2 UC professors discuss approaches for coping with trauma amid COVID-19 pandemic

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In a livestream Tuesday, two leading professors discussed practical approaches for coping with trauma and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic as a part of UC Berkeley’s virtual conversation series.

Susan Stone, Catherine Mary and Eileen Clare Hutto Professor of Social Services in Public Education at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, moderated the Q&A panel while Joyce Dorado, co-founder and director of UCSF Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools, answered questions. During the livestream, Dorado and Stone addressed issues including “trauma informed principles” based on the science of trauma, resilience and healing.

“We are all experiencing a collective trauma that’s happening here and now, so it’s normal to feel scared, it’s normal to feel frustrated, to feel grief,” Dorado said during the panel. “It’s really important for us to honor and acknowledge and accept these feelings.”

Dorado provided suggestions on how to cope with long-term difficulties caused by pandemic-related trauma and stress, such as decreasing exposure to “bad news,” especially for younger children. She added that other healthy habits include regularly exercising, maintaining a good sleep schedule, staying hydrated and not watching the news before going to sleep.

The pandemic also emphasized the structural inequality that already existed prior to the coronavirus, according to Dorado. She added that during the pandemic, low-income households, communities with fewer resources and people of color may experience “exacerbated” stress due to this structural inequality or bias.

“We can take a really good, hard look at institutional biases and actively work to dismantle them,” Dorado said during the panel. “I really have a lot of hope that since these harms are becoming even more visible to us, it can be a call to action for us to come together and hold ourselves accountable.”

Dorado also introduced six “trauma informed” principles: understanding trauma and stress, cultural humility and equity, safety and stability, compassion and dependability, collaboration and empowerment and resilience and recovery.

As part of these principles, Dorado elaborated on the importance of compassion to foster mutual wellness and help protect relational, emotional and internal safety during the pandemic.

“We’re hardwired for connection to heal us — to help us be calm when we’re stressed out — and for compassion to be such a healing thing,” Dorado said during the panel. “Compassion and connection and love are incredibly important to nurture in this situation.”

According to Dorado, by using these principles, leaders like school administrators and teachers have become more transparent with their staff.

She added that through the “embodiment” of these principals, school leaders have been able to work with their communities to solve pertinent issues caused by the pandemic.

“We need more positive emotions in order to stay healthy, more positive emotions than negative emotions,” Dorado said during the panel. “We can use this crisis as an opportunity to cultivate positive emotions like happiness, gratitude, awe, even forgiveness and compassion.”

Contact Joy Ma at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dcjoyma.