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Resolution Burn Out and Collective Trauma

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

“New year, new me!” Usually the new year brings waves of resolutions, goal-setting, and trying (and potentially failing) to start new habits. If 2022 was a pre-pandemic year, maybe I’d encourage my clients to focus on “intentions” rather than “resolutions” to help give direction to the new year (do a quick Google search and you’ll find lots of blogs and articles like this one about setting intentions). However, we are two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and even trying to think of the upcoming year may feel overwhelming. And you know what? That’s okay.

It is okay to be entering into 2022 feeling exhausted, energized, stressed, relaxed, angry, happy, grieving, joyful— whatever feelings you may have. It’s okay to not be okay and to ask for help. You and the people around you have been through two years of a pandemic, not to mention all of the additional life stressors that don’t stop when there’s a global pandemic (such as relationship difficulties, job transitions, natural disasters, loss of loved ones, racial injustice, and political division to name a few). A kindergartener doing online school, a parent staying home to help that kindergartner while working remotely, a first responder, a frontline worker in the service industry, a startup employee— we have all lived through and continue to live through what is called collective trauma as we try to make sense of the past two years and how it fits into the upcoming year. Collective trauma can be defined as this:

The term collective trauma refers to the psychological reactions to a traumatic event that affect an entire society; it does not merely reflect an historical fact, the recollection of a terrible event that happened to a group of people. It suggests that the tragedy is represented in the collective memory of the group, and like all forms of memory it comprises not only a reproduction of the events, but also an ongoing reconstruction of the trauma in an attempt to make sense of it. (Hirschberger, 2018)

From what we know about the research surrounding trauma, it can present itself with many different symptoms including avoidance, irritability, helplessness, feeling emotionally overwhelmed, distrust, difficulty sleeping, emotional outbursts, chronic anxiety, and much more. We also know that when people experience collective trauma, it can build on top of past distressing experiences. The past two years have been unpredictable, and for many people it’s compounded with things that have already been there causing pain and stress.

But what we also know from the research about trauma is that there is hope and ways to cope with the stress and feeling of overwhelm (and EMDR can be a part of that journey!). As we enter the new year, I encourage you to be kind with yourself. Give yourself permission to feel the full spectrum of your emotions. Utilize your supportive relationships and find professional helpers who create space for you to be who you are and feel what you feel. Allow yourself to feel the pain of the past year, and the moments of joy or beauty that happened, too. Remind yourself that you’re living through collective trauma, and that it’s okay to not be okay.

P.S. If you’re interested in a structured, growth-filled way to think about 2021, our friends at Find Your Shine Therapy posted these awesome end-of-year reflection questions!

Hirschberger, Gilad. “Collective Trauma and the Social Construction of Meaning.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 9 1441. 10 Aug. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01441

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