The health, financial, and other setbacks people have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic are enough to cause even the strongest amongst us to develop anxiety. To arrest this anxiety before it mushrooms into full-blown PTSD, it may be necessary to take specific steps to protect yourself. These are some suggestions.
Recognize Your Innate Resilience
For most of us, “the most common response to trauma is resilience,” said Dr. Denise Sloan, a professor in psychiatry at Boston University and associate director of the National Center for PTSD. The overwhelming majority of people who endure a life-threatening event recover on their own and never meet PTSD’s criteria.
Merely trusting that you will recover from the anxiety you are experiencing, enhances your likelihood of doing so. Expecting the worst predicts heightened risk of PTSD. It may be helpful to consider how you have managed during stressful times in the past and to revisit that strength when you feel shaky.
Increase your Sense of Well-Being
“If you are obsessed with this pandemic, you need to find ways to distract yourself,” recommends Dr. Edna Foa, a professor in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the world’s leading experts in anxiety and trauma. “We are in the middle of the trauma, not post-stress,” she said, highlighting that during a crisis, we need to take breaks to soothe ourselves.
While it’s completely normal to get hijacked by bad news, injecting positive activities into your daily routine may mitigate the pain. Get involved with something you would typically do if you weren’t feeling down. This shouldn’t be viewed as a chore. This is a seamless way to help you feel better and, thereby, gain strength to better cope with the situation.
Pay Attention to your Narrative
Thoughts powerfully impact your feelings. Your beliefs can predict your risk of PTSD. Be particularly sensitized to self-recriminations, such as not being adequately prepared financially for the pandemic. Beating up on yourself will do nothing to change the situation, and will leave you feeling defeated or tortured.
You should also be on the lookout for judgments that further dramatize and energize your stress, like, “I can’t take this anymore.” Instead, shift into a more optimistic mindset. One way to release negative thoughts is to ask yourself, “Is this helpful?” Self-compassion is a meaningful way to release some tension and cope with pain.
Ruminating can Get you in Trouble
Ruminating is a habit of the mind by which you repeatedly think about the “whys?” and the “what ifs?” Ruminating doesn’t inspire a solution but just leaves you feeling stuck. If these mental loops challenge you, now is the perfect time to craft your escape plan.
One landmark study, which began several weeks before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California, found that ruminating predicted depression and stress symptoms after the trauma, even more so than being personally impacted by the tragedy.
One way to process these ruminations is to express your thoughts with pen and paper. You don’t need to share this with anyone. Expressive writing is one way to reflect without ruminating. Another technique is to engage your mind in some engaging or challenging activity, even working on a crossword puzzle.
Don’t Avoid your Feelings but Embrace them
It is instinctive to avoid negative emotions, but the way to get past them isn’t to suppress or push them away. According to Richard J. Davison, you shouldn’t focus on stopping a negative thought because what you focus on expands. Instead, focus on creating/developing a new thought which “rewires” the brain.
Dr. Natalia Garcia, a psychologist and trauma researcher in Seattle, who is uniquely empathic to the suffering of trauma, has used her wisdom to cope with the sudden death of her 2-year-old son. At first, she found it very difficult to watch videos of him, but after giving herself a recess when she shifted her focus to just getting through the day, she was once again able to watch the clips.
She added: “I can’t say I emerged from the ashes of despair into some majestic phoenix, but I do believe I have experienced growth with exercised intentionality around not letting tragedy be the end-all of my story.”
We need to take Dr. Garcia’s advice to heart. Amidst all the turmoil around us, we must cultivate a strong sense of meaning and purpose based upon what we truly value to give us the strength to resist being pulled into the undertow of anxiety and sometimes even despair. This will not only help us avoid PTSD, but also promise us to lift ourselves above the pandemic and come out as better people on the other side.
Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools with remote therapist training services.