Will there be an Increase in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Post Covid-19 World?

The Covid-19 crisis has been one of the most difficult times modern history has seen. Dr. Marta Ra, CEO of Paracelsus Recovery, explains why we should be watchful for symptoms of PTSD.

Dr. Marta Ra, CEO of Paracelsus Recovery, explains why we should be watchful for symptoms of PTSD

Trauma occurs when a distressing event overwhelms our nervous system. It can happen when we are faced with a single traumatic event, such as war, a virus, or an accident. But it can also build up over time in response to more subtle but persistently frightening experiences.

The Covid-19 crisis has been both directly and indirectly distressing. It entered our lives like a hurricane, which gave us very little time to adapt. The virus is invisible to the human eye, which increased fear. Over the past few months, our sense of collective safety has been shaken. As such, it is normal to experience symptoms of traumatic stress. When we undergo traumatic stress, we might feel exhausted, irritable, unfocused, and have difficulties sleeping. Severe symptoms also include intrusive memories, nightmares, or tremors. While challenging, traumatic stress will ease up over time.

However, to deal with traumatic stress, the human mind seeks certainty, security, and human connection. All of which are very hard to obtain in our current climate. In self-isolation, many of us had to navigate fear, anxiety, and panic alone. More painful still, when a family member dies, we could not be there with them, nor could we gather to honour their lives. These circumstances are highly challenging for our mental wellbeing, and drastically increase our chances of developing Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder wherein symptoms of traumatic stress remain unchanged or worsen over time. To be diagnosed with PTSD, signs of traumatic stress must be re-occurring for over one month. Symptoms of PTSD include:

- Flashbacks or nightmares

- Feeling tense, easily startled, highly irritable

- Avoiding people that are related to the event

- Increasingly negative thoughts about oneself

PTSD can severely impact our relationships, our state of mind, and day-to-day lives. Further still, it is highly comorbid with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. It is not uncommon to seek treatment for these issues, only to realize that they were rooted in PTSD.

Reactions to traumatic events will always vary. Some of us will experience nothing more than mild emotional discomfort, while others will experience debilitating unease. In particular, the more proximity we have to the virus, the more likely we are to experience high levels of traumatic stress. Frontline workers, those who have lost loved ones, and those of us who have loved ones ill in hospital, are all at an increased risk of developing PTSD.

How Can I Cope with PTSD?

1. Be Compassionate to Yourself.

Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, and giving yourself time to process the traumatic experience are all essential tools to deal with PTSD. Further, try to limit your social media use and be mindful of overthinking. Repeatedly asking ourselves ‘what-if’ questions can lead us down rabbit holes of stressful rumination.

2. Think Positively.

The more we repeat positive thoughts and mantras, the more we can ease our fear and process our emotions. While positivity might feel impossible right now, it can also mean combating negative feelings. For instance, if you have lost a loved one, be mindful of feelings of guilt about not being with them at the hospital. Remind yourself — if for just 12 seconds per day — that you did all you could under extremely difficult conditions.

3. Reach Out for Support

While human connection is a lot harder to obtain right now, it is not impossible. Try to make calling your family a part of your daily routine, especially if you’ve recently lost a loved one. PTSD is a challenging mental health condition, and professional help is often required. In particular, studies show that EMDR therapy can be an effective treatment method for easing PTSD symptoms.

Finally, while we could see a surge in individuals suffering from PTSD, it is also likely that we will see an increase in post-traumatic growth. When the fragility of life is put in sharp focus, it can lead to a newfound appreciation of life, our loved ones, and offer us a deeper sense of meaning. The Covid-19 crisis is a global calamity, but we — as a global community — will grow from it.

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