“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength.” Ovid (43 B.C. – 17/18 A.D.), Roman Poet
The COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt leave an indelible mark on everyone. A few will remember this as time they were granted to slow down, exercise more, reconnect with family members and friends, enjoy long lost hobbies, work on those “someday” projects or volunteer to serve others. Most, however, will recall the stress of losing a job and trying to make ends meet while navigating an endless loop to nowhere in the unemployment system or in securing a CARES loan, working overtime due to an increased workload and reduced staff, balancing parenting and working from home with the newfound task of teaching, or worse, witnessing the devastating effects of COVID-19 while treating patients on the front lines. And some, most unfortunately, will be torn over losing someone they cared about or loved without ever having had a proper chance to grieve.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. (MayoClinic.org) People who experience a trauma often experience mood changes; they feel anxious, angry, hopeless about the future, detached from loved ones, and often feel “emotionally numb”. They have a hard time reconnecting to life as they knew it and finding joy. Insomnia is also common, as is difficulty concentrating. Some people engage in self-destructive behaviors like drinking too much (sound familiar?) while others pursue more drastic measures like suicide. PTSD typically appears within months of the qualifying event, but sometimes doesn’t manifest until much later.
PTSD sufferers work hard to avoid recalling or talking about the trigger event. They avoid people, places and activities that may bring them back to those unwanted memories. The body, however, internalizes the stress and our body’s knack for muscle memory does us a grave disservice in this case, as it holds the memory of these stressors, which can be triggered any time. Stress causes inflammation within the body, which lowers the immune response and can lead to more disease.
While we’d all like to believe that PTSD is reserved for soldiers of war, abuse victims or “weak people”, we are absolutely experiencing a collective mental health epidemic as a result of COVID-19. Almost no one will remain untouched. While it may not have an official medical name, I’m calling it post-COVID-19 traumatic stress disorder (PcTSD).
So, if a hallmark response to PTSD is to avoid the people, places and activities that bring back unwanted memories, will PcTSD change how we feel about our homes, our friends or our shelter-in-place habits? The answer will be different for everyone.
People sought support in new ways and deep relationships that were formed during the pandemic may thrive moving forward. Others may associate those relationships with difficult times and choose to cut or limit ties. And, the pace of “life on the other side of the curve” may simply make these regular communications impossible.
While being “stuck at home” certainly provided the time to realize all that needs to be fixed, painted or cleaned, I suspect most people have a newfound appreciation for the shelter their homes provide. Many took the time to work on home improvement and beautification projects they’ll be able to enjoy for years to come.
Family relationships were also likely impacted as responsibilities shifted and couples worked to figure out how to work from home, parent and teach – all at once. Adult siblings had to find new ways to manage and care for aging parents and younger siblings had to learn to get along, cook, clean or just be bored. And I won’t even get started on how simple tasks, like grocery shopping, became epic undertakings. What I do know is that how we deal with our own individual PcTSD will make all the difference in how this pandemic will affect us in the long run.
Here are some steps you can take to manage PcTSD:
- Get support: reach out to friends, family and clergy – whoever helps you feel connected.
- Exercise: whether it’s a long walk, a bike ride or sit-ups in your bedroom, the body needs a way to physically release the stress.
- Establish a sleep routine: The body needs rest to heal from the trauma. Shut off all electronics at least 45 minutes prior to going to sleep. Read a book or a magazine. Listen to positive affirmations. Write down what you’re grateful for (see below.)
- Get acupuncture: either your sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive and your body is in “fight or flight” mode or your parasympathetic nervous system has you stuck in “rest and digest”. Acupuncture helps balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system so your body can appropriately respond to stimuli. Acupuncture also works to reduce stress and inflammation and release the trauma from your body.
- Listen to or state positive affirmations (even if you think it’s silly and useless to do so.) Research by Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher out of the University of North Carolina, suggests that when you experience positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you are able to see more possibilities in your life.
- End your day with gratitude and put it in writing. Similar to the above, it allows you to change your brain’s focus to something positive just before it’s about to enter an unconscious state of being.
Together, we can emerge stronger and more resilient, but first we have to give ourselves permission to recognize the trauma is real.
Restoration Health Acupuncture & Nutrition, located at 477 Rt. 10 at College Plaza, Suite 206, Randolph is offering both trauma and grief-release acupuncture treatments. Call 973.939.3868 or email [email protected] to schedule an appointment today.
©2020 Lauren Kaplan, D.Ac., L.Ac.