Dealing with Trauma & Stress in a Pandemic – Christi Garner

Dealing with Trauma & Stress in a Pandemic – Christi Garner

In March 2020 the world as we knew it changed forever when we were hit with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The trauma of something unlike anything experienced in our lifetime and the stress of working about family, work and safety has weighed heavily on people’s minds.

Whilst navigating our way out is a slow process, dealing with the trauma and stress is likely to be an ongoing issue.  When we are stress or traumatised, we are generally no were near as productive as we would like to be in ANY part of our lives.

In this episode I speak with Christi Garner, a US based Trauma Educator who utilises EDMR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, an interactive psychotherapy technique used to relive psychological stress in her practice to help clients deal with trauma and stress.

To find out more about Christi visit www.traumaeducator.com

To find out more about EDMR visit www.edmr.com

Transcription

Donna Hanson: Hello and welcome to this Expert Insights episode I’m Donna Hanson in this Expert Insights episode we speak with Christi Garner. Christi is a trauma educator who utilizes EMDR therapy for trauma resolution have to say that slowly. EMDR Therapy using interactive psychotherapy technique used to relieve psychological stress. It’s an effective treatment for trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. I know Christi does a lot of work with first responders and given more ease and what has been happening around the world with the code 19 pandemic. I was curious to find out more about EMDR. How it helps and how it can help everyday people deal with trauma or the impact of the fall at a pandemic brings to mental health. Hi Cristi. Thanks for coming on the show today.

Christi Garner: Hey, Donna. Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Donna Hanson: Before we start, how did you get into EMDR and can you explain a bit more about what it is.

Christi Garner: Absolutely, so EMDR is eye movement desensitization reprocessing. And what that means is you move your eyes from side to side. So you stimulate the right and left side of your brain. Bilateral stimulation and a lady named Francine Shapiro came up with it and she says she was walking through Central Park in New York City, and she was
Feeling these memories and these thoughts about something that was really bothering her and had been going on for a while, and she noticed that she was walking. She kept looking from right to left and right to left and right to left. For a while, and then she sat down on a bench and she noticed she felt a whole lot better. And she was like maybe there’s something to this whole thing. So she started experimenting. So I think it’s been maybe 20 or 30 years since that day in the park and she’s run lots of tests. And people use it all over the world for lots of different things, but mostly to decrease the effects of trauma in the body in mind after distressing events.

Donna Hanson: And there’s certainly a certainly a fair few of those going on at the moment, isn’t It?

Christi Garner: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been in town therapist for like 20 years working on the front lines with all sorts of people survivors and EMDR is kind of like what I call the most somatic natural therapy, so am EMDR uses your body’s natural responses to help you move through the trauma. And I noticed or my 20 years of working that that is where people get the most relief is where they really tune in to the body’s natural response for healing and I wanted to dive deeper into that. So I did some EMDR training and try that on myself and I was amazed at the results. So I became a therapist in it myself.

Donna Hanson: So, it sounds to me like it’s a bit like the psychological equivalent of your body self-healing when you cut it or something along those lines, but taking a more proactive approach rather than with your finger, it’s, a natural healing process that just happens without any conscious thought

Christi Garner: Absolutely, yep. Similar the body kind of puts everything back where it goes. When you go through EMDR so that’s the thing I think is amazing. Choosing our body’s natural response not kind of getting all these tools and techniques and having to do them the right way and just kind of follow the body’s natural inclination and that’s where the healing happens

Donna Hanson: Hmm, interesting. Well thanks for that. So it’s strange times at the moment with the global pandemic. What have you observed during this time as it relates to EMDR and in your work.

Christi Garner: Sure. So let’s just talk about trauma in general. Right EMDR is used when you’re trying to really relieve something that’s been very distressing and something that you can’t really get through on your own. And I think right now. We’re all in the middle of a very distressing event and all of our bodies are extremely tax and we’re all having a hard time or you know, we’re using our coping mechanisms that maybe aren’t the best or healthiest or easiest for everyone around us to cope with what’s going on. So I think that we’re seeing a lot of course 27% increase in alcohol sales all over the world. So some coping skills right people are sleeping or can’t sleep drinking too much, probably more pizzas bought than have ever been bought in the history of grocery stores. I don’t know for sure. But just a lot of coping skills right people really trying to deal with their emotions and not quite knowing how to do that. So I think just seeing a lot of agitation relationships either falling apart or getting closer. We’re seeing a lot of extremes, you know. Yeah, yeah.

Donna Hanson: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I notice it here because I know at the time we’re recording this we’re still in lockdown in Melbourne, Australia and you know it’s challenging, you get to a point where people feel like they caged and they start to rebel and then you start to see those any coping mechanisms, they may have had, you know, start to fall away and people are looking for alternative ways of expressing their frustration and anger and disappointment and you know how they feel emotionally about all this. . So So how does trauma affect people. Well, I’m assuming, because we’re going through this pandemic. Now it’s not limited to the person who has experiences. And not suggesting that that one experience is worse than an hour, but that each person’s own experiences are extreme to them, regardless of what that experience is for them. But I’m assuming it’s not limited to trauma itself, but has a flow on affect.

Christi Garner: Yeah, absolutely. You know what I really like to explain to people is number one And I bet you’ve seen some of this in maybe your spouse or you know someone close to you in your home. You people around you that you know really well. They’re coping mechanisms like the ones that they used when they were five are the ones we’re going to start to see. So it’s not necessarily that your partner is a terrible person or that they always act this way, but something will happen, and you’ll be like, Oh my gosh. So I just say people’s worst coping skills right now are really coming to the surface. And I think that’s one way that it’s affecting every single person right and your history of trauma, your history of kind of what kind of social networks that you have right the way that you were raised, if you have like a really close knit family and a lot of support. Those people I think have a different way of experiencing what’s going on right now if you’re one of those people that’s a little bit more isolated in general and has let’s say some family members that have died and you’re kind of more alone.

You’re going to be having a totally different experience than other people. Right. So I think there’s a wide range of what’s happening. And besides our worst coping skills coming to the forefront. I think we’re also seeing this kind of one thing on top of another on top of another. Right. And so the cumulative effect of everything that’s happening is really taking a toll on our systems and we get less and less able to handle stress. To think creatively to focus right this is what I keep reminding kind of employers like people need more time off right now just to recover from the week and the news and the fires and the hurricane and the racial uprising. And with covid 19 and their family member, being in the, you know, kind of isolated in the old folks home so many things on top of each other, even if you think everyone’s doing well, they really aren’t doing their best work right now.

Donna Hanson: Yeah, that’s so true everything you said there and I think the key thing for anybody watching these is you can’t judge everyone else’s experience by your own because each experience that people are going through is individual and it, it seems, big because you’re going to write. I always love. I don’t know if you remember a show. I think it was in the 90s called Ally Mcbeal and I remember Lucy Liu saying to calista flock hart why are your problems so much bigger than everyone else’s. And I remember Ally Mcbeal looking at the camera and going well because their mind. You know, and, and I just thought that was just such a reservation to me at the time our problems seem so huge, because they belong to us. So we have an emotional attachment to them, but you don’t feel the same towards my experiences because you haven’t experienced those experiences. So it’s interesting, isn’t it? So, um, what can the collaborative we as an organization teams or families do build and incorporate all my information into policies, procedures, and practices and I’m, I’m guessing those three probably are the sorts of things we’d be doing at home, but we all have our own unwritten ways of operating in households and families don’t we?

Christi Garner: Yeah. Absolutely! And I love that question. I think it’s so needed right now to keep asking that question. What can I do for myself? What can I do? In my home with my family and what can I, how can I support this in the bigger picture of what I do every day and you know I like to give this example of my husband is such a better person when he comes home and he sits in the car or sits on the porch for five minutes and just breathes deeply right, I was talking to another friend on the phone yesterday and I said, you know, right now, really, we have to take care of ourselves. And we have to take care of our own nervous systems. I think everybody’s a little bit crunchy around the edge. Right. Yeah, a little bit activated. So staying regulated is the first way that we can affect change inside of ourselves, our families and even have those difficult conversations that we need to be having about how do we change the systems in the world right we have to be regulated. So doing the deep breathing and meditation.

Sometimes I say we don’t always need to calm down, sometimes we need to move with the energy to regulate. So, you know, I tell people like get some exercise go on a brisk walk going to run right do some push ups or, you know, do whatever it is that helps you move energy out of your body. For most of us, that’s some kind of exercise and movement. I think some people like to dance or to tai chi or, you know, some kind of yoga. Right. But there’s simple ways like just doing push ups against the wall for a couple minutes during your brakes in your day can really help to move some of that energy up and out, which helps you to stay a little bit more open and when we’re a little more regulated and open, then we can approach, all of our problems in a more creative and diverse way than if we’re got this much space, right.

Donna Hanson: Yeah.

Christi Garner: So that’s the first step for yourself for your family and for organizations. Right. It keeps saying, you got to make time for people to do this. You got to make it easy. In a meeting to come into a zoom meeting and say, hey, connect right eye. The eye is what helps us regulate our nervous systems when we’re really agitated someone else even across the zoom to saying, how are you really helps us to come into our bodies. Right. And so that’s going to help just a simple thing you can do for your job or with people. I also tell people with your kids that are going to home school right they just need a little bit more time in between and in their transitions to like

Christi Garner: Yeah.

Donna Hanson: This is a new experience around and particularly for children, you know, if you’re home-schooling you know it’s highly likely they haven’t experienced something like this before. And this is traumatic and as adults, it’s likely that in the course of your life, you’ve probably experienced some trauma, not like the type of trauma that we have. So I guess collectively as organizations as teams and as families. We’re all it’s, you know, I know it’s a cliche, but we’re all going through the same experience together and how we feel how we respond and how we react. It’s going to be different for different people. Because, for example, if, if I’m a mother and I’m working from home and I have a couple of young school aged children. It’s going to be extremely stressful for me because I’m now trying to work from home as well as home school my kids. How do I juggle all that sort of thing? So it creates a lot of stress that if I work in an organization where my manager doesn’t have children or has adult children that can that are self-sufficient in educating themselves and it makes it harder to provide empathy. Yeah.

Christi Garner: Yeah Absolutely empathy Why I say we all need to build more of it, share it because that’s what everybody needs right now, just like you said, we just don’t know what’s happening for each person.

Donna Hanson: Absolutely. So, um, you shared an idea about sort of grounding. And one of the things that your husband does when he come time and sitting out on the porch or in the car and just reconnecting so a lot of people will do that sort of thing. If they’re going physically to a workplace. Do you have a view or ideas or any insights you could share with our viewers and those who may be listening to keep them grounded in these challenging times

Christi Garner: You know, you were speaking of being in lockdown. And I think that’s been the experience of so many of us around the world. And you guys right now. And this way of what kind of routines. Do you have that bring you a little bit of peace, right, like how do you stare at some trees out your window for two minutes a day. Right. How do you make a cup of tea and really pay attention to the smells of your tea and let your body just inviting those enrolments right do you play the your favourite music as you’re showering or at the end of your day as a transition out of work into your home time right how do you actually bring in little pieces that feel like giving yourself a hug? Right. How do we give ourselves a hug, every day?

In these lots of different ways. I think that that’s an important piece and that piece of no one can do it for us. We really have to do it ourselves, you know, and just really showing up. And I think the other thing, right, there’s this piece of we’re really trying to cultivate resilience. We’re trying to cultivate our nervous systems being able to handle a larger amount of this dysregulation uncomfortable and uncertainty. So have you do that and that is the other piece of being able to kind of regulate even when things are a little bit bigger than you think you can handle. So my best tip for that is cold Shower adding 123 minutes of cold water your shower at the end of the day, or you can start by splashing cold water in your face. But right the body when it feels that cold water is immediately going to constrict. Yeah. And so what will you want to do is we want to help our systems.

When that constriction happens to breathe through that right so that’s that minute of cold water, the end of your shower. You’re really teaching your system that you know it feels like this. It’s actually OK. Right. And we’re going to be okay to live through this minute of cold water every day so those kinds of tips of how we stretch. Just a little bit further. That’s really what we also need to be practicing right now.

Donna Hanson: I think I’m one of the things I’ve learned over the years is, you know, when I recognize in my head that I’m stuck in a particular place. And I don’t like that place.
you know, you talked about going back to exercise for a lot of people as being the one thing I just think about how can I change my state.
So if for example you know I’m craving some chocolate or some junk food or something. I have this trigger now in my head where I go. Okay, well, you know, if I still feel like that, after I’ve had a drink of water. Then I’ll go for it. And I tried to pace it out to take away that urge for something that I know consciously isn’t necessarily good for me it’s nice treat. That you know, a whole block of chocolate work well it doesn’t cut it. But like you said things like, going for a walk.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found in this in the middle of all of this. One of the things I’ve noticed is I’m noticing stuff.

So, you know, I’m blessed in living in Australia where I’m not far away from parkland so I can go for a walk and in or 10 minutes from my home. I can see they call it a mob of kangaroos grazing on the grass and it’s just amazing to walk past and watch, there’s usually one that that is watching out to protect the whole mom. And it, it seems to make eye contact with you and I swear it’s like the Mona Lisa as you know the cartoon things. It’s like the eyes are looking at your age. What class because it’s trying to assess whether you’re a threat or not. Now, you know. I’d have done that same walk for a long period of time. And sometimes you just get caught up in the business of what you’re doing that you don’t actually recognize the beauty that’s around you and I think is that something that you’ve noticed people would become a little more grounded, a little more present

Christi Garner: Yeah I think that that’s a great way to describe it. And that thing of slowing down, right, that just a little bit, like you said, taking that extra moment. To take in that scene and be like, oh wow look at that. I noticed something really small, right. Those are the little things. I think that are also building that capacity right like the world is so much bigger than what’s happening to us right in this moment. And how do you go from that micro my problems to the bigger like the stars in the sky and the mob of kangaroos, you know, this is that kind of titration of how our hearts beat right how a butterfly’s wings fly right in and out, we’re not supposed to always be at one or the other. Right. We want to cultivate the capacity to keep moving in and out both ways. So I love that example.

Donna Hanson: You have such a calming voice to get told that over time.

Christi Garner: I do. And I’m not sure if I had it before, if it’s just like the years and years of therapy that made it that way.

Donna Hanson: One of the things that I’m concerned about, particularly for organizations who might be slowly bringing staff back into the office or perhaps their requirement icing themselves with a new way of working, because I know I spoke to a client recently who said that we’re grateful that they had all their technology setup so it wasn’t that challenging to
format and equipment perspective to enable people to work from home, but it did now prompted them to reassess they’re working model moving forward and a lot more people will be working from home because you know, it’s better for their lives, etc. Or it, you know, there is no need for them to return to an office environment. So as people start to go through that return to work sort of scenario, you know, I imagine a lot of people are going to be bringing experiences and their stresses and their anxieties back to the office and happen organizations or how can families or teams.
Make sure that they don’t sort of traumatize people by bringing them back to the office or to schools, etc. In the wrong way or in a way that really all it does is just further agitates the feelings that they they’ve developed as a result of the pandemic.

Christi Garner: Yeah. So I was reading a little bit about Facebook today about how they’ve transitioned their workforce and what they’re up to. And they said, the number one thing they loved was they gave people the military is doing this to giving people the ability for the next six months or until the end of the year to do what they need to do and be as flexible as possible. And I think that that is such a great way of thinking about it, right, we’re looking at the big picture here for your employees. For your business for the way that things function. So if you say, hey, whatever is going to work for you the best over this next chunk of time we want to support you to do that? So I thought that was great that they said that. And another thing is to really hone in on the communication piece right we talked about how it really helps to help people regulate, but I think especially people in this regulating situations, the more that they know the better they feel right. We’re all trying to get a little bit of control. Over a circumstance that we really have hardly any control over so the more that you can communicate your employees exactly what you’re doing. The more you open up the communication and make those channels available for people to hop in and hear from you, once a week.

I think the better your people are going to feel about trusting you coming into that place and being able to know exactly what to expect from you. And I think that’s the number one thing that people can do right now.

Donna Hanson: Do you think this will change the team dynamics that as people come back to the workplace, because we’ve gone through this shared experience together. Do you think the dynamics of how organizations and the teams will work will become for obviously it’ll become different. But more sort of family and supportive nature rather than just being your work call a again. And that’s the box that you fit in.

Christi Garner: Yeah. You know, we’ve seen each other’s homes and offices and pets and kids and, you know, we’ve seen so much from each other over this time I think being in each other’s homes this way and you know, one of the biggest things that the surveys. Keep showing is there’s such a high level of anxiety, depression, People really not knowing how to deal with their mental health and wellness issues that I think it’s impossible now. To go back to normal. I think there’s got to be a way that we integrate a whole lot more health and wellness support into our everyday in all of our systems and make people feel like we really know that
they’re struggling and we really understand that this is such an uncertain time and moving forward. You know, how you tell someone we care about the whole picture of you and not just what you’re giving to this job or this project right now. We really want to support you as a person. I feel like businesses that aren’t doing that are going to lose tons of their employees.

Donna Hanson: And I agree with you, 100% there. I think one of the things I’ve noticed is those organizations that are demonstrating to their employees that they care about. Not just their performance and their productivity, but about their, like you said, holistic health are going to be the ones that when all of this is over opportunities are created for people to go to other jobs. People won’t want to go anywhere because the organization’s looked after them. So, I think, to a degree, how organizations respond to this crisis as will start to bring back and transition to a new normal. Will determine, you know, whether they become employers of choice and create that loyalty where realistically let’s be honest, for probably the last 20 plus years.
You know generations back considered you started working a job. And that’s where you stayed the whole Korea but now I think it’s almost like we’re circling back and there’s the possibility for organizations to retain their intellectual capital all dependent upon how they respond in the next phase of reconnecting. What are your thoughts on that?

Christi Garner: No, I absolutely agree with you, 100%. One of the things we were talking about just recently in like training right now. Like what kind of training, can we do and someone brought up. Wow. That one really feels good. That feels like you care about the people that you’re that are in your company that feels like you’re extending something saying we’re thinking about how you’re doing. And we really want you to get the skills or get the support because we really want to help you.

And I thought like, wow, if you think about that piece. And if you just incorporated one more kind of training or support system for your employees, where they felt like, Oh, that feels so good. Those people are going to do so much more work for you excel in what they’re doing, create better you know have deeper conversations with each other. Then if you just keep doing the same thing, you know. And I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about how on that new way of how do we support the people to bring out the best in them into keep them with us.

Donna Hanson: And I think there’s a really, really fine line between showing that connection to stop and just ticking the box. And I think the organizations that stand out will be able to look at something and go, this is something we need to go all in on this is not a tick the box. The. In fact, if we go down a tick the box path you’re probably going to upset a lot of people. So if you’re going to do it, do it well because this is the time that it really counts?

Christi Garner: Absolutely and you know we’ve been talking so much about pivot. And I’m like, well, this is a time to actually like source deep inside of yourself and say, what I want the next phase of my life, my business, my organization to look like. And so I think all those things you’re talking about. We create those out of that place of what do I want this to look like in 10 years. And how do we start doing those things today.

Donna Hanson: Absolutely. So I’m at us fast running out of time. And, you know, like all the other interviews I do I’m convinced we could just chat that hours. But what type of resources or programs do you have for anybody watching or listening that may be interested in exploring a conversation with you.

Christi Garner: Thank you so much for asking, Donna. I have a couple of resources on my website traumaeducator.com There’s a free download for people that are working on the front lines right now mini course. And there’s a bigger course for employers that want to bring this resilience into their teams and workplaces and there’s lots of little downloads for how to do nervous system regulation different ways that you can help yourself right now.

Donna Hanson: So it was that traumaeducator.com Yes. Okay. And we’ll make sure we got the link down below for you at Crissy thanks so much for your time today and for your insights on trauma and support and treatment to help people during these challenging times

Thanks for joining us on this Expert Insights episode. Until next time, this is productivity and technology expert Donna Hansen have an amazing week!

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