The pandemic has been life-changing for many around the world. We’ve been locked down in our homes, lost jobs, suffered heartaches and said goodbye to more loved ones than anyone could have ever imagined. Now, more than two years on, we are still adjusting to this new way of life, one which has not gone unnoticed on our nervous systems and physical bodies.
Over these last few years, people worldwide have been exposed to varying degrees of trauma, and the response to this trauma is what some health professionals are calling post-pandemic stress disorder, a form of COVID-19-induced PTSD.
Nick Obradovic, a research scientist, explains that while humans are incredibly adaptable creatures – sometimes our adaptability can be costly. The metaphor of the boiling frog leaps to mind. The story goes that if a frog is placed into a heated pot, the frog will immediately jump out. But if the frog is placed into a cool pot that is then slowly heated, the very gradual increase in temperature will trick the frog into thinking conditions are not changing, and it will eventually be cooked. Science says this story is false, at least for frogs. However, swap the frog for a human, and it becomes more accurate when looking at how we adapt through traumatic events, having to deal with the symptoms of the “slow boil” in the aftermath.
What we can learn from this story is that it is crucial to check in with yourself and become aware of the shifts in physiology, emotions, thinking and behaviour. This pandemic has caused relentless stress despite many normalising the circumstances. However, like all traumas, the impact will show when the pandemic is over.
What are the signs of post-pandemic stress disorder?
While symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder do vary, some of them include disrupted sleep, withdrawing from social situations, feeling out of control, becoming easily agitated, catastrophic thinking, and imagining the worst, as well as feeling hopeless and experiencing a lack of motivation.
Certain developmental ages have been hit hard, especially those in their formative years, such as young children and adults, already transitioning through what can be a challenging time as they move closer to adulthood.
While the effects of trauma can be debilitating, there are ways to manage them and in doing so, it is also important to remember it is a normal response to have to such events.
So, what can you do?
Start by checking in with yourself and building awareness around changes in your feelings, thoughts, and behaviour. Increased self-awareness supports good physical and emotional health, which is important as trauma changes your thinking patterns, beliefs, the brain, nervous system, and stress hormones.
One way to improve self-awareness is by working with a professional such as a psychotherapist, counsellor or coach, who can assist you with blind spots or adjusting faulty, harmful thinking.
Some might not yet be ready to make this step towards professional help or may be struggling with money as the cost-of-living crisis deepens. For those people, it is important to identify a group of positive friends you can socialise with. Having a place to talk about our struggles and work through issues is a great way to start getting back on track.
Another way we can look at and improve our resilience and performance is to create boundaries and structure in our day, by having clear communication and transparency both at work and at home. It is important that we learn to maintain our pre-pandemic routines (if positive), make time for daily movement, and prioritise sleep. The pandemic blurred the boundaries between work and home life, and it is time to stand up and identify where we’ve leaned too far in one direction.
Research shows incorporating morning or evening routines which include daily movement, spending time in nature to help clear the mind or setting time aside to meditate and practice breathing exercises all help with focus and perspective.
With enhanced awareness of how much lies out of our control, it is empowering to take charge of the small worlds we inhabit. A great way to change the mindset and expand on feelings of freedom or autonomy is to alter the landscape around you. This could be free camping, finding a new walk in your area, or booking a trip to a different destination. Breathe deeply into the new lens of perspective it brings.
This article was written by Bree Nicholls, Founder and Director of The Being Way, a consciously curated coaching method that blends the world of coaching, counselling, psychotherapy and mindfulness.