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Published on June 29, 2022

What Is Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder And How To Cope

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What Is Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder And How To Cope

Post-pandemic stress disorder refers to a mental health condition that is triggered following the end of a pandemic. Similar to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder usually begin to appear as the rates of both infection and transmission begin to recede.

Even though the prognosis of being infected by the disease is significantly reduced, especially after the introduction of vaccines that appear to combat it effectively, people with severe symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder may feel as though the risk of infection remains as high as ever.

As a result, they may find it much more difficult to resume a normal, post-pandemic lifestyle, in comparison to those who are free from any combination of debilitating symptoms associated with the disorder.[1]

4 Symptoms of Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder

Similar to any other type of health-related disorder, before you can properly treat it, you first have to be able to diagnose it accurately.

Taking a closer look at some of the more prominent symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder, there are four types of symptoms to consider:

1. Intrusive Memories

People with intrusive memories related to a pandemic may experience recurrent, unwanted, and distressing memories of either personally being infected by the disease or witnessing the impact of the disease on others firsthand.[2]

Pandemic-associated intrusive memories can also lead to both recurrent and oftentimes vivid nightmares as well as flashbacks in which an individual may feel as though they are reliving the trauma of the pandemic in real-time, even though the disease may no longer pose the same threat.[3]

2. Avoidance

A person experiencing symptoms of avoidance associated with post-pandemic stress disorder may continue to make every effort to avoid the people, places, and things that remind them of the pandemic, even after successful containment of the underlying disease is established, such as going to the hospital or attending a social gathering.

Furthermore, they may avoid interacting with others altogether due to the fear of being inadvertently contaminated by them. Therefore, symptoms of avoidance can lead to social isolation as well as financial hardship.

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As a result, a person experiencing post-pandemic stress disorder is highly susceptible to feelings of both anxiety and depression.[4]

3. Negative Changes in Thinking

Prolonged exposure to the stress associated with a pandemic can lead to negative changes in thinking.

With no apparent way to avoid the reach of the underlying disease, a person experiencing post-pandemic stress disorder may feel as though their sense of personal security has been shattered by the outbreak of the pandemic. They may no longer feel safe, unable to find a secure place to avoid the impending and ominous threat of contamination.

As a result, they may find it very difficult to accept that the pandemic has been contained, leading to feelings of paranoia, hopelessness, and emotional detachment from others.[5]

4. Changes in Physical Reactions

People experiencing physical reactions associated with post-pandemic stress disorder may report being easily startled and hypervigilant.[6] As a result, they may have difficulty falling asleep and concentrating, which ultimately leads to feelings of both irritability and anger.

Feeling physically exhausted, they may experience a significant lack of energy and focus, making it extremely difficult to accomplish any number of important daily activities, such as completing assignments for work or school, exercising, and even maintaining proper personal hygiene.

The physical reactions of post-pandemic stress disorder can ultimately lead to a variety of medical conditions associated with both obesity and poor circulation.[7]

5 Tips on How to Cope With Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder

Nevertheless, there is hope!

Fortunately, if you happen to be experiencing any combination of the symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder highlighted above, you do not have to live the rest of your life in fear of impending doom. Although you may feel as though there is no way out of the storm, remember that every cloud has a silver lining.

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Below are a variety of relatively simple strategies to help you work through some of the most complex symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder.

1. Join a Support Group

No matter how isolated you may feel, you are never truly alone. Whether you are currently experiencing any symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder or not, if you happen to be reading this article, you likely have lived through a pandemic.

Now may be the best time to join others who may have gone through a similar experience as you.

Although participating in a support group is not exactly clinical therapy, it does provide the group member with both a sense of belonging and an outlet to share some of their innermost feelings in a secure environment. Joining a support group can be especially beneficial for anyone who has been avoiding interacting with others to prevent contamination.

2. Talk to a Therapist

Life is full of ups and downs, obstacles, challenges, and even a few pitfalls along the way. Although having close friends and a loving family to turn to can be tremendously helpful, the extent of their collective support may be instinctively limited by their overwhelming concern for your feelings.

On the other hand, a well-trained therapist can help you circumnavigate even some of your most turbulent times from a more unbiased and objective perspective.

Studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is perhaps the most effective form of counseling to treat post-pandemic stress disorder.[8] It essentially explores the relationship between negative patterns of thought and unwanted behaviors.

By effectively challenging cognitive distortions, emotional regulation can be established, thereby reducing symptoms of both depression and anxiety.

3. Medication Management

From bipolar disorder to schizophrenia, psychiatric medications have been reported to significantly reduce a variety of symptoms of mental illness.[9] As far as treating symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder goes, anti-anxiety medications or anxiolytics may help to reduce symptoms of anxiety associated with the fear of being infected by a disease or transmitting it to another person.[10]

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Furthermore, antidepressant medications can help reduce feelings of depression potentially associated with the loss of a loved one due to the disease, the guilt of having survived the pandemic when others have not, as well as separation from close family and friends for an extended period.

Lastly, although a pandemic may have been successfully contained, some people may continue to believe that the situation is as dangerous as ever, even if the data might indicate otherwise. Antipsychotic medications may help to reduce delusional thinking by targeting the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and perception.[11]

4. Practice Meditation

If you are searching for some much-needed peace of mind to help you cope with depression and anxiety associated with post-pandemic stress disorder, you may not have to look too far. you may not even have to leave your home. Meditation has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.[12]

Stress can be caused by any number of issues, and it is a normal part of life. Being able to cope with it effectively is an essential part of being able to live an emotionally healthy life.

Meditation can help you gain a greater sense of inner peace anywhere and at any time. If only for a brief moment each day, meditation can help you emotionally remove yourself from any number of unhealthy, unpleasant, and unproductive thoughts.

To get started, all you have to do is find a safe and quiet spot in your living room, patio, or perhaps even in your backyard. Sit up comfortably on the ground with your back straight, legs crossed, and your arms resting on each leg with your palms facing up to the heavens. Then, close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply.

Get ready to open up your mind and let go of any emotional toxins that may have been clouding your serenity.

5. Exercise Regularly

Although you may be reliving pandemic-related traumatic events in nightmares and flashbacks, after consulting with your physician, you may want to begin to engage in a regular exercise routine. Studies have shown that physical activity releases endorphins in the brain that reportedly improves the ability to sleep and thereby reduce stress and anxiety.[13]

Furthermore, regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, and riding a bicycle, increases the flow of nutrient-rich blood throughout the body. The healthier your body, the healthier your mind, and therefore, the greater the ability to effectively manage any negative symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder.

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The Key Is to Take Small Steps

Sometimes you just have to get out there and face your fears head-on. However, rather than just trying to rush out the door to reconnect with others, you may need to take small steps in the direction of emotional recovery.

As with Covid-19, before the outbreak of the disease, most people had no concept whatsoever of the potential threat of a bat-borne virus and even less understanding of what it would take to contain it. By the end of the outbreak, it was clear that almost everyone on planet earth was impacted by the disease in one way or another. There was no way and nowhere to avoid it.

Although the disease has not been fully eradicated, it does appear to have been successfully contained through quarantines and social distancing, the use of face masks, frequent hand washing, and ultimately the introduction of effective vaccines.

Nevertheless, for those people battling symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder, they may continue to be experiencing a very difficult time moving forward emotionally, even though the disease may appear to have been successfully contained.[14]

Final Thoughts

No matter how many personal challenges you have been through, extended periods of gloom and impending viral doom can take a toll on even the most well-balanced mind. Although social distancing and quarantines may significantly help to stop the spread of a disease, it appears as though those measures may also possess a variety of negative side effects that can lead to complex issues of their own, such as emotional paralysis, depression, and anxiety.

Fortunately, there is hope for all those battling symptoms of post-pandemic stress disorder. There are a variety of treatment solutions that can help.

As with any mental health disorder, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Then, you can start to take care of it, perhaps by using any combination of the strategies discussed in this article.

Featured photo credit: Kate Trifo via unsplash.com

Reference

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Evan Jarschauer

Professional Mental Health Interventionist & Licensed Psychotherapist

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