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In Conversation with Dr. Lisa Palmer: Preventing the Effects of PTSD during the COVID-19 Crisis

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The current COVID-19 crisis is at the top of the world’s hierarchy of concerns, and has millions of people alarmed for their health, safety, and future. The virus threatens us with illness, economic hardship and associated psychological stresses. All this creates a feeling of tremendous imbalance.

Those on the front line, at highest risk of disease and death, stressed-out as they try to do everything from saving lives to providing otherwise humdrum societal services—medical care staff, supermarket workers, food production and distribution workers, restaurant and hotel staff, retail workers, transporters, security forces, and so forth. Others avoid making the situation worse by taking the “couch potato” route and simply stay home. But even they are subject to the fear and stress of uncertainty. “What will become of the future when this is over?” It’s a question that many of us ask ourselves.

In a May 2020 survey research report by Morning Consult, 49 percent of U.S. adults say that the general stress and anxiety associated with the crisis has been challenging for them, and another 32 percent say the same about personal finances. Ironically, as the reports states: “health problems rate lowest on the list of issues stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.”

Even long before the pandemic crisis emerged, the majority of the global population battled various kinds of mental health problems. Currently, the personal crises they are experiencing have doubled. Whether they are anxiety attacks, uncontrolled obsessive thoughts, feeling of paranoia, the COVID-19 has only lent credence to the existing mental health crisis.

“Resistance work” is more important now than ever as we hold on in our trenches, and try to prevent a veritable tsunami of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or, what is highlighted in this article, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health malady initiated by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event that leads to nightmares, flashbacks, and irrepressible thoughts about the traumatic event.

Dr. Lisa Palmer, a psychotherapist a world-renowned mental health professional, all too well understands the gravity of the crisis. As a healer and therapist, Dr. Palmer has helped thousands of patients successfully recover from addictions, anorexia, bulimia, mood issues, and above all, PTSD. She runs the #1 trauma center in the United States (rated by Newsmax) and is often consulted by celebrities and professionals from Fortune 500 companies.

 

Post-traumatic stress: A Continuing Battle

Post-traumatic stress disorder, as Dr. Palmer says, “is characterized by the re-experiencing of highly traumatic events that haven’t been properly processed and stored by the brain.”

In other words, the traumatic event is lived as if it had not yet been left behind and is intervening with the present; the mind is alarmed and cautious as if it were facing the traumatic event, again and again, urging the brain to feel triggered by anything that recalls the trauma.

“Trauma is incredibly stifling to our sense of life balance,” says Dr. Palmer, “many people do not realize that their symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, depression, and self-sabotage are likely arising from their unresolved traumas.

Who is most vulnerable to developing PTSD?

From her own experiences on the front lines of treating PTSD, Dr. Palmer says those with higher sensitivity levels, or increased exposure to repeated trauma or abuse are most vulnerable to developing PTSD:

  1. Healthcare personnel

They can suffer PTSD due to the saturation of exposure to dangerous, difficult and highly emotional situations, feelings of helplessness due to lack of resources, and the experience of co-worker and patient deaths.

  1. Sick people isolated in hospitals

By losing human contact long enough to heighten suffering to unbearable levels, along with the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

  1. Victims of physical, emotional, verbal abuse

Even before the stress of the confinement measures, those suffering from physical, mental, emotional, and verbal abuse with their partners or family members, are not forced to live with whoever hurts them. This creates feelings of anxiety, being trapped, unsafe, helplessness, and hopelessness.

  1. People with a history of mental disorders or with high sensitivity

Their limit to bear such situations is lower and it makes them feel overwhelmed sooner. They can suffer from increased feelings of anxiety and depression and feelings of both helplessness and hopelessness. Not only do they worry about their past hindering their mental status, but they grapple with feelings of no future to live into if they heal from their inner wounds.

  1. Freelancers or entrepreneurs whose businesses are at serious risk

As the economy takes a nosedive, many businesses are threatened, which means many entrepreneurs and business owners feel like their businesses may go under. Not only that they worry about having sufficient income to provide for their families.

  1. People with sick or elderly relatives, as well as caregivers or volunteers

Living with constant worry about the sick and elderly is stressful for many caregivers. COVID-19 makes caregiving extra stressful, as even the simple daily tasks become more difficult and resources available are more scarce. Even worse, is coping with grief and loss of those who have passed from the virus itself is a trauma for which we need to find peace and closure.

 

Dr. Lisa Palmer’s recommendations to Begin to Heal from PTSD

If a traumatic situation overflows, many people are likely to panic. We may lose our loved ones to the virus. We may be confused, in that we do not know what to do, and we also perceive helplessness on the part of others—enough factors to develop PTSD.

Although professionals know how to deal with these kinds of psychological alterations, the causes stem from the social environment. Here are Dr. Palmer’s recommendations:

  1. Pay attention to your emotions

You will burrow through a heap of feelings that make you uncomfortable. These perhaps overwhelming emotions are manifested in thought, in the body, and in your way of acting, so it is very important not to deny these feelings.

Stopping for a moment, focusing on your breathing, and being realistic with your feelings will help you make responsible decisions so that you won’t let yourself be carried away by dangerous impulses that would have an increasing “snowball effect” on your anxiety.

  1. Don’t forget to take care of yourself

To care for others, you need to be well. Carry on daily hygiene routines, watch only 10 minutes of news a day, play sports at home, spend time cooking, read a good book, and watch movies with the family. Everything helps as long as it helps you balance your emotions and continue in your day-to-day existence.

  1. Stay connected

Phone calls, video calls, and social media can now help us maintain a personal connection whenever and wherever you are. Let’s take advantage of the good connectivity aspects of social networks for support and to imbue us with hope. If isolation and neglect are the worst breeding grounds for PTSD, then let’s look at each other in the eye, even if it’s via a camera and screen.

  1. In the face of the inevitable, stay grounded in the present

You must not deny reality. There will be circumstances in which it is impossible to avoid isolation and the feeling of helplessness. You could live through the loss of a loved one, work as a health worker and be overwhelmed, get sick, and experience isolation for many days.

Therefore, strategies to stay grounded in the present will help you not get carried away by what was and what will or might be, and will keep your mind active and working to maintain emotional balance.

Messages of support and donations to front-line workers, as well as letters to the sick, are examples of what we can do as human beings to overcome this difficult situation.

“It’s never too late to help yourself,” says Dr. Palmer. “Just keep in mind that face-to-face help and support is available to bolster your well-being, and will be on the rise when this disaster is over, adding to the restorative process.”

 

Here’s What Dr. Palmer Says You Can Do to Begin to Heal from PTSD

 

Improve Your Resilience

Dr. Palmer sees resilience is important in overcoming a traumatic past. It’s important to develop the skilful thinking and skilful living tools you need to stay positive and future-oriented – embrace your feelings, ask for help, recognize when you are confusing your story about a situation with the facts, and know how to live in the present with gratitude.

 

Detox the “Bad Apples” in Your Life

Having people who listen to and understand us will help mitigate that feeling of helplessness that often intensely underlie post-traumatic stress problems. “If you are alone or have a poor support network, detox and change your network to more supportive people,” says Dr. Palmer.

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