Q: Is there a way to start anticipating and preparing for the residual mental health impacts of Covid? I feel as if I will carry a PTSD of sorts. Will I flinch every time I hear about a new virus? Will the rest of my life be spent on high alert waiting for the next pandemic?“
Our expert happiness professor has talked a little about re-socializing after a long COVID-19 social winter.
Now Dr. Aparna, psych mental health nurse practitioner, here to discuss a little more about the mental health aspects of re-entry.
😰 First, let’s talk about PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health diagnosis characterized by a cluster of symptoms that occur anywhere from a month to years following a traumatic event or repeated events. The interpretation of the event by the person or people experiencing it defines the response-in other words, no one can define what trauma means to another person-their interpretation and response is what matters.
🐅 Think of PTSD as a state of responding to things around you as if they are all threats, a perpetual fight or flight state. I am sure some of us can relate to this (Is that person next to me in line going to give me COVID-19? Will my groceries?). But remember what matters is the response-are you able to say, no the chance that I will get COVID-19 from my groceries is low or will you say, every single thing is a threat and I must respond to it. This is an unconscious process that happens in the body.
⛈️ To go a little deeper, the core features of PTSD are:
1-Intrusion (Thoughts, memories, or bodily symptoms that disrupt daily life)
2-Avoidance (Situations, people, or places trigger the traumatic memory or response and are avoided)
3-Negative Mood (Symptoms of anxiety or depression among other symptoms that may contribute to a negative outlook or view of the traumatic event or the broader world)
4-Hyperarousal (Remaining on edge and responding disproportionately to normal stressors-this can look like an exaggerated response, irritability, anger, reactivity, sleep disturbance, problems with focus and concentration, and bodily symptoms like increased heart rate)
5-Reliving (re-experiencing an event or having nightmares for example)
➡️ In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, certainly we could imagine that a segment of the population will develop PTSD like symptoms. We actually know that COVID-19 survivors and people who have stayed in the ICU are experiencing more symptoms of PTSD than the general population. If you do feel you are experiencing PTSD symptoms, there are things you can do. Focus on what you can control, regulate sleep, nutrition, and schedule, seek connections (safely) with others rather than isolate, exercise, and seek additional help like trauma focused therapies. The VA PTSD center has a great listing of resources for COVID-19.
😟 And if you are not experiencing PTSD like symptoms, but may have a high level of anxiety, try out applying some of the mental health strategies we have talked about before @DearPandemic.
⬇️ If you are starting to re-enter society and more normal activities and have anxiety about it, a few ideas may help you.
1. Do something small. It can be a fifteen minute activity. Make a list of activities that are a priority for you and start with the easiest, safest one.
2. Do an activity now. Don’t wait! The longer you wait, the more chance you have to avoid it.
3. Make a buddy. Hold each other accountable to slowly getting back out there.
4. Follow local and National guidance on what is safe and what is not. Remember your #SMARTS and know that many of us have thought long and hard about this. We have looked at the evidence for risky vs. less risky activities. Use this data to weigh the evidence of how likely you are to be at risk of getting COVID-19 doing different activities.
5. Slowly increase your activities. As you increase your exposure to different things, it is likely that your anxiety will decrease.
6. If you are still struggling, please seek support. Here is our previous suggestion of how to find a therapist. Employee assistance programs at large companies can also be a great place to start.
🔮 As to future events, we cannot predict what future threats (like pandemics) await us. But, by making small and subtle changes to support our own mental wellness and promote good strategies for anxiety management, we are building up our tool kit for whatever uncertain things will come our way.
🙏 A huge thank you to all of the amazing people out there who have helped us to make sense of this pandemic, to our followers who trust us to bring you this information, and to everyone who has helped us along the way.
❤️ To the mothers out there, we see you and honor you. For some of us who have lost our mothers, we grieve with you today and honor our mothers. And for those of us who are not mothers, we respect you and thank you for all that you do to support each and every one of us.
Stay safe. Stay sane.
Those Nerdy Girls
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Español: 1-888-628-9454; Hearing Suport: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.