With the new variant Omicron making its rounds across the globe, we are far from seeing the end of this pandemic nightmare. According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused “mass trauma on a larger scale than the second world war”, and its impact, including the detriment of our mental health, will last for “many years to come”. This expected emotional trauma is now known as post-pandemic stress disorder, a not yet recognized mental health condition similar to PTSD. In this era where the policies put in place to protect our health are putting people at greater risk for mental health issues, how can we manage post-pandemic anxiety? This article seeks to provide hope and answers to help you find the light in your life.
What Is Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder?
Owen O’Kane, the psychotherapist who coined the term, states post-pandemic stress disorder (PPSD) is a form of Covid-19-induced PTSD. With the loss of security, safety, and even faith this pandemic has caused, PPSD is a hypothesis of the mental health crisis that is already occurring and will continue when the contagion is over. Similar to how PTSD manifests after months or years after the traumatic event, many will experience a trauma reaction following the pandemic.
To make matters worse, Owen O’Kane states people are already struggling with trauma-type symptoms and challenges with long-term adjustments to the pandemic. If the pandemic has caused you to experience a form of trauma, you might be suffering from this mental health condition. Check out the signs and symptoms below to receive more awareness, evaluate your behaviors and thoughts, and potentially receive help.
11 Signs of Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder
The symptoms of PPSD are similar to PTSD, and like many mental health disorders, can vary with the individual. This variety may include pre-existing mental health conditions, socioeconomic status, and level of support, to name a few. Here is a list of symptoms and signs to better equip you with a stronger understanding of what to observe within yourself or a loved one:
- Feeling hopeless
- Disrupted sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Increased anxiety
- Mood changes
- Social withdrawal
- Struggling to cope
- Limited motivation
- Negative thought patterns
- Feeling numb
How To Manage Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder: 11 Tips
1. Reach out to loved ones
COVID has threatened a large part of what makes us human; fostering social connections. This absence of social interaction can increase stress, anxiety, and poor mental health outcomes. To bridge the disconnect, reach out to your friends and family within a dynamic you feel safe. Keeping in contact with your loved ones, sharing your experiences, and discussing challenges will help reduce your stress levels.
2.What level of anxiety are you experiencing?
Not all anxiety is negative. Some anxiety keeps us safe and can increase our performance levels. But unproductive anxiety can lead to catastrophic thinking and make us more vulnerable to post-pandemic stress disorder. Evaluating your anxiety can keep your mind from climbing to irrational heights. Take a few deep breaths, become an observer to your thoughts, and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can.
3. Validate your experience
Understanding the context of a traumatic event like the pandemic reminds you that how you feel is not your fault. The psychological difficulties you’re experiencing are a normal response to an abnormal experience. As you heal from these challenging symptoms, remember self-validation is a necessary part of your recovery.
4. Soothing methods for restful sleep
Similar to PTSD, a symptom of PPSD is sleep disturbances. Focus on creating a restful yet safe environment by using soothing music to block out noise, or perhaps using a weighted blanket, which stimulates being hugged and can reduce anxiety.
5. Progressive muscle relaxation
When we’re stressed, we tend to express our anxiety physically and emotionally. Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation involves alternating between tensing and releasing different muscle groups to generate rest, recovery, and letting go. Start by tensing your feet as you breathe in, relaxing them as you breathe out, and moving up your body in the same sequence. Over time, you’ll notice the absence of anxiety when your body is relaxed.
6. Shifting your focus
We often move through our day without looking within and becoming aware of what occurs around us. While you’re driving your car or washing the dishes, ask yourself, “I am breathing at this very moment?” Asking this simple question can stop your mind from regretting the past and anticipating the future.
7. Self-monitoring by tracking
Self-monitoring helps us build awareness about the connection between our thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and situations. When you experience an unpleasant situation or feeling, write about your thoughts, feelings, and reactions. After a week, analyze what you wrote to find any patterns to learn how your daily life impacts your mental state.
8. Engage in laughter
Laughter really is the best cure. Research suggests laughter not only enhances your mental state but increases your body’s oxygen, increases endorphins, and promotes muscle relaxation. Put on your favorite feel-good movie, engage in a shared laugh with a friend, and feel the positive benefits through your giggles.
9. Create structure
In the throes of a traumatic experience like COVID, creating structure and order around you maintains balance and a sense of normalcy. Setting and communicating boundaries within your home and at work, maintaining a routine, and practicing positive habits will make you feel more in control.
10. Find an outlet
Engaging in art, music, or writing can produce a healing effect on symptoms associated with trauma. They allow you to find relief from anxiety, connect with your emotions and express yourself in a healthy manner. Check off an item from your bucket list and learn to play an instrument, attend a virtual cooking class, or brush up on your painting skills.
The effects of any trauma can be challenging to manage. But therapy is often the best resource to help you regulate your emotions, receive consistent support, and learn about strategies that will increase your ability to get on track. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the gold-standard treatment to treat PTSD, which has a similar symptom profile to PPSD.
While we are far from overcoming the impact of COVID, practicing a combination of any of these tips will help you manage post-pandemic stress disorder.
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