The excitement at the prospect of getting back to a normal life started more than a year ago. But as the first few weeks of the pandemic stretched into months and the calendar went from 2020 to 2021, “normal” took on a new meaning.
Now we have effective vaccines, and millions of people have gotten doses. It looks like we might finally be coming out of this long nightmare.
But even if we were never infected, we’re not unaffected. We’ve lost friends and family. We know people who lost someone. We’ve heard stories of those who spent time on a ventilator. We’ve seen the news, lost jobs, our homes, and our schools. The trauma is everywhere.
The good news is no one has to face it alone.
It’s Like a Disaster
Psychiatrists, researchers, and academics have been busy trying to anticipate people’s mental responses once the pandemic is over.
Using research on natural disasters as an example, at least 10% of people will develop mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those numbers could be much higher for those who contracted COVID-19.
In the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002, 44% of the patients surveyed developed PTSD even after recovery. Before SARS was contained, it infected 8,100 people globally while 774 died. COVID-19 has been much worse.
COVID-19 has resulted in more people being trapped at home, sometimes in abusive relationships or cramped housing. A number of medical and non-medical health care workers are also likely to develop PTSD.
- COVID-19 Stress Syndrome — characterized by fear of infection, fear of foreigners who may be infected, constantly looking for COVID-19 information
- Hikikomori — a syndrome where people become recluses and refuse to leave their homes
- Germaphobia — it could be short-lived if COVID-19 is the cause
- Hoarding — people may take to stockpiling supplies in anticipation of a recurrence
Ways to Cope
Many people may have difficulty changing back to a “normal” life. It’s hard to get back on a crowded bus, go into a bar, sit in a movie theater, or get used to being around maskless people in public. It’s ok to want to be cautious. Both the CDC and AltaMed recommend you continue to wear masks and practice distancing, even if you’ve been vaccinated.
If that sounds familiar, there are things you can do.
- Acknowledge your feelings — You should take as much time as you need to adjust to changes. Just because friends and family may be rushing back to social activities, you don’t have to.
- Listen to your anxiety — Which is causing you the most stress? Is it kids going back to school? Is it the idea of commuting to work? Address each issue one at a time.
- Develop calming strategies — Get ready with ways to refocus yourself when you begin feeling anxious. Maybe you meditate, listen to music, go for a walk, or practice self-care.
- Be intentional — Make plans for how things will look for you after the pandemic. Most anxiety comes from a lack of control. You can change that.
- Share — You don’t have to bear it alone. Friends, family, and counselors, like those at AltaMed, can help you develop ways to adjust.
- Set limits — You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Take your time and let people know what you’re comfortable doing.
The Risk of Guilt
According to experts, a growing issue is the potential for survivor’s guilt. It is a complex form of grief that comes out of trauma.
The pandemic has been a traumatic experience that has killed nearly 3 million people around the world and infected over a hundred million more. The scale of the tragedy increases the likelihood that there will be survivor’s guilt.
Anyone is at risk, but it is more likely to affect those who:
- Know someone who died from COVID-19
- Know someone who had dealt with severe, long-term effects of COVID-19 complications
- Think they put themselves at risk
- Have pre-existing mental health conditions that make it difficult to cope with grief
Help Is Available
AltaMed’s experienced Behavioral Health team is staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish and are trained to help cope with the stressors related to COVID-19 and life after the pandemic. Short-term therapy is available, and we can connect members with mental health services if long-term therapy or other support is needed. If you or a loved one are experiencing grief and need support, there are resources available to you. Call us at (855) 425-1777 to get started.