Mental health surveys on the effects of COVID-19 are revealing an increase in PTSD symptoms among all individuals. That includes those working on the front lines, parents sheltering in place with children, employees working remotely from home from the first time, and those simply experiencing social isolation. Although social distancing is the best chance for controlling the virus, if you’ve watched loved ones become unemployed, sick, or even pass away, it can have devastating effects. Individuals who feel exhausted, scared, and isolated are especially vulnerable to the effects of PTSD. Research from China gives us a glimpse of what we may experience in the future months. According to surveys, 96.2% of survivors in China score highly on feeling anxiety, anger, depression, and insomnia – all signs of PTSD.
PTSD typically shows up long after the threat of the incident. Although we expect to see a higher incidence with survivors of COVID-19 and front-line medical workers, everyone was exposed to the sudden change of life. What determines the effect PTSD has on an individual is not what they do for a living but their perception of what the virus has done to their life.
If you or a loved one feel overwhelmed, numb, depressed, or panicked during this time of transition, it is important you seek help. Although it’s impossible to predict what life will look like in the near future, we can restore and flatten the mental health curve if we maintain our emotional closeness to one another. These suggestions can help.
1. Be aware of the symptoms of PTSD. If you have more than two of these for more than 2 weeks, talk to someone who can help you get mental health help. Talking about how you feel is the first step to helping you cope.
· Emotional numbness
· Constant guilt, anxiety, or panic
· Angry outbursts
· Being overly alert or easily startled
2. Practice TEB awareness. TEB stands for thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Watch what you are staying to yourself; if your self-talk is negative and catastrophic, your body and mind will react with anxiety, numbness, and depression.
3. Make media consumption intentional. If the news is intensifying negative thoughts, then change how you watch the news. Limit your news to once a day and stick with a broadcast you trust. Watching continual coverage and conflict with the COVID-19 can trigger traumatic images.
4. Practice resilience. Most people are stronger than they realize. What makes you feel strong, inspired, and capable? Call on friends, family, your faith leaders, and co-workers. People want to help and connect during difficult times. Do what you can be a helper, and begin by helping yourself by reconnecting with your social circle.
Protecting your mental health is as important as protecting your physical well-being. Practicing healthy coping skills by staying emotionally close to your friends, family, and faith will help you flatten the mental health curve and stay healthy during this uncertain time.