Do you find yourself avoiding subjects you enjoyed or even worse, you’ve completely lost interest in learning? Are you having moments of adrenaline burst when you’re just sitting around doing nothing? What about laughing at something serious or feeling really sad at something funny? Those deadlines that came at the end of the semester, did you find yourself wanting to throw your hands up and ignore them completely? This is how our responses can be when we’ve been exposed to a traumatic event. We are all collectively experiencing a worldwide traumatic event from Covid-19 in varying degrees.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
When something traumatic occurs, depending on several risk factors and intensity, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD can develop. The symptoms of PTSD include reliving the event in nightmares, avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma, having negative changes in your beliefs, and feeling keyed up. Trauma can present as willful disobedience, extreme distrust, difficulty managing friendships, and extreme or unmatched emotions. We can all see how this is playing out across social media in regards to people’s responses to Covid-19: extreme distrust, rampant conspiracy theories, or even denial of the seriousness of our situation.
Trauma Affects the Brain
Trauma changes the brain. When someone experiences a scary event, their brain is flooded with stress hormones to keep them safe. For example, when triggered your brain will take over your body with the stress hormones that will signal you to either fight, flight, or freeze. This is a natural response that our brain and body do to keep us alive and safe. For COVID-19 this probably looks like protesting at the state capital (fighting), an obsessive hoarding of toilet paper (flight), or being paralyzed in fear (freeze).
The key is to settle your brain is by disarming the fear. There are some practical strategies you can use to bring yourself a sense of control and relief. How do we do that?
- Nurture Relationships: First and foremost; positive, healthy, consistent relationships are key! Stay connected with people you care about. Take advantage of the technology we have. Facetime, Zoom, Google Hang, send Tik Tok challenges or play video games with your friends.
- Create safe spaces: Have an oasis in your home. Now, this may simply mean making your bed and putting away your laundry. Consider what you need in your space to feel safe and comfortable. Do that.
- Make healthy choices: Be intentional about what you’re putting in your body. Staying hydrated and fueled will tell your brain you’re safe. Keep a water bottle with you with cold refreshing water and every couple of hours have a healthy snack like a piece of fruit, a protein bar, or trail mix. (Coke and Hot Taakis do not count). Get moving, especially when the sun is out. It’s still safe to go for a walk as long as you’re maintaining 6 feet distance from others.
- Regulate your thoughts: Practice deep breathing; so deep that your tummy expands and you can feel the air in the bottom of your lungs. Use your imagination to visualize a place you’d rather be like dancing at a Second Line. Take notice of the things around you that you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste.
Most importantly, if your experience of COVID-19 is unbearable and you need more support, reach out! The Louisiana Department of Health has launched a mental health hotline, “Keeping Calm Through COVID,” at 1-866-310-7977. It is open 24/7.
Need more coping strategies? Check out our blog Minding Your Mental Health during Covid-19.