The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of Covid-19, lockdowns, sanitizer and masks. People all around the world have been experiencing anxiety, fear, panic and even death and for a many the effects have been devastating.
These feelings of panic and not being safe can trigger prior traumatic experiences where the same reactions were felt, and there is mixed data as to whether or not having past trauma can put you at a greater risk.
We face new challenges these days. You may have heard about PTSD before but what is Pandemic PTSD? Who’s at risk for Pandemic PTSD? Are you affected?
New challenges arise during the Pandemic
For many, the anxiety started when grocery stores did not have enough food and people were lining up to purchase basic necessities before being locked down. Thereafter counties were locked down and people had to stay in their homes for weeks or even months with limited or no vision of the outside world.
Rarely on previous occasions has the threat of disease occupied so much of people’s minds, but in this case for weeks nearly every newspaper had the Coronavirus pandemic on its front page. Television and radio stations also have constantly been airing back to back coverage on the latest death tolls. These frightening statistics have been enough to put people into extreme fear mode, coupled with anxiety and hopelessness.
The constant reminder of the disease has resulted in heightened anxiety which has indeed affected a number of people’s mental health. Deeply evolved responses to contagion can lead people to become more conformist and moral judgment can become harsher and less accepting during these trying times.
Uncontrolled Fears Related to Infection
This is more often than not one of the most frequent reactions to pandemics, and those who have been exposed to the risk of infection can develop irrational fears about their health, as well as the worry of infecting others and family members.
These people are more vulnerable than others and worries can manifest to the extent that they start to experience physical symptoms potentially linked to the infection. These manifested symptoms in turn create even more fear and worry.
Many psychological reactions have been directly related to the mass quarantine that was put in place so at to curb the spread of Covid-19. These lockdowns have created mass fear and anxiety all of which are associated with disease outbreaks. The escalation of new infections and deaths every day has caused significant psychological reactions in some people. These symptoms can vary from panic behavior, desperation, anxiety and even suicidal behavior.
Unfortunately, increased anxiety can lead to other health ailments which may in turn compromise the immune system.
What Fear does to the Immune System
A person’s emotional health is directly linked to their immune systems. The immune system is a collection of billions of cells, some of which target organs that keep you healthy and fight off disease. Cortisol, which is a stress hormone can suppress the immune system by reducing its number of virus-fighting cells.
When stress and anxiety are left intreated they can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system and make a person significantly more susceptible to getting ill. When your immune system is threatened you are more likely to contract and spread viruses and expose those around you.
Who’s at risk for Pandemic PTSD?
In many cases PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is affecting the following people:
Those Who Have Lost a Loved One to The Pandemic
Due to strict hospital protocols family members have not been able to be by their loved one’s bedside in times of sickness. Funerals are also limited to only a certain number of people and all of the things that we are a society do to get through bereavement are no longer the same.
Research has shown that there is an extreme amount of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in people who have survived the intensive care units after thinking that they were going to die. A study of survivors in hospitals found a high prevalence of posttraumatic stress symptoms of 96.2%.
People Suffering from Economic Stress
Due to the large number of job losses and companies grinding to a halt during lockdown there has been higher rates of family violence, partner violence and alcohol and substance abuse.
Sadly, our everyday hero’s such as healthcare workers and doctors are exposed to the threat of the disease and death every day. This has taken its toll on many and has caused trauma in many essential workers – a study of healthcare workers and nurses in China treating coronavirus patients found a Pandemic PTSD incidence of 16.8%,
How to Cope with Pandemic PTSD
It is important now more than ever to take care of your mental health. This is not easy for some, but the pandemic needs to be thought of as a marathon and not a sprint.
Realization that this disease could happen over multiple years and flare up at different times has to be come to terms with. Endurance has to form an integral part of a person’s mindset in order to overcome the anxiety and stress that is caused by the pandemic.
This means that people need to concentrate on healthy eating, creating new life patterns and routines, getting enough daily exercise and getting enough sleep. New routines can be a significant way in which a person can regain control of their daily lives and help them to change how they experience the pandemic.
Mood changes can be directly related to low blood sugar levels, dehydration, or chemicals in processed foods such as artificial flavourings, and preservatives. In much the same way a high-sugar diet may also impact moods. Remember to stay hydrated, eliminate processed foods, and eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
Regular exercise is good for both your physical and emotional health. It works as well as medication to ease anxiety in many people. People who exercise regularly may experience relief from anxiety for hours after working out.
Get Enough Sleep
Insomnia is one of the leading symptoms of anxiety. It is important to make sleep a priority by:
- Only sleeping at night when you are tired
- Not reading or watching television in bed
- Turning off all electrical devices such as cell phones or tablets
- Avoiding caffeine, large meals and smoking before bedtime
- Keeping your room dark and cool
- Trying to go to sleep at the same time every night
- Using a weighted blanket when sleeping. These blankets provide a type of deep pressure therapy which has countless benefits – one of them is it activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
Accepting the Situation for What It Is
Learning to accept the things that we cannot change is the best way to deal with many traumatic events. Unfortunately people who enjoy a rigid routine have had to deal with the unexpected changes that the Pandemic and the Pandemic PTSD has brought to their lives.
There is a fine line between acceptance and flexibility and for many this has been hard to overcome amidst the pandemic and these uncertain times.
Although this is not the end, we will reach the finish line eventually. Focusing on yourself and your own physical and mental health during the pandemic is key to remaining healthy and focused.
“Every single day is a good day no matter how bright or dark it is, because it always brings an opportunity to start a positive beginning in your life.”Edmond Mbiaka