, I know that none of what I’m about to say is true. Logically, I know that that’s not true, but I need someone to tell me X, Y, and Z. 

And then I’ll just list off whatever it is that I’m really struggling with and they will come back to me and they will not offer unsolicited advice. They will not talk over me, they will not downplay whatever it is I’m dealing with, they will not tell me that I’m wrong for asking for what I need. They will just instantly give it to me. 

Of course, you’re amazing. Of course, that’s difficult, of course, whatever. And to be able to create that kind of container, it validates what you’re going through. It gives you what you need without having to launch into some deep explanation about it. And it has allowed me to come out of those places so much faster by being able to have that space. 

My god, I could talk for days about how fucking valuable that is to have.

Before I even say something that I'm struggling with, I specifically ask for what I need out of the conversation. Click To Tweet

I think that what you mentioned is so important. To be able to enter the space saying and knowing ‘this is what I need’ is a critical component of it. Because it’s not fair to ask people to read your mind. If you don’t know what you need, how can you ask them to meet your needs? If there’s so much going on, you don’t even know what you need, then you need processing. Therapy is a great place to find that initial processing.

I have cried on many therapists.

That aspect specifically for me is about how I am emotionally taking care of myself through this time. I really suggest singing in the car for processing emotions. My most recent therapy appointment was like 45 minutes of crying and processing and then at the end, I’m like, but on the bright side, I’m really liking gardening right now.

It’s a weird juxtaposition where it’s not the end of the world. You know that this feeling is not going to last forever. It’s going to end eventually and you just need to get it out. As you said, you just need to process it with someone who’s available for you to process that.

What I’ve learned through the pandemic, by going into a conversation being like, here’s what I’m struggling with and here’s what I need, my friends also have the permission to tell me I’m not emotionally available for that. Moments when I needed to vent about something, I go to my friends first and they can say they’re not in the emotional headspace to give me what it is that I need right now. Okay, cool. I’m not interested in overburdening them and making them my therapist. 

So then I’ll go to someone else. It’s a continual process. This is what I need, can you give this to me? And then depending on what the answer is, I either ask to get it from them or I go to somebody else. That’s an equally important part of creating that container.  Whenever you need to work on it, it is a give and take. And if they can’t handle it, you’re not doing yourself or them any favors by unburdening yourself on them only to then burden them with whatever it is you’re dealing with.

You cannot have self-care without having community care. Click To Tweet

You cannot have self-care without having community care. And the place where that relational magic happens is where things are mutually beneficial. Where we can take turns leaning on each other, needing each other. It’s part of what makes the human experience so rich. It’s having those experiences of struggle and of need and of hurt. It’s not the thing to avoid. It’s part of what is part of what makes us also beautiful.

I love a good cleansing cry. That was another thing I used to make myself feel really weird about. Why am I crying? Crying was not a thing that you did in my house growing up. You did not cry about shit. If you did cry about shit, you were either being overly emotional,  because I’m a woman, or you’re being a big baby. 

So crying was not a fucking thing that we did in my house. So I hated crying for a very long time. Even if no one ever was around to see me. Even if I was all by myself, if I just needed a good cleansing cry, I was like, What is wrong with me? Why am I crying? And then I realized that it is just the best way to release whatever emotion you’re experiencing. Especially if you don’t know what that emotion is. 

It’s just the best way to release that emotion. Sometimes I still have an issue crying and I will put on a sad movie. I’ll put on a sad song to get it out.  Every single time, I might have a headache from crying but I also feel so much better releasing the emotions from my body. 

I feel like that’s a message to give yourself what you need. Give yourself what you need to process your emotions in whatever way is healthy and safe and isn’t going to harm anyone else in the process. I feel like that’s an important disclaimer to put in there. 

100% give yourself what you need in order to process because this is an ongoing trauma for a lot of people everywhere. You have to be able to give yourself what you need in the moment to process and get through it. If you can’t get through it and you’re maintaining that stress and anxiety in your body longer than necessary because you’re trying to avoid it, it doesn’t make it better. It just means you’re gonna have to deal with something way bigger later.

The stress response will stack like a bad debt. And eventually, it’s going to come due. What your body needs is that opportunity to complete the cycle so that you can move on and move through.

The stress response will stack like a bad debt. And eventually, it's going to come due. Click To Tweet

Yeah, the collective trauma continues but you have to be able to take it in and process it when you’re able to. 

We had a great conversation in one of my friend groups the other day where my friend, who’s a woman of color, she’s an amazing leader for her community, and a role model for a lot of other women of color in the online space because there aren’t enough of them. We look up to far too many white men and women in the online space.

The Chauvin verdict was coming out and she said, I feel like I should say something about it, to my community to be a leader and to support them but I just don’t know if I can. I was like, that’s okay. It’s okay to not process that with them in public right now. You can wait until you’ve processed it yourself and then you can say something about it. And that’s okay. 

And that’s what she ended up doing. It’s okay to process it the way that you need to process it before you try to share about it.

Especially when it comes to these really hard things because the Internet has no shortage of opinions on what people think. The longer that we’re in this state of depletion, the less kind people get. To expose our wounds when we haven’t yet found healing really just opens us up to more damage. 

The metaphor visual that I often use, it’s almost like a stack of cups, where you have concentric circles with your cup in the middle. The circles extend out of there, and then you stretch it up. And as you start with those most concentric circles, there’s yourself, there’s your immediate core of family and friends as you stretch out and get farther into your social connections, as you go down this stack of cups.

Because we have been taught to seek that external validation first, if we are dealing with our processing and the thing that needs healing, which should be at this top center cup, and we’re starting with reaching out to those farthest limits, what we’re really doing is opening ourselves up for a lot of hurt. If we haven’t taken care of ourselves, we’re more likely to lash out defensively to protect ourselves because we’re in survival mode. 

You don’t have to operate from a place of survival mode. It is okay for you to process what you need to process and then talk to your audience about it. There’s someone I follow who basically says you don’t have to share wounds, you can share scars. 

Share from the scar, not from the wound.

I have really loved this conversation today. I’ve been looking forward to recording it with you for many weeks now. I’m glad we were finally able to get together and do it. I really appreciate you being here and talking with you about this and sharing your expertise because I think it’s a conversation that is just so needed right now, not just in pandemic times. Eventually, this will fade itself out where this won’t be such a big issue anymore, hopefully, sooner rather than later, but I think the topic of stress and dealing with trauma in your body and processing through it is perennially important. So I really appreciate you being here. 

Thank you so much for having me. I love this conversation.

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About Justine Sones

Justine Sones is a writer and stress management coach who loves drinking coffee, helping burnt-out humans set boundaries, and talking about things that hurt. During her career as a massage therapist, Justine’s practice was dedicated to exploring the roles that stress, pain, and relaxation play in healing the physical body. She came to realize that the support her clients needed required more than a massage, and made it her mission to help them. 

Justine now spends her time writing about feelings and coaching other over-functioning humans develop healthy boundaries and practice sustainable self-care as they navigate the messy intersections of partnering, parenting, -preneuring, and pandemicking.

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