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6 Pre-Traumatic Conditions | A Summary of Dr. van der Kolk's "The Body Keeps Score"

By Jennifer Worley, LPC

This week's blog summarizes a free and open webinar by Dr Bessel van der Kolk  (author of The Body Keeps the Score) on practices to steer ourselves through new and developing traumas related to social distancing and Covid 19. Dr. van der Kolk discussed protective actions that can be taken now to help people deal directly with COVID-related stressors.  The webinar was structured by  six pre-traumatic conditions that are setting up in the shadows of personal safety and economic concerns. I focus on the first three pre-trauma conditions below and the final three will follow in next week’s blog entry.  (if you want to watch it - CLICK HERE - its free, but you do need to enter an email)

#1 Lack of Predictability (loss of a schedule, a routine or order to the day or week)

When activities moved to home, the topic of creating and keeping a schedule was discussed.  Color coded schedules organizing work, school, fitness and more were created and shared. As the days turned into weeks, the tenor changed and some found schedules were difficult to maintain or simply didn’t match the new rhythm of life.  Now, with the announcement of safer at home continuing until the end of May, it's reasonable to revisit the impact of predictability or routine while incorporating those lessons learned.  If a detailed schedule works for you, keep it!  If it hasn’t been a useful tool, consider a modification. 

Predictability can simply encompass a flow to the day that is known or expected with a few points in time that are standard for a few activities or types of activities (setting a Mon- Fri wake time or bedtime, a yoga practice in the morning etc).  

Additionally, setting up a routine in the week can help establish predictability as well.  There is latitude to decide what that means to you, but as an example it could include: scheduling a call every Tuesday with a family member or having take out every Friday.  Scheduled weekly activities such as these, in addition to constructing some predictability to the day and week, offers us something to look forward to, which is the fun part of predictability.  

#2 Immobility (loss of physical sense of agency, not taking action to resolve something)

If we consider that the stress hormones in our bodies are meant to act, protect, and take action, it follows that it is healthy to do so in some capacity. At the same time,  it’s important to release ourselves from guilt and the shoulds around physical activity.  Instead, the tackling of  immobility can be reframed with an awareness that incorporating some sense of agency into one’s routine or weekly activity for children and adults has value.  It could be a daily life task you are completing (laundry, grooming, making the bed) or something that is more time consuming or physically demanding.  Further, when you consider physical exercise in the literal sense of mobility, there are lessons to be learned from elementary classrooms across the nation.  It’s common to see teachers utilizing “brain breaks” (movement breaks) after a certain amount of sitting still has occurred.  The options here to incorporate agency and mobility are extensive especially by exercising plenty of self compassion as we explore new norms to fit the new conditions.

#3 Loss of Connection (not being able to gather, to get and give emotional feedback)

Ensuring that there is some connection between people has taken on various methods during social distancing with virtual or tele platforms taking center stage.

The power of seeing others via a screen as a bridge until people can see one another in person has been an important tool to fight against the isolation that could be present without it.  Although it may not be to the same extent or as fulfilling, connecting with groups that you did previously in a modified manner, is an important thread to maintain where possible. 

Further, If you are in the home with family members, having intentional connections such as family meals, games, music, or even tasks to be completed collectively have value in fostering connections. 

Next week’s entry will explore the remaining three preconditions from the webinar (click here to watch it now!).  Until then, Bessel van der Kolk’s statement that there are no experts in the field currently is a valuable reminder.  We are all using what we know to inform the response to the possible mental health outcomes of Social Distancing which is unknown.

Communicating and sharing of ideas and information from a place of compassion of self and others is foundational... yesterday, today and tomorrow.



If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Jenn, you can reach her via email: or call our intake line: 608-709-6972.

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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]

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