June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, and this year many people are struggling with personal loss, fear, and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic is a national trauma, but not everyone who suffers loss or extreme stress from it will develop PTSD, psychologist and marriage and family counselor Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker writes in PsychCentral.com. She notes that an estimated 3.6% of U.S. adults had PTSD in the past year, yet an estimated 70% of U.S. adults have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives, according to data from a national survey.
PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. If you suspect that you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD, you may need to seek help from a licensed mental health professional.
Millions of Americans are now experiencing extraordinary stress that may fall short of the clinical definition of PTSD, yet leave them feeling intense feelings of fear, anxiousness and worry. Many have lost jobs, loved ones, or feel crippled or weighed down by fear of becoming sick or losing someone they love. Front-line healthcare workers may be deeply affected by the suffering they see. Even those who aren’t very worried about the illness itself may be plagued with worry as the pandemic and its after-effects play out around the world.
Disasters like pandemics, terrorism, earthquakes, and other events can be extremely stressful all on their own. But if someone already has emotional baggage from bad experiences of the past, those feelings may be more likely to rise to the surface and could potentially lead us to relive things we thought were long buried.
When a crisis hits, how can we minimize the trauma we experience as individuals? How can we prevent ourselves from reliving it and keep old wounds from resurfacing because of new trauma? Here are a few tips that might help you stay ahead of the crisis on a mental and emotional level:
1. Control what you can. The good news is that although the crisis may be out of our control, we can manage our internal response. You may not be in charge of how people and governments respond to tragedy, but you can turn off the TV news when you feel your fears starting to overtake your common sense. You are the only one who can recognize when you’re starting to feel your fears or anxiousness cross that line. Commit to yourself that you’ll take action when you feel you’re approaching it. You can also keep your household from becoming fixated on current events by doing things together to keep life as normal as possible: play games, get outside, laugh. Engage your family in other subjects, projects, and pursuits that help everyone remember that life goes on.
2. Meditate. Spending quiet, mindful minutes can give your emotional state a much-needed break and leave you feeling refreshed and renewed. You might follow guided meditations from sources you trust or listen to soft music and focus on your breathing. If meditating isn’t your thing, try focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations around you as you walk outdoors, a mindfulness exercise that helps bring you back to the present moment.
3. Release emotional baggage, aka Trapped Emotions. If you have bad experiences from the past — and don’t we all — make sure you release that negative energy using The Emotion Code®. In just a few steps, you can find those leftover negative emotions that have become trapped within you and work to release them quickly. You can also do frequent emotional “checkups” on yourself to make sure your body isn’t holding onto feelings of anxiousness, fear, anger, or sadness. It’s okay to feel these things, but if you hold onto them or don’t process and release those feelings, they may stay with you and make you more prone to feeling them whenever slightly provoked by circumstance.
4. Seek comfort in others. Talking with others who understand your circumstances can really help you deal with your feelings. For instance, healthcare workers can confide in peers who understand what they are going through. Parents can talk with other parents about situations they’re facing. And people who live alone and feel isolated can seek out others in similar situations and support each other by phone, email, video conferencing, or even old-fashioned letters.
We are all dealing with a lot right now, and most of us need to talk our feelings through with family or friends. We may not all be able to get together as we’d like, but we can still have productive, rewarding conversations that allow us to deal with our feelings and process them, so we aren’t hanging onto things we need to let go of.
By Dr. Bradley Nelson