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What to Know If the Trauma of the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Affecting You

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Why is getting out of bed so hard right now? I feel like I have run a marathon every night instead of sleeping, cleaning my house has become this momentous task that I can never complete, and everyday activities are overwhelmingly hard. I often find myself recently feeling alone, anxious, scared and sometimes numb.

Psychological and emotional trauma is a product of extremely stressful events that destroy your sense of security, leaving you feeling helpless and vulnerable in an unsafe world. Psychological trauma affects people differently; it can leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to put your trust in other people, it can also leave you experiencing anxiety that is persistent and struggling with distressing emotions and memories.

Traumatic experiences tend to involve a threat to life or safety. However, as everyone is different, anything that makes you feel isolated and/or overwhelmed can be traumatic; this does not have to involve physical harm. The event is not what is considered traumatic but the individual’s emotional response to the experience. Two different people in the same experience can have two different emotional responses, and the more scared and helpless you feel, the more likely you are you be traumatized.

Dealing with a manmade or natural disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic can have some unique challenges, even for those who have not been directly involved in the event. Most people will not be a victim of a terrorist attack, a plane crash, or a mass shooting as examples. However, through the news, social media and stories, the viewing of these images over and over again bombards our nervous system and can create traumatic stress. Social media and 24-hour news means it’s sometimes hard to turn off all the negativity in the world, the suffering, loss and tragedy — the growing death rate from the coronavirus. This repeated exposure to the negative can lead to traumatic stress, and your nervous system acts as though you have experienced the situation yourself. For many of us, we are; for others, we are just sitting on the sidelines watching as the world burns. Traumatic stress can leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained, grieving, losing of focus and/or sleep. This is due to your sense of security feeling shattered, leaving you feeling vulnerable and helpless. This is a natural and “normal” response to abnormal events.

Generally, the thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms that come with traumatic stress gradually reduce and fade as life resumes. There may be times you feel anxious and scared, and in others you could feel disconnected and numb. These may come in waves along with other emotional symptoms like but not limited to: fear, sadness, grief, anger or relief. Physical symptoms range from feeling dizzy or faint, rapid breathing, racing thoughts and unexplained aches and pains. The important thing to remember is that, emotionally and physically, they are completely typical responses.

Over the days and weeks that follow the event or crisis you encountered, regardless of how you experienced it, there are ways to soothe your nervous system and reinstate your emotional balance. Addressing your symptoms, it can be beneficial to recognize that they are symptoms and not who you are as a person. There is no right or wrong way to feel, but it is important that you don’t ignore the way you do. Reestablishing a routine and trying not to obsess over the event are good tactics with moving forward. However, it would be advised not to make any major life decisions while dealing with the trauma, as you can add extra stress and may not be thinking clearly.

Reducing your media intake and getting active can be beneficial. Exercise can burn off the adrenaline you may feel as well as producing feel-good hormones. It can also be helpful to reach out to others; you do not have to tell your story but broadening your social group, joining support groups or joining a hobby club can make you feel less alone. The list of tips and tricks to ground yourself is long, but it’s about finding what works for you as an individual. Just as trauma affects us differently, how we heal can be different too.

If you are having trouble functioning at home or work, experiencing terrifying memories or flashbacks or you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, seek professional help immediately. There is no shame in asking for help.

Recently I branched out and asked for help. I didn’t even realize the pandemic was affecting me as much as it was, but now, with the help of loved ones, some online groups and long walks with my dogs, I am on my way to feeling like me again.

Photo by Marshal Quast on Unsplash

Originally published: February 27, 2021
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