Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder: Why the Struggle is Real and What to Do About It

“We’ve all got to be thinking about ‘what are we doing to try to take care of ourselves?’

Owen O’Kane, psychotherapist

According to Owen O’Kane, who coined the term, “Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder” is a form of Covid-19 induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder based on distinct pandemic-induced traits. Each and every one of us, in our own way, has been unstabilized by the pandemic, feeling an amplified sense of loss of control and overwhelmed by the instinct that has us predicting impending danger. The struggle to settle into what is repeatedly called our “new normal” is far too real.

More than 6 million people have died of Covid-19 globally in the past two years. We went from “business as usual” to being isolated, confined to our homes, fearing for our lives, grieving the loss of loved ones, unemployment, and normalcy. The cumulative effect of these stressors means that anxiety, loneliness, and depression have never been higher, and despite the lessening restrictions, this number is not declining. This does not just go away, especially for those who have been in the line of fire, in particular, frontline health care workers and bereaved family members.

In a news conference in March 2021, WHO Director, General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that “with this COVID pandemic…each and every individual on the surface of the world actually have been affected. That means mass trauma, which is beyond proportion, even bigger than what the world experienced after the Second World War, and when there is mass trauma it affects communities for many years to come.”

We have all been affected by the pandemic in our own way and we all experience trauma differently. Trauma doesn’t just cause negative feelings and emotions, it wreaks havoc on our entire system and presents itself in many different ways. Darlene Cyrus-Blaze, Registered Psychotherapist and Focus Clinical Consultant says, “The effects of any trauma can be debilitating, but there are ways to manage them.” 

As a first step, it’s important to check in and really pay attention to how you’re feeling, mentally and physically. Emotionally, trauma symptoms may present as hypervigilance, avoidance, lack of clarity, heightened frustration, anxiety, panic, and fear. Somatically, some examples that may indicate trauma include dizziness, stomach pain, shortness of breath, and headaches.

Darlene points out that it’s normal to experience psychological and emotional difficulties in the face of a traumatic event. However, if the way you think, feel, and behave has changed, it’s crucial that you get help. The symptoms are treatable and the earlier we intervene, the better the outcome. Talk to someone one about what you’re experiencing because, left untreated, these symptoms can turn into significantly worse mental health issues. Long after the traumatic event occurs, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness, and intense fear. So open up to a loved one, your doctor, or, better yet, a trained therapist. 

Darlene’s biggest piece of advice? “Don’t suffer in silence.”

Whether it’s “Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder” or you’re simply struggling, if your “bad days” are starting to really add up, it’s time to get help. As O’Kane points out, “We can’t return to the old normal. We are evolving our way into a new reality… there is no right or wrong in how someone should cope. Whatever route you choose to go, it has to be about how you respond in the moment because you cannot control what happens.” 

Written by Julie Sabine, Chief Strategy Officer, Focus Mental Wellness