Since March 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak has been affecting the world. We have dealt with horrifying scenes in the media of people becoming very ill and dying, as with infectious disease pandemics. There have been disruptions to daily life, including shutdowns of businesses and schools. Many people have faced the mental health impact of isolation because of social distancing protocols. Lets talk about dealing with post-covid PTSD.
There has been political upheaval as a result of disagreements in how to approach the pandemic. The spread of the illness has led to a mental health condition informally called posttraumatic stress disorder or post-Covid PTSD.
It’s difficult to overstate how severe the mental health effects of the pandemic have been for a lot of people. Understanding that you are affected is an excellent first step, and from there, you may be able to work toward healing your emotional health during this challenging time.
COVID-19 Pandemic and Mental Health
There have been not only health-related effects of the coronavirus pandemic but also economic effects. Many people who are already suffering from a mental health disorder or substance use disorders report worsening symptoms. For people without pre-existing mental conditions, they are starting to experience them. The amount of people who develop PTSD seems to be going up significantly during the COVID-19 outbreak.
For example, at least 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. report psychiatric disorders like anxiety or depressive disorders because of coronavirus disease, up from 1 in 10 adults before the pandemic.
There are also many specific symptoms of psychological distress reported, like problems sleeping and eating, increased alcohol and substance consumption, and worsening chronic conditions. Unfortunately, many public health measures for coronavirus lead to worse outcomes and psychological distress, like job loss and social isolation.
Specific mental health challenges that have come to light during the COVID-19 epidemic based on systematic reviews include:
- A more significant than average percentage of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they have depressive or anxiety disorder (56%).
- Young adults are more likely than other adults to report substance use and suicidal thoughts.
- Economic downturns and job loss from the COVID-19 outbreak are associated with more depression, distress, low self-esteem, and substance use disorder. During the pandemic, adults in households affected by job loss or lower incomes reported higher symptoms of mental illness.
- Women and mothers, in particular, are more likely to report anxiety and depressive symptoms than men.
Even outside of specific symptoms of a mental disorder, the COVID-19 outbreak affects all of our lives and creates stress, which can lead to:
- Feelings of numbness, frustration, sadness, worry, and fear
- Changes in appetite
- Lower energy levels
- Difficulty making decisions or problems with concentration
- Sleep disturbances or nightmares
- Physical symptoms like stomach problems, headaches, and body pain
- Acute stress disorder, which is like post-traumatic stress reactions but is shorter in duration
What Are Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms?
Posttraumatic stress disorder or is a mental disorder that occurs when someone witnesses a traumatic event or psychological trauma. Events triggering collective trauma can include a natural disaster, terrorist act, rape, serious accident, war or combat, or the threat of serious injury, sexual violence, or death. Anything leading to emotional distress can be a source of trauma.
We often associate PTSD with the psychological impact of war, such as combat veterans from the Middle East. In reality, post-traumatic stress symptoms impact many people and not just war veterans.
Symptoms of PTSD can include intense thoughts and feelings related to the experience, lasting long after the experience itself. Posttraumatic stress symptoms might consist of panic attacks, nightmares, or flashbacks. Other symptoms can include fear, anger, sadness, and detachment. If you’re struggling with symptoms, you might avoid people or particular situations reminding you of the trauma.
For a diagnosis of PTSD, the exposure to a traumatic situation doesn’t have to be first-hand. The trauma can be something you experience indirectly.
Symptoms fall into one of four categories.
- Intrusion: When you have intrusive thoughts, they may include involuntary memories or upsetting dreams. You might feel like you’re reliving something traumatic over and over again.
- Avoidance: The PTSD symptoms that relate to avoidance can include trying to stay away from objects, people, places, activities, and situations that cause you to feel distressing memories.
- Cognitive and mood changes: These symptoms can vary widely and may include problems remembering specific components of the traumatic event, wrongly blaming oneself, or feeling like you emotionally detach from other people.
- Arousal and reactive: These symptoms can include feeling highly irritable or angry, being reckless or self-destructive, or easily startling. Other symptoms in this category have not been able to sleep or concentrate.
Signs of Post-Pandemic PTSD
If you’re dealing with post-Covid PTSD, specific symptoms may include:
- A fear of dying
- Anxiety at the thought of getting sick
- Guilt over the potential of infecting or harming other people
- Social isolation
There are varying situations involving the COVID-19 pandemic where you might feel PTSD.
If you already had the illness, you might have extreme anxiety about the thought of getting it again. If you were hospitalized, these fears could be even more severe. COVID-19 survivors might think a lot about the potential they infected someone else or have guilt that they lived when other COVID-19 patients didn’t.
You can also experience mental health symptoms not from actually having a COVID-19 infection but from seeing the news about people dying from it. You may have even had loved ones or acquaintances become very ill or die, and these are triggering, traumatic situations.
Many healthcare workers are unfortunately also reporting incredibly high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder too. Health care workers are on the frontlines of the pandemic. In addition to seeing the suffering of their patients, they often worry about their own families and health. There was hope with introducing the COVID-19 vaccine, but we’re seeing the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak continuing.
The female gender, a pre-existing mental health condition, and having experienced other trauma earlier in life can make you more susceptible to post-pandemic stress disorder and worse mental health outcomes related to the COVID-19 epidemic.
What Can You Do?
If you are dealing with post-COVID post-traumatic stress syndrome in any way, there are steps you can take to get help and improve your emotional health and mental health status.
- First, realize that you aren’t alone in dealing with traumatic stress symptoms. The world is suffering too during this time, and it’s okay to feel emotionally weak right now.
- If you are experiencing symptoms during these difficult times, there are some lifestyle changes you can make. For example, many mental health professionals recommend limiting your exposure to social media and news right now.
- Don’t spend hours “doom scrolling.” You don’t want to do anything to perpetuate cycles of negative thoughts that might be playing in your head.
- Give yourself a window of time each day when you get the information you need, and leave it at that. For example, you don’t need to continually obsess over COVID-19 cases on the news if you don’t feel it’s good for you to do so.
- Staying physically active and taking care of yourself, in general, can help with any symptoms you might be feeling during the current pandemic.
- While you might not be entirely comfortable socializing, you can still do so in safe ways because having social connections is essential. For example, maybe you join a friend or family members outdoors for a coffee or participate in an online support group.
- Talking about your feelings is therapeutic, mainly if you can find someone who’s shared similar experiences to your own during the pandemic. If you’ve been working on the front lines or in an emergency department of a hospital, maybe you try to find other health care workers you can connect with and share your experiences with.
- You should also consider talking to a therapist. Therapy can be a great way to work through what you’re experiencing currently and what you’ve gone through because of the pandemic. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy is beneficial for post-traumatic stress disorder related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
We may still have some time before we can fully declare victory over coronavirus and the (COVID-19) pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start prioritizing your mental health and wellness now.
We’re likely to feel the mental and behavioral health consequences for years to come. Long-term longitudinal studies are likely to shed even more light on the psychological impact in the years to come. Don’t let stigma keep you from doing things that are going to help you get yourself “unstuck” from all that you’ve gone through for the past year-and-a-half; the Mental Health Center of San Diego can help if you just call 858-465-7722.