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Those with mental health concerns often feel like they can’t control the world around them. Sometimes they may feel like they, themselves, are spiraling out of control. Now that we’ve gone through the last year and the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic, I think most of us can relate to those feelings in some way.
For many people, going through this pandemic means that trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has now become a part of their life. This can be for a variety of reasons.
Maybe you’re a front line worker who is burned out and mentally exhausted. You may have had the personal experience of having had Covid-19. Or, perhaps you’ve had to face the illness and/or passing of someone close to you, due to the disease. Even going through lock downs, losing jobs, and being separated from friends and family for long periods can wreak havoc on our mental health.
No matter the reason, anyone who witnesses or goes through the events surrounding a traumatic, life-threatening illness like Covid-19 may find they have anxiety, depression, or post traumatic stress afterwards.
How does the Covid-19 Pandemic Affect Mental Health?
Prior to Covid-19’s appearance, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that about one in four people, worldwide, would suffer from mental health concerns at some point in their lives.
Now that we’ve all been so touched by the pandemic, the CDC estimates that around forty percent of us are struggling with mental health, suicide ideation or substance abuse concerns. Ken Duckworth, the CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) backed this up when he reported that, “data showed that about one in five Americans suffered from some sort of mental illness before the pandemic, and that number is now two in five.”
In reality, these numbers are probably low, as the instances of anxiety, depression, trauma and stress-related disorders have been steadily rising as the pandemic drags on. Clearly, we will continue to see the mental health repercussions of this worldwide health crisis, even long after the world returns to normal.
What Are The Possible Mental Symptoms After Recovering From Covid-19?
When people experience trauma, it usually shakes them to their core, especially if they felt they had little to no control over the event. They feel helpless, they may experience flashbacks, or they may experience a persistent fear that something bad will happen to them again.
If you are someone who has had Covid-19, you may have recovered from the illness, but you might now have some lingering side effects. These can affect you physically or mentally, or both.
Possible mental health symptoms related to having Covid-19 can include:
- Brain fog
- Short term memory loss
- Not feeling “like myself”
- Problems concentrating
Covid Stress Syndrome
If you lost a loved one to the illness, you are no doubt coping with grief, along with fear for yourself and others with whom you are close.
Even if you never lost your job, didn’t get sick or didn’t lose anyone to Covid-19, however, you still have been affected by the pandemic. The separation from those we care about, combined with shut downs, social distancing, mask wearing, working from home, changes to a child’s schooling, virtually non-existent travel, and other interruptions to our normal lives has affected everyone in some way.
Furthermore, these continued disruptions – without a known end date – have resulted in and ongoing Covid stress syndrome for many of us. As a result, some people are avoiding medical or dental services and healthcare workers altogether. They may be gathering (and possibly hoarding) PPE like masks and gloves, or be terrified to go into stores or anywhere that others might potentially expose them to the virus.
This stress may also be causing:
- Problems sleeping
- Difficulties with concentration
- Angry outbursts
- Changes to your eating patterns, such as not eating or over-indulging
- New or increased substance abuse (tobacco, alcohol, or recreational drug use)
- Chronic health problems may be getting worse
- Pre-pandemic mental health conditions may be worsening
Covid PTSD Symptoms
Signs of Covid PTSD are similar to the signs of trauma that people experience after going through disturbing and life-threatening events, such as natural disasters, wars, or other serious medical diagnoses.
Even though emotional responses are part of a normal reaction to a stressful situation, trauma actually changes patterns in your brain. It causes you to carry the emotional distress long after the events have passed.
The symptoms of Covid PTSD can include:
- Flashbacks to the event
- Sudden, overwhelming fear for no apparent reason
- Anger or irritability
- Physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating, or difficulty breathing
- Negative thoughts
- Feeling guilt or blaming yourself for what happened
- Worry that something bad will happen again, to you or a loved one
- Beginning or increased substance abuse
- Suicide consideration
Covid PTSD Self-Assessment Quiz
Sometimes, taking a self-assessment quiz can be helpful. While taking a test such as this isn’t a substitute for the opinion of a qualified expert, it can quickly help you determine if you should seek help before your symptoms become overwhelming.
The following quiz has been adapted from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. If you suspect that you might suffer from PTSD, answer the questions below, please share these results with your health care professional.
Are you troubled by the following?
|Yes No||You have experienced Covid-19 or witnessed a loved one’s life-threatening Covid-19 event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror.|
Do you have intrusions about the event in at least one of the following ways?
|Yes No||Repeated, distressing memories, or dreams|
|Yes No||Acting or feeling as if the event were happening again (flashbacks or a sense of reliving it)|
|Yes No||Intense physical and/or emotional distress when you are exposed to things that remind you of the event|
Do you avoid things that remind you of the event in at least one of the following ways?
|Yes No||Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations about it|
|Yes No||Avoiding activities and places or people who remind you of it|
Since the event, do you have negative thoughts and mood associated with the event in at least 2 of the following ways?
|Yes No||Blanking on important parts of it|
|Yes No||Negative beliefs about oneself, others and the world and about the cause or consequences of the event|
|Yes No||Feeling detached from other people|
|Yes No||Inability to feel positive emotions|
|Yes No||Persistent negative emotional state|
Are you troubled by at least two of the following?
|Yes No||Problems sleeping|
|Yes No||Irritability or outbursts of anger|
|Yes No||Reckless or self-destructive behavior|
|Yes No||Problems concentrating|
|Yes No||Feeling “on guard”|
|Yes No||An exaggerated startle response|
Post Covid Anxiety Treatment
The goal of anxiety treatment is to get you back to a more “normal” world as soon as possible. Sometimes you can achieve this through self-care, however if your symptoms are affecting how you go through your daily activities or your emotional upheaval lasts longer than two weeks, it’s time to seek help through a professional.
- Being kind to yourself – don’t criticize yourself for how you feel. It’s normal to have strong emotions when facing a life-altering event.
- Eating nutritious meals
- Getting plenty or restful sleep
- Keeping to a schedule for eating, sleeping, showering, cleaning the home, etc.
- Exercising – even as little as walking 15 minutes a day can help distract you, allowing a reset of your emotions
- Limiting your news and social media consumption. News organizations make money when you click on their stories, so they are certain to post worst-case scenarios to lure you in. This keeps your emotions running high, which is why setting viewing limits can help.
Meditation or mindfulness is also very helpful for retraining the brain to be calmer and less anxious. In fact, studies show they actually help to increase your positivity and reduce negative thinking.
If you don’t know how to work with these modalities, you can find YouTube videos or books to instruct you. Also, there are a variety of phone apps that can help, including:
- Calm (free for those with Kaiser insurance)
- Personal Zen
- Mindfulness Coach
Professional Treatment For Covid PTSD And Anxiety
By working with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma, you can recover and learn to feel safe again.
Covid PTSD can be treated through two very effective therapies: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitizing And Reprocessing (EMDR).
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you identify and manage your distorted thoughts and beliefs about the event so you can replace them with accurate views.
Eye Movement Desensitizing And Reprocessing (EMDR) helps you process your trauma on an emotional level. This therapy is simple, yet studies have shown that it can help PTSD sufferers heal faster than through traditional therapy.