Mary Shackelton, MPH, ND
THE PTSD OF COVID
Updated: Jul 22, 2022
The PTSD of Covid
I don’t know about you but it feels like the two last years have changed us all deeply in one way or another. It feels like there is collective trauma, an accumulation of little and big injuries all year long: missing graduations, family events, life’s milestones, celebrating together with our communities, staying close to home, experiencing fear, watching political instability, observing the seams of racism coming unraveled, quarantining alone or with family, watching democracy crumble, the loss of loved ones, changes in employment and being isolated, we have all experienced the losses. A tragedy of a mass shooting has left us all feeling that life is more precarious that we had previously ever thought it was. An enormous destructive wildfire in December in our town has confirmed that our earth is struggling to maintain it’s balance. Uncertainty has played into every step of the way: what is going to happen and is life ever going to be like it was again? We will not come through this experience untouched. We have all lost something. Will it ever feel normal again is the next hurdle we are all facing.
Looking back to March 2020, I had the profound sense that things would be difficult for some time, but never knew the extent to which the pandemic would upend all of our worlds. Understanding the impact of this pandemic on mental illness is a next vital step to recovery.
Prior research on disasters and epidemics has shown us that in the immediate wake of a traumatic experience large numbers of people report distress including new or worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety and insomnia. Most of us will regain our center in time. A fraction of people will struggle to regain normalcy and could develop chronic symptoms with enough severity to satisfy the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness. The less social support, financial stability, and access to stable housing and food someone has the more severe and enduring the trauma can be. For some people, the smallest infraction or hardship is magnified under the weight of the pandemic making it difficult to move past something that ordinarily would not have been a huge obstacle.
Some estimates include soaring rates of mental illness just now starting to become evident and as each individual navigates this pandemic there are commonalities found in how it has impacted us all:
Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
Changes in appetite, energy, and activity level
Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
Worsening of chronic health problems
Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
Pervasive worry and uncertainty
What are we emerging into and where are we going? What is the healthiest way for me to go forward?
Now we are engaged in a politicized vaccination conversation that is further putting friends and families at odds. It just seems as if complications are being piled onto complications.
What are some of the options we have for healing and making forward steps?
Modalities that are available to us all for healing, trauma healing, psychological support include:
Social contact with loved ones
Being outside is critical for balancing nervous systems
There are many steps you can take into your own hands to help get you stabliized again. Each one of these you will see numerous times per day in various forms and while I like to offer new suggestions to you, there is a reason that these are common recommendations: they will help you regain a sense of your former life and a healthier more balanced you.
Sleeping - while this is a common recommendation, it is the most foundational tool for you to find your center. Focus on what is preventing good solid sleep if that is happening and seek support to fix this. Acupuncture is fantastic for this. Try to turn off Netflix by 9 pm and read before bed.
Being outside: another overly common recommendation and one that can cause you to gloss right over it but truly, the vibration of the earth is healing. Seeing plants, trees, fresh air and getting some sunshine on your face can lift you up and help put things in perspective. Bundle up and get outside especially on the day after it snows, the sunshine is amazing.
Gather with others: while it is still recommended to limit indoor exposure, if you have a pod of people whom you feel comfortable with their exposures, sharing a meal or a hike can be uplifting. Missing our friends and catching up can feel like an elixir of joy.
Avoid Alcohol Caffeine and Sugar. These 3 items are hands down responsible for our up and down energy that can magnify a lowered mood. The cycle of craving and blood sugar instability can feel like anxiety. If you feel dependent on any of these, take it slow and eliminate one per week, giving yourself a serious pat on the back each time you succeed.
Mostly I want to send you all warmth and love as we continue to deconstruct the past few years and their impact on what normal life felt like. Connect with those you love, go outside for a walk and continue to be kind to every person you encounter… these are a few healing steps we can all take.