Stress about COVID: It’s not just you

As we emerge from the first wave of a global pandemic and as variants surge, you may feel anxious and depressed.

The burden of fear and anxiety that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic, along with its guidelines, quarantines and worry about what risks to take, have been a rollercoaster for us all. Millions got vaccinated and restrictions were loosened, but the surge caused by variants brings a lot of uncertainty and along with another surge of anxiety. If you feel nervous about life and how the virus affects it, you’re not alone. And mental health professionals have insights about this as well as some tips to help calm your stress.

The pandemic has been traumatizing

According to Psychiatric Times, there is an alarming trend emerging: post-COVID stress disorder. This has been seen in people who have experienced or witnessed serious COVID-19 illness or death or who have friends or family members with the virus or who died from it. Also at risk would be first responders and others with “extreme exposure” to the virus’ effects, including hospital personnel, journalists and medical examiners.

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More studies from around the world have shown the ways COVID-19 has affected people.

This study showed nearly 13% of participants between the ages of 14 and 35 showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in as little as a month after the outbreak.

An Italian study acknowledges the real and lasting effects of the pandemic and suggests interventions to counteract them are in order.

Another study shows the connection between traumatic events and how thinking of those events constantly (rumination) can actually make PTSD symptoms worse.

Front-line workers are very likely to develop PTSD, as illustrated in a study from China.

More research is coming out on the specific results of life during and after a global pandemic.

PTSD and related symptoms

What are the symptoms of PTSD from a global pandemic? Here are a few:

Anxiety and depression – You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who did not feel anxious and/or depressed over the last year. Signs include sleeping too little or too much, changes in appetite, and finding no joy in things you used to like.

Substance use  Drug and alcohol abuse can be symptoms of PTSD and may have been your coping mechanism during the pandemic.

Avoidance – As quarantine restrictions change, people can get back to normal socialization and activities. But that doesn’t mean you want to. Avoiding situations you used to enjoy or perhaps are necessary (grocery shopping, doctor visits) can be a symptom of PTSD.

Rumination – Reliving traumatic experiences either while dreaming or recalling events while awake in ways that make it feel very real and present can retraumatize someone.

Suicidal ideation – Thinking of taking your own life is sometimes a response to PTSD. If you or a loved one is thinking of harming yourself or others, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

What can I do about COVID-19 PTSD?

If your symptoms continue or worsen and affect your everyday activities, you may wish to seek help. There are many treatments available, from yoga and meditation to processes such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy).

Socialization is key. Humans are wired for interaction and can suffer without it. As you are able and comfortable, find ways to be around other people.

A good place to start the conversation about your mental health is with your primary care provider. They can offer a new perspective, give you resources and help guide you through this phase of life.

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