The Coronavirus swept through the world seemingly overnight, leaving our brains little time to absorb the shock. We know it poses a threat to our health, which causes anxiety. The virus is invisible to the human eye, which increases our fear and feelings of insecurity. When a dangerous outbreak such as Covid-19 occurs, it is normal to experience variations of post-traumatic stress. As a result, you might feel exhausted, irritable, unfocused and have trouble sleeping. Severe symptoms also include intrusive memories, nightmares or tremors. It is certainly challenging, but traumatic stress will ease over time.
However, in order to cope with it, the human mind seeks certainty, security and human connection – all of which are very hard to come by in our current circumstances. In self-isolation, many of us have had to deal with fear, anxiety and panic alone. More painful still, when a family member dies, we cannot be there with them, nor can we gather to honor their lives. These circumstances are highly challenging for our mental wellbeing, and 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 affect our relationships, our state of mind and day-to-day lives. Further still, it is highly comorbid with – that is, connected to – with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. It is not uncommon to seek treatment for those issues, only for it to emerge 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 highly traumatic levels of stress. Frontline workers, those of us 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?
- 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.
- Think Positively
The more we repeat positive thoughts and mantras, the more we can ease our fear and process our emotions. Radiating positivity and cheer might feel impossible right now, but thinking positively 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 only for 12 seconds per day – that you did all you could under extremely difficult conditions.
- Reach Out for Support
While it’s a lot harder to get human connection right now, it is not impossible. Try to maki part of your daily routine to call your family, especially if you’ve recently lost a loved one. PTSD is a challenging mental health condition, which often requires professional help.
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 and 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 also grow from it.
Paracelsus Recovery is an addiction and mental health service, with 15 staff focusing exclusively on one client at a time. Originally based in Zurich, services are now also available in London.