'Trauma Drive' Could Be Why You're Unmotivated. Here's How To Handle It

Powering through your to-do list and being extremely productive can leave you with feelings of accomplishment and pride, plus a clean house and an empty inbox. You might be a natural go-getter or feel a spontaneous urge to get things done, but either way, checking tasks and chores off of your to-do list is something you can feel good about. But what happens when your productive energy suddenly dissipates? Seemingly out of nowhere, you lose all motivation and ability to push yourself to tackle even the smallest, least time-consuming item on your to-do list. Before you begin to berate yourself for being lazy and unmotivated, consider if your body is trying to communicate something to you, such as being in the throes of trauma drive.

Emotional distress, wellness, mental health, and the need for healing are all spheres that are emerging in popular discourse, and they're also all related to trauma. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as a person's emotional response following an upsetting, unexpected, or unsettling event. Traumatic situations range from breakups with romantic partners to car accidents to natural disasters. Trauma is a topic that is beginning to receive more attention in the colloquial sphere and the stigma around discussing the effects of trauma is slowly being dismantled. Responses to traumatic events are highly individualized and unique, so know that whatever reaction you have is okay. Across the span of emotional responses that people have to traumatic events, trauma drive is one you should know about.

Recognizing and understanding trauma drive

It's important to make it known that no two people respond to the same traumatic event in identical ways, nor does anyone process trauma in exactly the same way as someone else does. When it comes to working through emotional responses to traumatic events, each person's healing journey is unique, including the amount of time it takes to heal from a traumatic experience. There are some common signs to help identify an emotional response to trauma, though, including trauma drive. If you find yourself accomplishing your to-do list with a voracity you've never had before, then suddenly feeling depleted and your motivation gone, this could be a way of your body trying to signal that you need to heal physically, emotionally, and mentally, per Apartment Therapy. Trauma drive is a way your body and mind can respond to a traumatic situation by busying yourself with focus-driven tasks, chores, and even assignments you've been putting off for far too long. By keeping your mind and body focused on other things, your instinctive protective factors have activated to prevent you from thinking about the traumatic event. However, this dynamic can only last for so long. Eventually, when your body is ready to begin healing, you'll find your energy and motivation zapped.

A 2012 study published in European Journal of Psychotraumatology determined that motivation levels following traumatic events can be both a response to emotional distress and a side effect of it, hence the dynamics of traumatic drive.

Embrace the restful healing stage

After you've experienced a sudden drop in motivation following a period of extensive productivity, you may also notice signs of physical exhaustion, reports Apartment Therapy. Intensive productivity or busying yourself with chores, responding to emails, and other tasks constitute trauma drive, a productivity push fueled by response to trauma or as a coping mechanism for coping with the emotional distress that comes with having experienced a traumatic event. The stage following trauma drive itself is called restful healing, which occurs when your motivation, energy, and desire to complete projects are completely drained. This is when the emotional component of dealing with a traumatic event catches up to you after your mind and body have tried to mask it by going into productivity overdrive.

When you find yourself entering the restful healing stage, the best thing you can do is lean into it rather than resist it by pushing yourself to be even more productive. Doing the latter can have rebound effects that ultimately stall the healing process. Healthline states that healing shouldn't be a competition with anyone else, and that includes yourself. Don't compare yourself and your productivity or motivation to how energetic and go-getting you were yesterday or Tuesday of last week. Instead, give yourself the grace and space to heal at your own speed. Healing from a traumatic event isn't linear, so get to know your body's cues and figure out when your body is telling you that it needs a physical break.

Listen to your body's cues

A major component of identifying when you've been in trauma drive and may now be entering the restful healing stage is learning to pick up on your body's unique cues that you need to slow down and allow both your mind and physical body time to rest and heal. One way to do this is to keep a journal, whether an actual journal with paper and pen or a digital app on your phone, to keep track of how you feel when you find yourself phasing out of trauma drive and into restful healing, especially if this becomes a repeated experience for you. Of course, you should always speak with a trained mental health professional about traumatic events and how to incorporate various coping techniques into your daily routine.

Verily emphasizes the need for sleep, rest, and downtime, especially when society is telling us that being hyper-productive on very little sleep is a sign of grit and hard work ethic. Particularly when healing from trauma and coping with emotional feelings that may be entirely new to you, getting sufficient sleep is the number one best thing you can do for yourself. When we don't get enough sleep, our processing, cognitive, and emotional regulation abilities falter and we're less capable of working through complex, vulnerable emotions than we would be if fully rested.