currents

Stress test

Pandemic anxiety can linger. Here’s how to find help

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/5/21

It can feel like our lives have been upended. Nothing is the same. Some of our loved ones are gone. Some are far away and we can’t visit. Jobs are gone, jobs are crawling back. How many …

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currents

Stress test

Pandemic anxiety can linger. Here’s how to find help

Posted

It can feel like our lives have been upended. Nothing is the same. Some of our loved ones are gone. Some are far away and we can’t visit. Jobs are gone, jobs are crawling back. How many evictions await?

It’s been a long, traumatic pandemic, and although the end could be in sight, psychologically, it could be with us for a long time.

Sometimes, it’s just anxiety that’s churning in our brains and stomachs. Sometimes, it’s post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Knowing when to take it seriously can be critical.

COVID-19 is traumatic

The pandemic has caused enormous stress, noted Melissa Stickle, Sullivan County’s director of community services, in an email discussion about the problem. We’re afraid of getting sick or our loved ones getting sick. We’ve lost our jobs or we’ve taken on extra work. There are new childcare and family demands.

And to make matters worse, the ways we usually coped—like eating out, spending time with others or playing sports—aren’t always an option.

On the upside, though, it looks like suicide rates dropped during the pandemic—preliminary reports say that the U.S. had 2,677 fewer suicide deaths in 2020 than in 2019, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. We don’t know why. Is it because suicidal people were seldom alone in the pandemic? Were some sources of stress removed?

That success doesn’t mean that trauma from the pandemic has magically gone away.

Lasting fear

It’s normal to react strongly to COVID-19. It’s normal to be afraid. “There’s a huge bump in symptoms right away, and then about four months out of the trauma, those symptoms get better on their own,” Melissa Stickle said. “However, sometimes the symptoms don’t get better with time.”

Anxiety and PTSD are not all the same, even if they’re sometimes used interchangeably, she writes.

Anxiety versus PTSD

Anxiety can happen to anyone, and it can happen even if there’s no reason for it.

A person with anxiety or fear might, according to www.dualdiagnosis.org, feel or experience the following: restless, easily tired, irritable, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, aching muscles from tension.

PTSD is caused by a traumatic event, and the symptoms last for at least a month. If you have PTSD already, the pandemic may re-trigger your symptoms, Stickle said.

A person with PTSD might feel or experience: invasive thoughts, like nightmares, upsetting memories and flashbacks; feel they can’t control anything; be very stressed-out or irritable; not do things that are generally considered safe.

Have trouble sleeping

This is a result of being hyper-vigilant. This means that you might be constantly “on guard,” says www.ptsd.uk. You’ll watch, constantly, for the first sign of things going wrong, or of illness. You might be jumpy and overreact easily, says www.healthline.com.

Have trouble concentrating

This is a result of making a point of not thinking about the problem.

To get diagnosed with PTSD, someone would have some of these symptoms over a long period of time. But even if you don’t have full-blown PTSD, you can experience the symptoms after something traumatic, Stickle said.

Like a pandemic.

If several months have gone by and symptoms of anxiety or PTSD are keeping you from sleeping or working or having a life, then you need to talk to a mental health professional, Stickle said.

“We are not in this alone,” she added. “There is hope as we start to come out of the pandemic through vaccines, being vigilant and, with the warmer weather approaching, we can be assured that we can enjoy fresh air, taking a nice walk, having small gatherings with immediate family and others who are vaccinated. It is definitely a start in the right direction.”

Where to go for help

If you’re worried about yourself or a family member, both Sullivan and Wayne counties have programs that can help. Everything is confidential.

Sullivan County runs a behavioral health clinic that treats both behavioral and physical needs. They offer many kinds of therapy. Call the Sullivan County Department of Community Services, located at 20 Community Ln., Liberty, NY, at 845/292-8770. In Wayne County, contact Wayne Behavioral Health at 570/253-8219.

Stress, anxiety and PTSD in children

“Children might be experiencing fear and anxiety or depression during the pandemic that isn’t necessarily the same as traumatic stress [that would create PTSD],” Stickle wrote. And “the role of parents and caregivers is to be on the lookout for signs that children are having a hard time coping, so they can lend support and help connect them with outside resources as needed.”

How many kids are coping with major stress and PTSD due to the pandemic? There aren’t many estimates.

The World Health Organization says that 1.5 billion children worldwide are affected by school closures and lockdowns. Stress at home increases the likelihood of abuse, and information is just coming out about the impact of remote schooling on education. And while online school and online connections may have helped (assuming children have access to them), there’s also been an increase in cyberbullying.

There have been 572,000+ deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. Many of those are in families with children. That impact has not yet been gauged either.

With that in mind, here is what parents and caregivers should know about children and COVID-19 trauma, and what to look out for in their own families, Stickle writes.

Parents should consider what traumatic circumstances their child has faced.

“A child who has lost a loved one to COVID-19,” especially if they couldn’t grieve normally “may be more likely to be coping with traumatic stress,” she wrote.

If there’s been a job loss and financial problems, that creates multiple traumas.

“That’s not to say that only children who experienced one or more major traumas are having an especially difficult time coping right now, but those children are certainly at higher risk for serious mental health outcomes like PTSD.”

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