Everyone responds differently to stressful events. You may notice some turn despair into memes, while others become withdrawn and hopeless. It’s also true that the extent to which each person can cope with a crisis varies.
In an ideal world, everyone could function normally, but this isn’t the reality. Unprecedented pandemics like COVID-19 can cause psychological trauma for many.
What exactly is psychological trauma and how can a virus can cause it?
Below, you’ll find the answer to what trauma is, whether coronavirus can cause it, and effective ways of tackling it.
What comes to mind when you hear the word trauma? The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” This can include a one-time event like a violent attack or a more overlooked event like a sudden breakup. In this context, it’s COVID-19 which has impacted the lives of people globally.
You may find it interesting to know that the word “trauma” is searched in Google between 10,000 and 100,000 times a month. That tells us it’s a topic people are curious about or battling with.
So, how do you know if you’re experiencing trauma? What are some signs and symptoms?
Signs of psychological trauma aren't always conspicuous. There are disparities in how individuals express trauma as each person experiences it differently. However, they usually experience one of two two emotional extremes––feeling too much or too little.
While some are more resilient and can bounce back from a traumatic event quickly, it leaves others with long-term effects such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) years after the incident takes place. PTSD is more common than you may know as it affects around 3.5% of U.S. adults and one in 11 are expected to be diagnosed with it in their lifetime.
Here are a few common responses to psychological trauma you should look out for during these trying times.
Intense Emotion: Some people react to traumatic events by exhibiting a range of emotions. For instance, they may express anger, fear, shame, or sadness. However, not everyone can identify what they’re feeling. Some may be incapable of expressing emotion because of cultural factors or fear that it will trigger emotions associated with the traumatic event.
Numbness: Denial is another common response to trauma. Said individuals may describe having a lack of emotion associated with the event. Their trauma symptoms can appear less severe than they are because emotions become detached from thoughts, behaviors, and memories.
Emotional Dysregulation: Another potential expression of trauma is not being able to regulate emotions at all. To regain control, such victims may try to self-medicate through substance abuse. Risky and compulsive behaviors or disorder eating are other ways they may respond to emotional dysregulation.
Physical Effects: It’s possible to experience physical effects of trauma like aches and pains, muscle tension, or a racing heartbeat. There is also said to be a connection between trauma and chronic conditions. Examples of conditions you can associate with a traumatic event are sleep disturbances, respiratory disorders or substance use disorders.
Now that you have a better understanding of what psychological trauma is and common responses to it, how do you think COVID-19 can cause trauma?
The sudden loss of loved ones is one of many ways. Seeing as the formidable disease has resulted in a death toll of over 40,000 in the U.S. alone, it’s a reality for many.
Another source of trauma could be the sudden loss of income or being trapped indoors with an abusive person because of stay-at-home-orders. Healthcare workers on the frontlinemay also be affected by the suffering and death of patients. All of these traumatic situations can trigger emotional responses like anxiety, depression, or fear.
A KFF poll taken in early April found 45% of adults in the U.S. said their mental health has been negatively impacted by worry and stress stemming from the virus. On these premises, there is potential for COVID-19 to result in long-term mental health effects.
Trauma isn’t something that should be ignored. It could have serious physical health implications and hinder recovery––especially for those with mental health illnesses and addictions. Below are some healthy coping mechanisms that could help you get through the current crisis.
Support systems go a long way when you’re dealing with trauma. You may feel far from the people you love most because of social distancing, but there are other ways to connect. Make use of technology like Skype, FaceTime, Houseparty, and Zoom. These applications make it possible to connect with people who make you feel seen, heard, and loved.
If you have a substance abuse disorder making use of your support system is especially key. Communicate with people who can help you deal with the traumatic stress you may be experiencing because of the ongoing pandemic. You may find that harnessing the power of a strong support system could help prevent a relapse.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, and other expressions of trauma, healthy coping mechanisms are key. Although some turn to drugs, alcohol, and other destructive outlets, this can be counterproductive. Instead, try breathing exercises as they can activate the part of your nervous system that calms your body down. You may also want to exercise or read a few pages of a new book––even if it’s for short periods. Keep your body moving and your mind active so negative thoughts don’t consume you.
If you’ve tried everything under the sun and find you’re struggling to cope with the trauma created by COVID-19, consider reaching out to a professional. You may have PTSD and need an assessment as well as professional treatment to help you cope.
What treatment will do is help you regulate challenging emotions without using substances or unsafe behaviors as a coping mechanism. Instead, you’d learn new and healthy coping skills so you’re able to manage your emotions. Examples include mindfulness practices, cognitive restructuring, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or exposure therapy. Many organizations are offering telehealth services so you can still get access to care.
A potential consequence of not adequately dealing with trauma in present times is a breakdown in the mental health of millions of Americans––which could exacerbate the current crisis and create another. During a time when grief, suffering, and uncertainty are imminent, knowing how to manage emotional lows could be a saving grace.