Even if we don’t personally come down with COVID-19, just hearing the constant stories of fellow Minnesotans and Americans who do have it – having those mental images and knowing that people have been harmed by it – can be traumatic. University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Psychiatry Kaz Nelson said on a recent webinar offered by the U of M Alumni Association that this is called Secondary Trauma, and it is indeed real.

“Secondary Trauma is something we’ve been thinking about for a while even outside of this context. This is an absolute real thing,” said Nelson. “And I guess that would be my main response, is to understand that this is an actual real thing and not just minimize it. Not just say, ‘Well, that didn’t happen to me. That happened to another person. What’s the problem?’ No, that’s not the right way to think about it. Even if a threat or a trauma happens to another person, we can still be impacted by it.”

Nelson, an Honors graduate of the U of M in Morris, said Secondary Trauma can lead to real health issues like anxiety, stress, sleep issues, and other medical and psychological issues. She did offer one exercise to relieve stress. With ice or ice water on your face, do a series of paced breathing repetitions, inhaling for four beats and exhaling for eight beats. This will stimulate the vagus nerve, she said, an important cranial nerve. The entire webinar can be accessed online for free at umnalumni.org/nelson.

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