PTSD is complex, but in a nutshell, it is the body’s response to a stressful or fear provoking event.
It causes our bodies to go into a constant state of preparation to fight something dangerous or scary. Over time this can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and physical health symptoms. PTSD is not something someone can stop from developing, but there are steps we can take to help relieve the symptoms and to help a person towards remission and recovery.
To help understand how this works, let’s first talk about PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health diagnosis defined by a number of symptoms that occur anywhere from a month to years following one or many traumatic event/s. Whether or not an event is traumatic is defined by the person who experiences it. No one can define what trauma means to another person. Their interpretation and response is what matters.
Think of PTSD as a state of responding to things around you as if they are all threats, a perpetual fight or flight state. We are sure that some of us can relate to this feeling during the pandemic. But remember what matters is the response. Are you able to respond to the threats with logic? Are you able to control your reaction? If you can, you have control over this unconscious process in the body. For example, can you say to yourself… “It is unlikely I will get COVID-19 from my groceries and everything is not a threat.”
For a fuller definition of PTSD, check out the resources here.
The core features of a PTSD diagnosis are:
1-Intrusion (Thoughts, memories, or bodily symptoms that disrupt daily life)
2-Avoidance (Situations, people, or places trigger the traumatic memory or response and are avoided)
3-Negative Mood (Symptoms of anxiety or depression among other symptoms that may contribute to a negative outlook or view of the traumatic event or the broader world)
4-Hyperarousal (Remaining on edge and responding disproportionately to normal stressors. This can look like an exaggerated response, irritability, anger, reactivity, sleep disturbance, problems with focus and concentration, and bodily symptoms like increased heart rate)
5-Reliving (re-experiencing an event or having nightmares for example)
In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, fear and uncertainty have contributed to mental health symptoms in the general population. A number of studies have examined the impact of traumatic stress on the emergence of PTSD symptoms, and while exact estimates vary, these studies taken together suggest an increase in the incidence of PTSD in the general population. Moreover, people who have had COVID-19 (especially those who have experienced ICU stays) are more likely to have symptoms of PTSD than the general population. And while some people will have PTSD symptoms, they may not have PTSD. If you think you do have PTSD, remember that you should talk to a therapist or primary care clinician first. The key PTSD symptoms to watch out for are: intrusive images or re-experiencing, inability to feel relaxed or to let your guard down, feeling detached from your surroundings, and feeling guilt about events. You can learn more and even take a screening test here to understand more about your symptoms. Remember that this just helps you learn more, but does not diagnose you with PTSD.
If you need support while you are waiting to talk to someone and do feel you are experiencing PTSD symptoms, know that there are things you can do. Focus on what you can control, increase mindful activities, regulate sleep, nutrition, and schedule, seek connections (safely) with others rather than isolate, exercise, and seek additional help like trauma focused therapies. The VA PTSD center has a great listing of resources for COVID-19.
And if you are not experiencing PTSD like symptoms, but may have a high level of anxiety, try out applying some of the mental health strategies we have talked about before on Dear Pandemic and/or our post on how to find a therapist in the U.S. What you do now can help you support your own mental wellness and build up a tool kit for whatever stressors the future may hold.
Thank you to all of our followers who have openly shared their experiences and journeys to mental wellness with us. With support, people with PTSD do get better and can find the supports to continue to stay well.
Stay safe. Stay Well.
Those Nerdy Girls
Please note: If you need additional resources in the U.S., Mental Health America (MHA) offers a great way to search for resources. And if you are in need of immediate assistance, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Español: 1-888-628-9454; Hearing Support: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.