Even those without PTSD will naturally experience an increase in stress and anxiety because of the fear of catching the virus, and the fear around how social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine measures are going to impact us emotionally, physically and economically. Below are some steps you can take right now to help manage your PTSD at this time.
Before you read on- first take a few slow deep breaths in and out. This will help calm your nervous system down so that you can best absorb the information that follows.
Ground yourself– Experiencing excessive arousal, or the feeling being on edge and high alert can be expected to increase amid COVID-19. This response is a natural reaction to threat. Even those without PSTD are experiencing heightened feelings of alert at this time. Words used in the media right now such as “emergency” “pandemic” “war” and “battle” can be very triggering and can increase the feeling of alertness or shut down. In an effort to sooth your nervous systems natural response, take a few deep belly breaths allowing your exhale to last longer than your inhale. Then, pay attention to a task you are doing using all 5 of your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste). This will help ground you by switching off your bodies threat response and initiating its calming response.
Maintaining daily routines – Being stuck at home can result in the loos of daily routines that help those with PTSD to feel grounded and connected to a sense of time. If you struggle with dissociation and/or time loss, making sure to keep some form of structure to your day is important. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time, bath regularly, eat balanced meals and go for short walks outside. It might be helpful to set alarms for yourself to remind you when it is time to shower, eat, exercise ect.
Increase relaxation– Right now your nervous system may be working overtime because it feels threatened by all the unknowns. This response can be helpful when it motivates us to act and to take reasonable precautions at times like these. However, it can also be harmful when left unchecked as it may lead to exhaustion and shut down. In an effort to protect ourselves from this, continue to practice doing things that are calming, such as taking a bath, practicing deep breathing or meditation. Burning off extra adrenaline by exercising moderately can also be helpful.
Limit – but don’t stop- watching the news and talking about it– We are all going to talk about it, and hear about it on the news but give yourself permission to change the subject if someone else is talking about it or turn off the television and limit social media if and you need a break. One of the symptoms of PTSD is avoiding anything that reminds us of the stressful event. It is important that we voice our fears to those we trust and who are empathetic so that we don’t bottle it up. We want to find a balance between talking/hearing about it all the time and not talking/hearing about it at all.
Protecting yourself – take practical measures that are in your control such as regularly washing your hands, limiting physical contact with others, avoid touching your face and limit travel. Remember, that social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing. Be creative in organizing virtual get together with family and friends. Doing these small things can give us a sense of empowerment and control in the face of uncertainty.
For more specific support that you can use on your own at home download the PTSDcoach (Canada) App. It is free and uses evidence based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy theory and interventions to help you help yourself manage your PTSD amid COVID-19 and beyond. It offers specific information about PTSD, its symptoms and how to deal with its symptoms. It offers practical experiential exercises to help you right now.