The past few years have been incredibly stressful for all of us. Of health and safety concerns, at coping with death or illness friends and family, coping with financial hardship due to job loss, or constantly having to adjust to school closures and childcare disruptions, life has been a nonstop rollcoaster stress and worry. As resultssome people can even struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by all stressors.
“Normally with a trauma there is something that comes to you, that puts your body on the fight, on the run, or freeze mode, but with COVID it’s an invisible threat,” said Stephanie Stathas, a licensed professional counselor with Thriveworks, specializing in the treatment of trauma. Over the past few years, Stathas has seen a significant increase in the number of people seeking treatment, many of whom are suffering from trauma-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, irritability, and sleep disturbances.
Ongoing Stress Can Cause PTSD Symptoms
PTSD tends to develop in the weeks following a traumatic event, although it can sometimes appear months or years later. Symptoms include hyper-alertness, emotional avoidance or numbness, flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, anxiety, depression, and may also include physical symptoms, such as headache, dizziness or stomach pain.
Although we generally think that PTSD develops after a specific traumatic event, such as surviving a car accident or violent assault, people can also develop the condition after repeated exposure to stressful or traumatic events. If the traumatic events were ongoing, with no possibility of escape, this can lead to what is called Complex PTSD, who has symptoms similar to PTSD but can also include feelings of guilt, shame, or uselessness; decreased ability to regulate emotions; and issues related to forming and maintaining healthy relationships. “It doesn’t become one incident anymore, now you have all of these incidents, and all of these combined make PTSD complex,” Stathas said.
Complex PTSD often develops in people who have grown up in violent environments, who have been in an abusive relationship as an adult, or who have gone through another similar and prolonged period of stress that they could not escape. Given the pervasive nature of the pandemic, the symptoms people struggle with are often the result of relentless stress.
However, as experts are beginning to point out, the pandemic is unique stressor this will have its own pattern of trauma-related symptoms. Some experts have already coined the term COVID stress syndromewho understands fear to be infected, to fear on the financial impact of the pandemic; to fear other people who may be infected; compulsive control and comfort seeking; and other stress related symptoms to the pandemic.
As Stathas points out, it’s uncertainty and unpredictability recent years it was incredibly stressful. “All these changes, all the time, just going into these feelings of helplessness and helplessness against something, and it’s hard,” Stathas said. “Just feeling like you’re in control of something can help us feel better, but to go more than two years without it is scary.”
What to do if you have PTSD
If the stressors of the past few years have reached a point where it is having a negative impact in your personal relationships, on your physical health and well-being, or your general emotional state, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.
“Whenever it catches up with you, and you don’t know why, look at what you haven’t addressed, what’s unresolved,” Stathas said. “It will catch up. I see this all the time.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to look for someone who is trained in dealing with trauma, because there are a number of different treatment options. Some of the most common types of therapy for PTSD include cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or eyou movement ddesensitization and retprocessing (EMDR therapy).
Depending on your preferences, one type may work better than another. Many therapists will be trained in more than one type and can adapt the strategies of each according to your needs. “There’s no shame in going to therapy,” Stathas said. “It’s no different from going to a doctor to take care of your medical well-being. Mental health and well-being are equally important.