During this pandemic, many of us have the hope deep down that things are going to gradually return to the way they were and cling to an optimistic outlook on life. But what if you feel like you are no longer the same, and maybe never will be? Many survivors of traumatic events have trouble giving a name to what they’re feeling and processing the experience properly.
Dissociation may also occur along with greater risk of addiction and other ill-advised coping mechanisms. If you feel like you’ve changed and not for the better during the pandemic, you’re not alone. Millions of other people worldwide feel the same as they may be unwittingly experiencing some degree of traumatic stress disorder.
A Hidden ‘Pandemic’: COVID Stress Disorder
Covid-19-related stress disorder/syndrome, also known as COVID-related Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), is a relatively new mental health condition spurred by the ongoing worldwide pandemic, which affects the mental health of exponentially more people than the virus itself.
If left unaddressed, ASD may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition already detected in numerous COVID-19 survivors. According to latest research, COVID Stress Disorder is fueled by at least three central factors:
– Perceived virus-related danger and fear of contamination
– Fear of COVID-19-related adverse socio-economic effects
– Traumatic stress symptoms, including COVID-related nightmares, compulsive behaviors, night sweating, and panic attacks.
Unfortunately, many of these factors feed upon one another. For instance, fear of contamination prompts the person to check out the news and social media feeds almost compulsively, which can only fuel contamination fears, creating a vicious cycle.
That is why, it is often recommended to reduce exposure to COVID-related news and info to just half an hour per day, as many people have reported reaching a far better place emotionally after avoiding the news and cutting COVID-related discussions with their loved ones altogether.
Over 50% of surveyed people have recently reported severe COVID-19-related distress and symptoms like avoiding public places, hoarding, panic buying, and extreme addictive behaviors, even if the vast majority haven’t caught the disease. Thirty-eight percent of the population reported moderate-to-severe symptoms, with 16% more reporting very severe symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms the Pandemic Has Taken a Toll on You
The abrupt changes to daily life spurred by governments’ aggressive response to the global viral contamination have been psychologically traumatic for a large part of the world. Especially young children and people with pre-existing anxiety disorders took the biggest hit.
Metal health professionals acknowledge that they are currently unable to fully capture the consequences and extent of the impact of the pandemic on the population’s mental health, but they agree that there are some signs and symptoms all COVID Stress Disorder sufferers share.
So, if you display any of the following signs and symptoms, COVID-19 has probably been a traumatic stressor to you:
– You feel extremely anxious about leaving your home
– You resort to dissociation to keep unwanted thoughts at bay (Dissociation include seeking refuge in the virtual world, a complete disconnection from the outside world, and feeling as if things are not real.)
– You are affected by increased digital addiction (In China, for instance, severe Internet addiction during the pandemic jumped 23%, with the rates of reported worsening digital dependence soaring 2,000%.)
– You compulsively check the news and social media feeds out of fear of contamination or concerns about an impending socio-economic collapse
– You compulsively spread such news and info on social media or during your daily interactions
– You experience severe substance use disorders, including relapses (Around 25% of former smokers reported falling back into their old habit and 32% of regular alcohol consumers reported increasing their alcohol intake during the pandemic.)
– You are guilty as charge of panic buying and/or hoarding, aka “overprepping”
– You have engaged in over-eating, excess gambling, or other destructive coping behaviors
– You display traumatic stress symptoms, such as pandemic-related nightmares, physical reactions to virus imagery or virus-related danger, night sweating, panic attacks, etc.
– You experience high levels of anxiety and depression or persistent suicidal thoughts.
Many of the symptoms listed above are common to both ASD and PTSD. But while both conditions require a psychologically traumatic event, ASD symptoms come quickly and may subside without treatment. By contrast, PTSD symptoms develop slowly and linger much longer (over one month after the traumatic event). PTSD is also accompanied by nightmares, flashbacks, and unwanted imagery related to the traumatic event as the brain is trying to re-live the trauma.
While all PTSD patients, at some point, experienced ASD, not all ASD sufferers will develop PTSD. Trauma‐exposed sufferers with Acute Stress Disorder have a higher risk of developing PTSD especially if they are continuously exposed to stressors that fuel the damage done by the traumatic event.
These stressors include excess fear or concerns, a permanent state of panic and fear (often fueled by the media), and financial insecurity spurred by job loss, mounting debt, and unexpected expenses not backed by a generous cash cushion.
And to add fuel to the fire, people that live in constant fear and anxiety are less likely to see the solutions to their problems, which can only make their anxiety worse. For instance, a new mother who has just found out that her baby has cerebral palsy or other type of severe disability due to a botched medical procedure, may fail to seek alternative ways of paying the crippling medical bills, like hiring a cerebral palsy attorney to force the ones responsible for the diagnosis shoulder the costs.
Fear shuts down the solution-focused part of the brain, leading to more feelings of hopelessness and fear and upping the risk for severe mental illness including PTSD.