You’re not alone if you have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder due to COVID-19.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn’t just affect soldiers or people who have survived dangerous situations. In fact, many people are experiencing PTSD as a result of the trauma they’ve faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
PTSD can occur after any scary or emotionally difficult experience, whether it’s a house fire, abuse from a parent or spouse, being a victim of a violent crime or being in combat. Surviving a serious illness, such as COVID-19, or being an essential worker may also trigger this mental health condition.
During the pandemic, many healthcare workers were overwhelmed as they cared for a seemingly endless stream of sick and dying patients. They were not only exhausted but traumatized by what they saw. Grocery store workers, delivery drivers and other essential employees were also put in the line of fire, working long hours while worrying about catching the virus.
If you had COVID-19, you may have been terrified you would develop serious symptoms. If you were seriously ill and wound up in the hospital, you were alone and scared, also possibly fearing death. Even those who recovered from their initial illness might be experiencing long-haul symptoms. That’s why it’s not surprising that PTSD is particularly common in people who have had COVID-19. In fact, 30% of hospitalized COVID patients reported PTSD symptoms in a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
You may have also developed PTSD if a close family member had COVID-19, you know people who died from the virus or you have been struggling to handle changes in your life brought on by the pandemic.
Common PTSD symptoms include:
- Reliving your experiences: You may suffer nightmares or flashbacks about being intubated, treating seriously ill patients or caring for family members.
- Sleep problems: Falling asleep and staying asleep may be difficult, particularly if your sleep is disrupted by nightmares.
- Emotional issues: You may feel irritable, be easily startled, have emotional outbursts or negative thoughts, or no longer enjoy your favorite activities.
- Concentration problems: Difficulty focusing or concentrating may also occur. Brain fog, a common complaint in long-haul COVID patients, may actually be related to PTSD, according to a paper co-authored by a UCLA neuropsychologist.
- Avoidance: You may avoid people or places that remind you of your ordeal.
These suggestions may help relieve or reduce your PTSD symptoms:
- Share your feelings: Talking to friends or family members can help you feel supported and less isolated. You may be surprised at just how many people feel the same way.
- Chill out: Meditating, exercising, and participating in hobbies and activities you enjoy provide natural ways to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
- Stay connected: Visiting friends and engaging in fun activities with others, rather than spending a lot of time alone, may help you better manage your symptoms.
- Embrace positivity: Focusing on the good things in your life, even if they seem small, can help improve your outlook. Keep a gratitude journal to record positive experiences and feelings.
- Limit news watching: New stories or dramatic posts on social media can cause flashbacks and negative feelings.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be difficult to manage on your own, even with an emotional bag of tricks. If your symptoms don’t improve with some of the above suggestions, consider talking to a mental health professional. A therapist can help you work through your feelings and change your reactions to triggers. In addition to talk therapy, medications may help you better manage your condition.
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Date Last Reviewed: April 16, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD