Writing the word 'COVID-19' just serves as a reminder that we have been enduring this pandemic for over 2 years now. If that doesn't cause you to stress, then good for you! For me, though, I am tired. Over the past 2 years, a whirlwind of emotions has arisen and it seems like there are new surprises around every pandemic corner. This period of time has brought a lot of anxiety, grief, sadness, anger, frustration, lethargy, fear, depression -you name it. Research throughout the pandemic clearly shows that it is not good for our mental health. If you were already struggling with mental health concerns, COVID probably exacerbated it. The uncertainty, the loss of life, the fear of being exposed can all lead to traumatic stress.
What Is Traumatic Stress?
Traumatic stress is slightly different from trauma per se. Traumatic stress is the normal reaction that people have to an abnormal, stressful event. Usually, these symptoms get better with time. When the symptoms do not get better with time and interfere with daily life, this is how PTSD and acute stress disorder develop.
Traumatic stress responses to an event like COVID-19 can include:
Trouble feeling positivity or hope
Difficulties with sleeping
Avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event (like the news)
Relationship problems (especially during quarantine)
Increase in irritability or anger
Feeling like you're on high alert or jumpy
Is COVID-19 a Traumatic Event?
Yes, yes, yes. COVID-19 is definitely a traumatic event. When we look at traumatic events of the past these include 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, slavery, The Holocaust, mass shootings, etc. Do you see any similarities in the way you felt during the pandemic to these events of the past? We call these collective traumas. These are traumatic events that have affected an entire society. COVID-19 is included as a collective trauma as it's a traumatic event that is impacting the whole world. Humans are not designed to withstand the stressors that come from these events, which is why they are regarded as traumatic and stressful.
COVID-19 can be a traumatic event even just for those who have witnessed it in everyday life. We also have to account for people who have contracted and battled with COVID, people who have lost a loved one to COVID, frontline workers, and people's lives who have changed significantly due to the pandemic. Feeling like you have to constantly battle everyday life just to survive or just to do your job is not normal. It's okay to feel burnt out and angry at those in charge. It's okay to feel sad and grieve your life before. It's okay to change your life along with the changes of the pandemic. There are no guidelines of how to survive a pandemic and it's helpful to remind yourself we're all figuring out this thing day by day. Don't forget that with neuroplasticity, though, we always have the option to heal from traumatic vents.
Tips for Enduring COVID-19 Stressors
While there are no guidelines on how to handle this pandemic, there are tips and tricks in order to help us endure the daily changes that come along with COVID. These are just some suggestions that can help get us by:
Sufficient socialization. Now I know it's hard to feel like you can adequately socialize with everyone adjourning over Zoom. This doesn't mean that you can't, though. In making the best out of a bad situation, we have to get creative. Think of different ways you can socialize with friends and family while staying safe. If this means weekly Zoom meetups, socially distant gatherings, testing negative before an event then it's worth it. Socialization is so important to combat the loneliness that lurks in quarantine.
Finding a good therapist. I know I'm a little biased, but I feel like there is no replacement for a good therapist. I know that your therapist is going through similar difficulties as you with the pandemic. Having someone you can vent to, that will listen to you, that can give feedback on healthy ways to cope with stressors is invaluable at this point, though. Look for ways to find a therapist that you bond with and can feel supported by.
Focusing on what you can control. This tip is easier said than done, but with practice, it can become a part of your coping skill set. This pandemic is almost entirely out of our control. We can take measures to ensure our own safety, but we cannot control the actions of others or the response to the pandemic. What we can do is focus on what we can control in ending the pandemic and accepting what else is left. As I said I know this is hard, but it's worth it for a piece of mind.
Sticking to a routine. Having a routine during turbulent times is so important. When things feel chaotic and out of place, having a routine can feel grounding. Related to the above point, we can control our day-to-day routine even if we can't control the unknown of COVID. Having a daily routine that includes activities that enhance your mental and physical wellbeing is key.
Take care of your physical health. Taking care of your physical health doesn't only help to combat COVID, but it also helps with mental wellbeingtoo. It's well known that movement and exercise can help battle mental health concerns. This doesn't mean that you have to adopt a whole new exercise regimen, but getting outside and walking for a little each day can do wonders for your overall health.
Finding a community. Alike the above point of sufficient socialization, it's imperative to find community. Finding a community that can help you process the craziness of the pandemic will help with feelings of loneliness as well as helping with traumatic stress symptoms. Finding a community could mean finding online or safe in-person events or meetups that include your interests. Meetup.com has been a great resource during this time.