Most people think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a condition that only people who have been to war or survived a terrorist attack or violent relationships can acquire. That couldn’t be further from the truth, however, as PTSD can affect anyone who has undergone any form of traumatic experience, even with no violence involved.
Matter of fact, the COVID-19 experience, and all the uncertainties it has caused, has left lots of people around the world battling extreme feelings of hopelessness, irritability, fear and anger, all of which are symptoms of PTSD. As a matter of fact, some healthcare workers, patients and quarantined persons who were involved in the last SARs-type outbreak in 2003, were diagnosed with PTSD after showing similar symptoms. Experts predict that the COVID-19 epidemic could have an even worse effect, with all the job losses and lockdowns it has occasioned.
In the words of Luana Marques, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, whether you experience PTSD, or emotional turmoil, it is not dependent on the type or nature of the event you’ve gone through, but your personal interpretation of the same. Among the people at increased risk of getting long-term mental health difficulties are frontline medical workers, and people who have lost their jobs or family due to the pandemic. Another at-risk group are people who have existing mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
Indeed, you don’t have to have been directly affected by COVID-19 to experience varying levels of stress, fear and anger. The disease has effectively put most aspects of our lives at pause, which could have long-term mental and emotional consequences on many of us.
As the world edges closer to a vaccine and relaxing all the restrictions in place, we can only hope that we won’t go from a viral epidemic to an even more devastating mental health crisis. On a personal level, here’s what you can do to avoid the mental effects of coronavirus:
Know The Symptoms
After any traumatic event, be it a job loss, clinical diagnosis or a sour encounter with law enforcement, you can experience some form of insomnia, invasive thoughts like flashbacks and nightmares, and irritability. Some people also feel overly paranoid and as a coping mechanism, may feel a strong impulse to avoid thinking about a particular incident.
For a PTSD diagnosis, a patient has already experienced a given number of the above symptoms for a long time. And even if it doesn’t get to full-blown PTSD level, having said symptoms may be a sign of psychological damage due to stress or trauma.
While it’s normal to have extreme emotional reactions to traumatic events such as a viral pandemic or job loss, the reactions should ideally be short-term. If you are still experiencing the said symptoms to a level where your daily life is inhibited, or for more than 4 months after the trigger incident, you may need to consult a mental health professional for assistance, and possibly PTSD examination.
Familiarize Yourself With the Term ‘TEB’
It is an acronym for Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors, which basically means that whatever you think about yourself affects how you feel about yourself, and consequently affects your actions. For instance, if you spend a whole night worrying about losing your job, you may end up drinking or smoking in the morning as a way to cope, only to wake up sick or hangovered and feeling even worse. And since worrying and anxiety is a natural human response to calamities, it is important to find a healthy outlet or coping mechanism that you can fall back on whenever you’re feeling down. Exercise, therapy, or talking to a friend are examples of healthy stress outlets.
Watch What You Watch
The role of the media – both mainstream and social – in stimulating emotional responses among people cannot be underestimated. If watching, or reading, news about things like mass unemployment, police brutality and infection rates gets you anxious or stressed, you should try avoiding the concerned platforms either partially or completely. Instead, get involved with things that calm you down, such as listening to music, or reading a novel.
Most of us have that inner strength that we can call upon when the times are gloomy and when we’re feeling down and distressed. Having a number of good coping mechanisms, plus a strong will to make it through, goes a long way in preventing a future mental downturn. Nonetheless, if your coping strategies are ineffective, you may want to seek social support and assistance either from your family and friends or from a professional.