PTSD in COVID Survivors
Survivors of Covid-19 who believe that they had a near-death experience, do suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. Covid is a huge threat to us all. Our whole being responds in exactly the same way it would if we knew that there were lions in close proximity to us, without us having any form of protection in the form a weapon or a physical structure around us, forming a barrier between us and the lions. This is the reason why most people are currently experiencing heightened levels of anxiety. Our autonomic nervous systems are activated, there is danger around, it is on high alert, ready to ensure our survival through fight or flight. We try to flee from Covid by isolating ourselves from others, being hypervigilant with the wearing of masks and using hand sanitisers. And then some of us get Covid…, which means that fleeing from Covid was unsuccessful. Now the fighting survival response kicks in. The whole being starts fighting Covid.
For those who are fortunate enough to heal fairly quickly from Covid, without having the perception of imminent death, the “fight” response to the threat pays off. However, there are those less fortunate individuals who become so violently ill with Covid that they literally believe death is imminent. So, for them, fleeing from the threat (Covid) was ineffective, fighting the threat was ineffective, and the only survival response they are left with, is the freeze response.
The activation of the freeze response is not a conscious decision – it occurs when the activation of the autonomic nervous system exceeds a certain threshold. We freeze in paralysis and or in total helplessness. The survival benefit inherent in the freeze response is that it produces a deep seated state of anaesthesia. In this state of anaesthesia, extreme pain and fear are numbed out through a massive release of endorphins. In this state of numbness, the Covid patient can view the trauma from outside his/her body, as if it is happening to someone else. This creation of distance, which is called dissociation, has the goal of making that which is unbearable, bearable. These patients are stuck in the freeze response, even though they eventually did survive Covid. They continue to feel numb, as if they are completely disconnected from their bodies and the world around them. They feel depressed, struggling to re-engage with life.
As these individuals start coming out of their freeze state, they will experience symptoms of fight or flight – their survival responses that could not be completed. They will start experiencing anxiety, anger, disrupted sleep, flashbacks and nightmares. They will become easily triggered by hearing the Covid statistics, hearing of other’s who have contracted Covid or who has passed away from Covid. Some individuals may remain stuck in their freeze response, and should seek out psychotherapy to dissolve their freeze. Some may remain anxious and/or angry. In this case seeking professional help becomes imperative. Look for a therapist who has competency in at least one of the following highly effective techniques to dissolve trauma:
• Brain Working Recursive Therapy (BWRT)
• Eye Movement Integration (EMI)
• Somatic Experiencing
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Some tips for the survivors of Covid:
1. Be gentle and patient with yourself and with your body – you have been to war and won!
2. Try to avoid excessive exposure to negative info regarding Covid. Seek out the positive stories, the stories of survival and victory…
3. When you are exposed to negative info, say out loud “I battled Covid and I won!”
4. Ask for help if you are struggling mentally – psychotherapy can do wonders!
5. Don’t be afraid to use prescribed psychotropic medication. There is a time and a place for everything, and this might be the time for you…
6. Re-telling your story to as many people as possible does not relieve your PTSD! Research has found that it actually prolongs it, since we activate the same brain pathway over and over again, thus deepening and entrenching it in our brains.
7. Most important, as you start processing your trauma, look for the inherent, unopened gifts… and open them…. Trauma offers us the opportunity to become more aware, conscious individuals. We develop depth of character, reinvent ourselves and find renewed meaning and purpose in life.
Your’s in healing