Most people who are familiar with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder understand it where a specific event was traumatic and leaves emotional residue after a traumatic event in the form of ruminating thoughts and memories.
This emotional residue plays out into many behaviour changes that the mind and the body require to self soothe. The requirement to self soothe can take the form of many different coping behaviours such as denial, avoidance, food issues, compulsive gambling, sex addictionss, substance issues or emotional states like depression, anxiety and stress or all of the above.
In COVID-19 lockdowns globally we literally saw social networks like TikTok launching millions of videos of people openly poking fun at all the aforementioned trauma stress responses, even normalising and mainstreaming these behaviours.
Complex trauma follows very much the same behavioral responses as post-traumatic stress disorder, however the distinction is that it is not a singular event, but many events that happen over a prolonged period of time.
Without a specific traumatic event to focus on in therapy many people struggle to reconcile emotionally and are left with many of the same symptoms of PTSD.
Often people that have grown up in a toxic family environment or with abusive partners or parents can suffer with complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
This mental health condition can be incredibly difficult to resolve because many of these events are not specific enough to accurately voice so the stress these events have created can compound through a lifetime of trauma based behaviours and symptoms.
Every single day through the pandemic we are bombarded with different scenes from the media that are traumatizing people into the submission through a cycle of inadvertent threat.
The threat of the pandemic, the threat of the unknown, the threat of housing loss, loss of life, loss of family, loss of income can all be classified as small traumas and certainly could compound into complex post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
What we do know now is that living in these hyper-vigilant states created by either post-traumatic stress disorder or complex post-traumatic stress disorder can be highly detrimental to not only our mental health but also our physical health.
COVID stress and your immune system
Cortisol and adrenaline and a number of natural hormones that are designed to activate the nervous system into action when it is time to respond to life-threatening scenarios.
The trouble is that anxiety also triggers these hormones into action, even when you are sitting at home in lockdown and under no imminent danger.
The human body was not designed to be in constant states of stress and these triggers become highly problematic to your immune system being able to function correctly.
Which is why it is so important for people to look after their mental well-being as a first order of events because mental wellbeing will in turn look after your physical well-being in a complimentary eco-system of sorts.
The implications of trauma exposure over long periods of time such as is the case with mass media and COVID-19 will cause a substantial drop in human immunity over large populations. It is important to be aware of this mitigating circumstance and be mindful of what information you absorb and distribute to others.
So What Can You Do?
Douglas Kemp founder of the Recovery Direct Centre (Cape Town) South Africa recommends that number you reach out to a counselor or trusted friend that you can lean on and to walk you through your emotional states in times of stress.
“COVID has taught us that we need to learn to start caring for other people’s wellbeing as well as our own. This can start by being conscious or mindful of our actions and what information we share any why we share it. Simply by being selective about the media you consume and information you receive you can reduce your anxiety and not be the purveyor of further anxiety and stress.”
“As human beings we use each other as sounding boards for checking our emotional states and needs and by the simple art of talking to each other. It is in these conversations that we can emotionally express what we need to say. Your mind is then naturally able to process your emotions which then helps to maintain a mediated emotional state.” Says Kemp
“The new normal is about starting to be conscious of ourselves and others. Just as wearing a mask to limit the spread of the virus is a physical barrier it is also a mindful barrier. The mask reminds us that we care for other people’s wellbeing as much as our own. Simply shifting your conscious perspective a little in a new direction you have the incredible opportunity to understand yourself better.”
“The more we bottle these things up, the more problematic they become, which is the whole reason mental health issues develop in the first place. We need to learn to give people the space, empathy and support they need to recover their mental wellbeing.”
“The mind has an incredible ability to recover if we give it the right tools. We don’t get anywhere with anger, resentment or any of the negative emotions we can only learn through gentle, empathetic and forgiving observation of ourselves and others.”
“For employers this may mean giving remote employees the benefit of the doubt and like an understanding parent guide performance rather than enforce it.
“For people with COVID-19 ontop of their regular household brand of general anxiety, this would mean taking the time to express in meaningful and non-combative words to the relationships that trigger your anxiety about what you are feeling.”
“Breathing techniques, seriously I wouldn’t have ever thought that by simply breathing in and out could 100% turn my emotions but I can confirm that without a doubt in my mind, master your breathing techniques and you will be 50% of the way toward dealing with anxiety.”
“The thing with trauma is that we can’t solve trauma by hiding from the problem. You need to expose the problem and that needs to be done in a setting where you feel safe and supported. You have to look at trauma as if it were a song that reminded you of something that makes you cry. You avoid listening to the song because it makes you cry. But then you have to go into a shopping centre where the song is playing. The first few times you hear it, it makes you cry, but as you listen to it a little every day the emotional impact begins to fade to the point where it no longer makes you cry. That is how exposure therapy works in a very crude analogy. Listening to a song, should not cast a shadow on the rest of your life.”
“Trauma can be terrifying which is why so many people avoid dealing with the pains that they need to deal with. So we find other excuses and other solutions to avoid having to think about the trauma that we have experienced.”
“Meditation fuck meditation. Sit in a place for as long as you can and blank…… Just kill the noise of the day for 5 minutes, is all I am asking. No more ok less. 2 minutes ok 1 minute, ideally with a Tibetan monk chanting on a hilltop in the Himalayas, just kidding.
Meditation is about stopping, clearing and focusing your mind, not on the clutter and noise of COVID-19 creating focus on the task you are doing and smash out the park. You don’t have to meditate once a day, you can do 50x 1 minute short re-focus meditations throughout the day. Forget levitating, just look at constantly decluttering thoughts and focusing on single achievable distraction free tasks and take these moments to simply re-group.”
“Stop smoking, seriously, nicotine addiction is stress, that is all it is. It creates the stress it solves. It takes about a week to re-adjust free from nicotine and about a month or three to fully adjust but you will begin to live a new way of living without the bi-hourly withdrawal of nicotine, which is an amazing shift. Listen to my free stop smoking audiobook here.”
“COVID-19 has created a self-isolating environment with people ignoring the fact that human beings need human beings to resolve the emotional debris in their minds in the shortest time frames possible.”
“Psychoeducation is incredibly powerful, this is where you start to learn how your mind works and why your mind works in specific ways based on your emotional history. We have created a wonderful free course online that covers many of these kinds of features. Join our free mental health and wellness programme here.
https://www.anxiety.co.za/ (Anxiety Care South Africa)
https://www.relapseprevention.co.za/ (Relapse Prevention South Africa)
https://www.southafricarehab.co.za/ (South African Rehab Consortium)
https://dopalist.com/ (Dopalist Recovery News)
https://www.recoverydirect.co.uk/ (Recovery Direct UK Interventions)
https://www.sanapp.co.za/ (South African National Psychology Professionals)
https://www.capetownrehab.co.za/ (Cape Town Rehab Foundation)
https://www.addictionrehab.co.za/ (Addiction Care South Africa)
https://www.sunriserehab.co.za/ (Sunrise Aftercare Group)