Understanding and Coping with PTSD During the Pandemic

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PTSD

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic event. The ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has the potential to trigger existing PTSD or cause PTSD. Dr. Richard Charlat, Renown Health’s Division Chief of Behavioral Health, shares advice for identifying and coping with PTSD.

What might cause PTSD during the pandemic?

Almost everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another. Our daily lives have been disrupted and tasks that were once simple like grocery shopping or getting gas can cause a lot of stress. Traumatic stress can be caused by fear of getting sick, experiencing the illness yourself or knowing a loved one sick with COVID-19.

According to Dr. Charlat, frontline workers may experience mental stress during the pandemic. Everyone from healthcare workers to grocery store and postal employees also possibly have some level of fear when going to work. These experiences of fear and trauma can cause PTSD.

RELATED: Quarantine Fatigue: How To Deal With The Burnout

What does PTSD feel like?

PTSD can happen suddenly and without warning. It can feel like severe instantaneous anxiety or terror. It can also feel like an overwhelming sense of dread or depression. Not everyone experiences PTSD the same way. The collection of our memories and life experiences impacts how we react to traumatic stress. 

Dr. Charlat shares that trauma memories are always present and can be triggered by a flashback or experience. For example, a car crash survivor might be triggered by a near-miss on the highway or driving past a car accident. Those with PTSD might experience the following behavioral or psychological symptoms:

  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Emotional detachment
  • Social isolation
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hypervigilance

RELATED: Isolated? Focus On Mental Health

Tips for Coping 

Dr. Charlat shares a few easy tips to help ease PTSD below:

  1. Find a “tribe” of supporters

Our tribe is a group of people that stands by us and remind us of our purpose. They can bring a sense of comfort when we are feeling hopeless and lost. This can be a group of friends, coworkers or a support group with people who have experienced similar trauma.

  1. Practice a slow breathing technique

Breathe in for four seconds, hold that breath for four seconds, breathe out for six seconds and wait two seconds for starting again. This technique can help us slow down when we are in the midst of experiencing PTSD.

  1. Keep a “touchstone”

A touchstone is something that grounds us and brings us back to real-life. This can be something physical – a photo of a loved one, a heart-shaped rock, or a piece of jewelry – or it can be a happy memory we keep with us. When we experience PTSD we can always return to real-life by holding our touchstone or happy memory.  

  1. Visualize a safe place

Visualizing a safe place is something that needs to be practiced regularly. That way when we are experiencing PTSD we can easily retreat to our visualized safe place. We can practice visiting our safe place in moments where we feel physically relaxed and safe.

  1. Seek help

PTSD is scary, especially when we don’t know what to do. A mental health professional can help us identify our concerns and learn ways to cope with them.

Difficult feelings are a part of life and it’s important to balance them. Be honest about how you are feeling and do not avoid the issue. You can successfully emerge from emotional despair with tools and guidance.

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Staying healthy and safe means taking care of yourself. We encourage you to keep your health on track by not delaying preventive or urgent healthcare needs. Talk with your primary care doctor about seeking mental health services.

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