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Reflecting on the Collective Trauma of the Pandemic

By Ashley Marlow, Lower and Middle School counselor
The Lower and Middle School counselor recommends processing the last year through writing and discussion.

It’s been over a year since the pandemic forced us into a lockdown. The disruption of life as we knew it had a profound impact on mental health, with rates of anxiety and depression increasing significantly across all generations. As a way of protecting ourselves from complete mental and emotional exhaustion, many have been taking it one day at a time, eagerly awaiting the day when we no longer have to think about wearing masks, social distancing and obsessively cleaning our hands. 

While it might feel tempting to erase this era from our memories, we also have to consider how it has impacted and shaped us. Taking time to reflect on our experiences allows us to see how much growth has happened, as well as to acknowledge the losses that we’ve faced. 

COVID-19 has been described as a collective trauma that can potentially impact us for years to come. Our tendency to push forward might actually harm us in the long run if we don’t make a point to process it. Writing and/or talking about our thoughts and emotions has long been viewed as an effective way of coping with stressful events. Even if you aren’t the type to keep a regular journal, this exercise can be effective in both healing and building resilience. 

Consider creating a family journal or initiate a family discussion to reflect on the following questions regarding this unprecedented time:
  • What is something positive about the past year?
  • What has been the most challenging part of the past year?
  • What has changed, and what has stayed the same? 
  • What did holiday celebrations look like this year? What do we want to continue doing?
  • What have I learned about my neighborhood and city this past year?
  • What have I learned about myself and my family members? 
  • If I could go back to when the pandemic started, what advice would I give myself?
  • What losses have I experienced, and how did I get through them?
  • What steps have I taken to care for my physical and mental health?
  • What am I looking forward to doing once life returns to “normal”?
  • What have we learned that is most important to us during this time? How can our actions reflect that?
  • What do we want our quality time with family and friends to look like?
  • How can we prioritize our mental and physical health?
Reflecting on our experiences allows us to think about what we’ve learned and examine what changes we want to make moving forward. To quote Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” 

As we mark this strange anniversary, we can celebrate surviving a period of unforeseen circumstances and the resilience that has been built while also acknowledging how hard this time has been. The example that we set for children and adolescents in how we process this situation influences how they will process it as well. We must allow ourselves to grieve what has been lost. Simply moving on is a disservice to the significance of this moment, both from a historical and futuristic perspective. For it’s only when pain is acknowledged that healing can begin. 

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