If you or someone you know is having a hard time dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, know that you are not alone. Our world has turned upside down, so it’s natural to feel uneasy and unmoored. However, anxiety and depression are one thing; a deep-rooted trauma is another. Read on to discover if you or a loved one may be suffering from coronavirus pandemic post-traumatic stress disorder, a.k.a. PTSD.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, learning about a traumatic event that has happened to a family member or close friend, and experiencing repeated exposure to details of traumatic events,” says Summer R. Thompson, DNP, PMHNP-BC, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with Community Psychiatry. “In our current situation as a nation, we are closely following the news related to COVID-19 and/or hearing about friends and family members contracting this illness. As a result, the potential for developing PTSD is highly elevated.”
It’s not unusual to feel despair when you feel like the life you once lived has now changed, perhaps irrevocably. You’re not moving as much as you used to. You’re not doing the same old things. “When we are under-activated, we are immobilized,” says Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC Therapist/Licensed Professional Counselor. “Symptoms include excessive fatigue, lack of interest in activities you might typically enjoy, hopelessness about the future, and feeling numb.”
“If you notice that you are feeling extremely ‘on edge’ and watchful when you’re out in public, even at times that you are not at high risk for virus transmission, you may be experiencing a common trauma-related symptom called hypervigilance,” says Katie Lear, LCMHC, a licensed mental health counselor. “People with hypervigilance may also notice they are easily startled and have an exaggerated startle response, and may be extra sensitive to loud noises.”
“If you’re dealing with PTSD as a result of the pandemic, you may find yourself avoiding subjects of conversation, certain people, or places that remind you of the pandemic and trigger anxiety,” says Lear. “You might also experience recurrent, unwanted memories of the pandemic that feel very real, almost as if you are living through the moment again.”
“People living with PTSD often feel pulled into flashbacks multiple times per week, or even per day,” says Dr. Shashita Inamdar, MD, Ph.D., Medical Director of Achieve TMS. “These flashbacks are upsetting, and can feel very real.”
“It’s normal to have unpleasant dreams after going through a challenging event, but if you are having seriously disturbing nightmares on a consistent basis in combination with other symptoms, you should talk to your provider about PTSD,” says Dr. Inamdar. “Even if it is not about the pandemic, the themes of the nightmares are about bugs, infectious diseases, dying, and the like,” says Dr. Judy Ho.
“The isolation is not necessarily physical. You may be in the same room, and yet there is a psychological distance,” says therapist and Wish I Knew series author Lise Leblanc. “Your sense of connection and belonging is fundamentally disrupted by PTSD, leaving you feeling isolated and alone.”
“Vacillating between fear and boredom, many people have found it difficult to cope with the combination of isolation and psychomotor agitation that characterizes post-traumatic stress,” says Elizabeth Brokamp, a psychotherapist specializing in treating anxiety and trauma. “They feel a pent-up restlessness that makes them want to escape, only to be confronted by the reality that they are stuck at home.”
“These symptoms would have lasted for more than a month, are not due to the effects of substance use or any other medical cause, and are causing significant distress and impaired functioning,” says Shirley Porter, M.Ed., RSW, CCC, a registered psychotherapist and writer for Choosing Therapy.
“If you find that you are experiencing some of the symptoms above, it’s important that you take a step back, take care of yourself with coping strategies, and consult a professional,” says Dr. Ho.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.