Why Covid-19 is Particularly Overwhelming for Those with PTSD
Larissa Brown, M.S., is an international relationship coach and founder of EmpowerME: Coaching & Workshops.
The United States is experiencing a pandemic unlike any that has been experienced here before. It is bringing with it a lot of intense emotions for people, especially those who experience chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
When you’ve been through a traumatic experience in your life, there’s the potential that the way you interact with the world might be different than other people who haven’t had similar experiences. This is especially true if the trauma involved prolonged and ongoing abuse, but for many, even a single occurrence is enough to alter the way you experience things.
PTSD is essentially an anxiety disorder that develops in response to a life-threatening experience. Although PTSD affects each person a little differently, it often involves hypervigilance – a state of being highly alert to potential danger or threat – and many are likely to experience high levels of anxiety.
With the entire world in a state of hypervigilance over COVID-19, many among us who have PTSD may be feeling especially anxious and ungrounded. Coupled with the request that we socially isolate, or possibly even having been ordered to “shelter-in-place,” we’re increasingly feeling disconnected from our support system.
Pause – Take a Deep Breath – Go Back to the Beginning
If you are among those with PTSD who feel as though you’re coming apart at the seams, pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and make a list of any strategies that have helped you to become more grounded in the past. In times of extreme stress and anxiety it is easy to lose sight of what we already know. And it is always easier to re-establish habits that we are already familiar with than it is to try to create something completely new.
Once you have your list, circle anything that can be re-implemented in our current situation. For example, anything that requires supplies that you know you have on hand and anything you can do while adhering to the social distancing or shelter-in-place recommendations.
Next, take a look at anything on your list that isn’t circled, is there a way that you could alter these items so that they would fit our current situation. For example, if one of the things that helps you to become more grounded is having coffee with your best friend, could you schedule to have a virtual coffee with them?
Need more tools to help you cope?
Individual & Relationship Coaching
There are times throughout our life where we could all use a little extra support figuring out who we are, who we want to be, and how to fit all the pieces together.
Working with your personal life coach will provide you with that support to help you to see outside of your current situation and gain a clearer perspective on where you want to go and what it will take to get there.
Since 2016 EmpowerME has been offering a Women’s Trauma Support Group and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic plans were already underway to offer a virtual support group using video conferencing technology. Women who have been abused already feel isolated in their experience. Countless women have shared their feelings of shame and guilt, which have kept them from reaching out and seeking support. Now at a time when we’re all feeling more isolated than ever, connection is going to be vital. For more information you can check out our website at www.empowermemaine.com/trauma-support.
Need more tools to help you cope?
If you feel as though the strategies you’ve used in the past aren’t going to work in this situation. Here are some new things to try:
Limit COVID-19 media exposure – It’s good to stay informed, but if you find yourself checking news sites several times a day, you may want to limit how much information you’re exposing yourself to. Try to limit your time on social media (or take a hiatus altogether for a period) and check in with credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, twice-per-day at most. Once in the morning and once in the evening.
Keep a Journal – While it’s not for everyone, journaling can be an effective way to process thoughts and emotions. Instead of allowing worries to continue to circle around inside your head, try putting them down on paper. Clients of mine are often surprised at how helpful this is. When you’re finished you might choose to keep your writing to reflect on later or, if it feels too vulnerable to have your innermost thoughts outside of yourself, you might consider shredding or burning the pages. Sometimes this act of tangibly destroying these thoughts can allow you to release them emotionally as well. (If you decide to burn them, be sure to take the necessary safety precautions).
Find ways to busy your mind – If I told you not to think about a pink elephant, I bet the only thing that you’d be thinking about is a pink elephant. That’s the way our mind works. The more we actively try not to think about something, the more it consumes us. The trick is to find something else to focus on instead, a good exercise is to bring your awareness to all your senses. I usually recommend going for a walk in the woods (or even sitting quietly in the woods) but you can do this wherever you are. Close your eyes, what do you hear, what do you smell, what do you feel (is there a breeze, can you feel the warmth of the sun, etc.). Open your eyes and focus on what you see, if you’re in a familiar place try to notice things that you often overlook. This focused attention can help quiet your mind, which, in turn, will reduce your anxiety.
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We are all currently experiencing a collective traumatic experience.