How to prevent PTSD in the days of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Since the start of 2020, the world has completely changed. Weekends and our down time in general used to be spent getting together with friends and loved ones, maybe traveling, or even simply going to a restaurant without underlying fear of infection.
We have now been forced into accepting a new-normal, no matter how unreal and dystopian it may feel.
We are all living in a world that has every person being exposed to the pre-conditions of trauma and the possible development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (commonly referred to as PTSD). [For the full diagnostic criteria for PTSD, check the very end of this post!]
Preconditions of PTSD are:
Lack of predictability as to what’s going on around us
Immobility and not being able to move freely as we please (or perceived immobility)
Loss of connection, whether it’s not being seen/heard/paid attention to
Numbing out and spacing out
Loss of sense of time and sequences and feeling as though there is no end to it
Loss of safety, or perceived sense of safety
Loss of sense of purpose or identity
How do you stop yourself from developing PTSD and address these pre-conditions?
There's no definitive way of knowing if you will develop it, or specific way to prevent it. But these are ways that have been proven to reduce your likelihood of developing it!
1. Focus on what you can control
There are still things that we can control and focus on! Start with establishing a routine and schedule for yourself (Here’s a link with some guidance on ESTABLISHING A ROUTINE). Think about things you are looking forward to in the near future (maybe plan a hike, or a project at home!).
2. Move your body!
When we have a perceived threat, our body taps into survival mode where it activates our fight or flight mode. If we are unable to either fight (we can’t punch Coronavirus in its face) or engage in flight (leave our houses or the city), we have a greater incidence of lashing out at people or feeling helpless. Our stress hormones are there to protect us, and to make sure that we regulate these emotions, we MUST move! There are countless movement options that we can still do from home. If you’d like some ideas, check out exercise programs online, yoga classes, chi gong classes, or resistance training resources online. (Some free resources, check out Peloton for 90 days with their exercises classes on their free app). If you are interested in a home exercise program designed specifically for you, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll work with you to create one!
We are social creatures that NEED connection with others to not only thrive, but to survive. Schedule regularly occurring times with friends and family members to keep in touch! I recommend the application Houseparty. It’s like Zoom or FaceTime, but has games that can be played with each other while in the chat!
4. Mindfulness and being present!
With all of the misinformation, and conflicting information, you may want to numb yourself by tuning out and watching Netflix, drinking alcohol, or using drugs. Restore your mind by practicing mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is being present in the here-and-now moment, experiencing it fully, and (the hardest part) without judgment. To know what you need, you have to be able to listen to your body and its cues. Feel your body being safe in this moment. Get in touch with your breathing. Feel how you interact with your surrounding using your senses. In addition to the Peloton app offering meditation exercises, consider using Headspace (which has also been made free for the rest of the year), Ten percent happier, Calm, or the Insight Timer apps!)
5. But for real, MINDFULNESS
Trauma is timeless. You may have experienced an event 30 years ago, but it can still present itself as though it’s happening in this very moment. To address this, you have to live in the present moment. Mindfulness exercises allow us to experience our bodies in the present moment, and experience every moment being different from the next. The moment that you can sit with discomfort, negative thoughts, and watch them shift or fade away, you will have new sensations take their place. This moment-to-moment experience helps you to regain your sense of real-time.
6. Establish a safe place at home!
We are animals first. When we are feeling threatened with a lack of safety, we need a place to withdraw to. For most of us, prior to this whole pandemic, we could simply say “our home” was our safe place. Now that we are confined to our homes, where is your safe place? Where is your place where you can feel safe and okay to disconnect? Even if it’s a corner of a room, make it comfortable, and make it YOURS. Communicate with those that may be living with you or in your home (if anyone), that when you are here, please allow me to be there without being confronted or challenged or in some cases, even spoken to. Allow that area to be your new safe place as you would want it to be to feel at ease!
7. Recreate yourself, and do things that make you happy!
Americans as a whole have a tendency to identify themselves in their work. However, during these difficult times, work may not be a possibility for most. Find ways to express yourself. This could be in writing, drawing, painting, creating, or even socializing. What makes you happy, and how can you do more of it these days? Do you like helping others? Maybe consider volunteer efforts like CARE-mongering (shout out to the lovely Canadians who created this beautiful movement!). This is a time where you can rediscover yourself and what you enjoy! It’s okay to enjoy yourself and to have fun during these dreary and uncertain times!
If you follow these steps, you are well on your way to ensuring that you don’t develop PTSD from COVID-19!
Let me know if you have any questions, or if you would like to see about addressing your symptoms today!
Here are the diagnostic criteria for PTSD (listed below) must all be experienced for at least one month.
Having exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence, in at least one of the following ways:
Directly experiencing the traumatic events yourself. (you personally getting COVID-19)
Witnessing in person, the traumatic event(s) as they occurred to others. (Watching someone having aversive reactions to COVID-19)
Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend. (loved one contracting COVID-19)
Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event (think first responders).
Have at least 1 intrusive symptom of these 5 symptoms:
Involuntary or intrusive memories
Dissociation (flashbacks) where you feel as though you are back in the traumatic event and reliving it
Significant distress resulting from triggers or cues
Physiological reactions (sweating, heart racing, etc.)
Have either of these avoidance behaviors:
Actively trying to avoid memories or thoughts related to the traumatic event
Actively avoid triggers or cues that bring up memories or feelings related to the traumatic event.
At least two of the seven negative thoughts, moods, or emotions being exhibited:
Amnesia related to the event (not remembering aspects of the event)
Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about yourself (“I’m never going to be safe” or “The world is completely dangerous”)
Persistent and distorted beliefs about the cause or blame for the event. (Someone blaming themselves or others for the event, like I am the reason why my mother caught COVID-19).
Persistent negative emotional state (constantly feeling afraid, horror, anger, guilt, or shame)
Lack of interest or participation in significant activities (not enjoying things you used to love doing)
Feeling detached or estranged from others (being present with someone, but feeling detached from them)
Inability to experience positive or happy emotions
At least two of the six arousal or reactivity responses being exhibited:
Being self-destructive or reckless with your behaviors
Hypervigilance (always alert, with guard up, keeping an eye out for potential danger)
Exaggerated startle response
Inability to concentrate
Issues with sleeping (sleeping too much, too little, or staying asleep)