Developmental Trauma & COVID-19

Date: April 29, 2020 Author: Administrative Coodinator Categories: DTAA | Events


Developmental Trauma & COVID-19

COVID-19 is bringing high levels of stress and uncertainty to many in our world today. In many respects this is a live trauma that we are experiencing in the moment each and every day. Like other traumas, it has the potential to have long term impacts. There are clear and serious physical health implications, less prominent but critical mental health considerations, financial and economic impacts, effects on social and family connections and stability, housing and safety impacts as well as the broader effect this may have on how we view the world, and our futures. This event has or will impact us all in one form or another.

However, this pandemic, and the physical distancing that is required, has the potential to impact those who have experienced and are living with developmental trauma in more fundamental ways. The DTAA, as an "action" alliance, recognizes and acknowledges this and wanted to proactively work together - collaboratively across agencies and fields of expertise, to highlight and potentially help prevent some of the negative impacts of this. This time can also be an unique opportunity to seize in some positive ways - to strengthen and deepen the nurturing relationships in our lives, to give back to our communities by keeping ourselves and others safe, and to give ourselves the gift of kindness and compassion during this very challenging time.

Invitation to Live Panel Discussion

Please join a DTAA panel for a live discussion about developmental trauma and COVID-19. Together we'd like to explore and learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on people with developmental trauma, talk about what can help and provide some helpful tips and resources.

When: Wednesday May 13, 2020
Time: 7:30 pm
Via: Zoom
Cost: None - this a free presentation!

Panelists: Leticia Gracia, MSW, RSW, Dr. Charlie Menendez, C.Psych, Susan O'Quinn, MSW, RSW.

Recommended audience: This panel discussion is for primarily for families who are parenting and/or caring for children who have experienced developmental trauma.

Questions: You can share your thoughts and questions ahead of time when you register, and/or during the panel discussion.

To register: click here.

If you'd be interested in the DTAA hosting a discussion focused on adults living with developmental trauma and/or professionals working with clients with developmental trauma during this time, please let us know at

What is Developmental Trauma?

Significant adverse childhood experiences, particularly in the first 3 years of life, can lead to profound changes in our brain and body that put people at risk. Our brains have evolved to respond and adapt to stressful experiences as a necessary survival mechanism. These adaptations can undermine healthy development and become damaging patterns or “blueprints” that determine lifelong relationships, mental and physical health, learning, living and parenting. We call this process and its impacts developmental trauma.

The Intersection with COVID-19

Developmental trauma impacts our brains and bodies. At a biological level, our stress response systems can be impacted by developmental trauma as can our immune systems. With the threat of COVID-19, stress response systems that are already activated can become even more activated; the flight, fight, freeze responses can kick in much more quickly and with greater intensity; some will become even more hyper-vigilant; some may perhaps experience more dissociation and/or be less able to arouse themselves to be present as needed. As well, it is important during this time of COVID risk that our immune systems are as strong as possible to be best able to fight this virus.

It becomes even more important for people impacted by developmental trauma to be aware of this and to treat themselves kindly and compassionately as they navigate through an event such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We know you are doing the best that you can and we are here to support you.

What Can Help?

The first priority for all families and individuals is to take care of their safety and health. They have to organize themselves to have their basic needs met - food, shelter, safe place to be, economic supports and to take reasonable precautions to increase their sense of safety.

The next priority is communicating with family, spouses, and children about how they are going to stay safe and keep their basic needs met. Having everyone involved in the plan will help reduce the level of unpredictability and vulnerability. Realistic discussions are very important.

Some families, or individual members of families, may be more inclined to deny or minimize the risks, and others may be overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty. Families will need to consider how best to respond to these issues and make plans accordingly, possibly with outside supports - maybe there are harm reduction strategies that they can use.

During the discussion, we will also discuss and elaborate on approaches such as these that can help:

  • recognizing that our internal state is the most important thing affecting our children's wellbeing; the calmer and more OK with things we can be the calmer and more OK our children will be
  • accepting the situation is frightening, that most worries about Covid 19 are rational fears
  • being kind and compassionate to ourselves; we are our children’s most important resource
  • be aware of our bodies and those of our children, and the impact of fear and anxiety on our bodily systems
  • focus on calming our physiologies through breathing exercises, movement – yoga, dance & dance parties, exercise, music, drama, improvisation, games
  • use Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris recommendations for those with high ACE's as guides – adults & kids: sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, nurturing relationships and skilled mental health support
  • focussing our thoughts and actions on what we have control over in our lives
  • seeking out and providing sensory rich experiences - soft music, scent diffusers, baking, making music, gardening, painting, crafts, bubble baths, playing with pets, playing with water, playing with sand, beads

We will respond to your questions (which you can share during registration and during the live event) and provide you with helpful tips and resources.

We hope you can join us for this special event.