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Experiencing Traumatic Symptoms from the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Here are some ways to identify and minimize the effect of a traumatic experience on yourself during these trying times.

We are flooded daily, hourly and even at times, minute by minute with the loss of lives for each day locally, provincially, nationally and globally. We are bombarded by the incredible high numbers of sickness, business losses, loss of community, disconnection from family and the so many other challenging and difficult losses. Unfortunately, health policies to combat COVID-19 can also heighten the fear response and inner feelings of being unsafe.

COVID-19 has created a global effect of uncertainty, upheaval, and chaos.

This pandemic is viewed as the invisible enemy. It has created a societal and global heighten fear response leaving many to feel extremely vulnerable and unsafe. Some people might experience thoughts like:

  1. obsession with COVID-19

  2. over-cleaning

  3. inability to relax

  4. heightened fear of contracting the virus

  5. sleep difficulties and disturbances

  6. feeling ‘paranoid’ to leave their homes or approaching any oncoming people while out.

  7. shame responses by perceiving others to view them as a ‘disease’ while out in public

  8. other oncoming people or those not in the ‘safe zone of social distancing’ are viewed as a potential threat for contamination leading to either serious illness or death

  9. ‘isolation’ from all other people leads to heightened disconnection, exasperating trauma symptoms.

For many, when having to leave their home, they experience feelings of confusion, anxiety and a heightened sense of fear and feeling unsafe, which leads to the following:

  1. everyone else, to some degree is viewed as a potential ‘threat’ to spread the virus.

  2. this invisible enemy of this virus, which is mild for some and lethal for others – leads to uncertainty as to which category you might fall into should contamination occur. The fear of “not knowing” your category heightens inner fear responses itself.

  3. ‘Avoidance’ to be near others is heightened for fear of contamination. Everyone else to some degree is a serious potaential threat to personal safety, and life itself.

All of this uncertainty and fear responses can lead to a trauma effect.

According to the Mayo Clinic, trauma symptoms are described as:

Intrusive memories such as:

  1. Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event

  2. Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)

  3. Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event

  4. Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event

Avoidance such as:

  1. Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event

  2. Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event

Negative changes in thinking and mood such as:

  1. Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world

  2. Hopelessness about the future

  3. Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event

  4. Difficulty maintaining close relationships

  5. Feeling detached from family and friends

  6. Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  7. Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

  8. Feeling emotionally numb

Changes in physical and emotional reactions such as:

  1. Being easily startled or frightened

  2. Always being on guard for danger

  3. Self-destructive behaviour, such as drinking too much or driving too fast

  4. Trouble sleeping

  5. Trouble concentrating

  6. Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behaviour

  7. Overwhelming guilt or shame

Tips to minimize your risk of experiencing ‘traumatic’ responses from COVID-19

  1. Minimize your exposure to COVID-19 media. Being informed is important, so watch enough to keep you informed, but doesn’t lead to vicarious trauma responses. (This article is useful “Watching News Can Be Traumatizing”)

  2. Stay connected with friends and family. Find interesting and creative ways to stay connected with important people in your life, rather than withdrawing. You can connect with tools like Zoom, Facebook Messenger, or just a plain old phone call.

  3. Get exercise and regular sleep. Exercising at home can be difficult, but isn’t impossible. Sleep is restorative and required to regulate your nervous system. This article has useful tips for sleeping.

  4. Create a ‘safe space’ by listening to comforting music, taking a bath, self-pampering, watching a funny or uplifting movies, developing a daily structure or routine, or plan to cook new recipes.

  5. Practice grounding techniques when you feel anxious or your thoughts start to race with fear. Here is a resource for great grounding strategies (scroll down to ‘Grounding Techniques – multiple languages and download PDF).

  6. Read inspiration messages daily to keep positive thoughts and remember, there is hope just around the corner.

Follow these steps to help avoid the effects of past trauma during these stressful times.

As always, I wish you well.


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