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Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience Is Real And It’s Impacting Many

The question of how are you? may not be easy to answer right now.

The pandemic came with societal, personal, and structural shutdowns. It took a while to adjust to closing down, and undoubtedly, it may take a similar amount of time to get comfortable opening up again.

Re-emergence hasn’t been easy for everyone. Though the pandemic suited some personalities, especially when it meant benefits like remote work, self-development, and time to rest many struggled with increased anxiety, stress, disorganization, loneliness, mental suffering and addiction. And, this is happening more than you might think.

Many people have been directly impacted by the trauma of losing someone to illness or are experiencing vicarious trauma by hearing stories and being witness to others distress. The psychological impact of this pandemic is yet to be fully understood. What is known is that people have struggled, opioid deaths are high, people are reporting more traumatic stress symptoms, and more people than ever are seeking help with addiction and mental health professionals.

Collectively, you have survived over a year-long period with a looming infectious virus that resulted in grave effects. It also led to increased fear, anxiety and other psychological distress among many people.

You are not alone if you feel blah and can’t explain much more than that. 

As things begin to adjust again and apprehension settles, experts have described the psychological effect as Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience (PTSE). There are varying degrees on a personal and global scale, but symptoms and experiences may include:

Personal Life 

  • Confusion
  • Loss of focus 
  • Apathy 
  • Extreme care toward variants or no interest at all 
  • Loss of interest in life 
  • Fuzzy thinking 
  • Making mistakes is no big deal 
  • Increased withdrawal and isolation 
  • Fear of lost income 
  • Fear of dying alone 
  • Fear of passing COVID to a loved one 
  • Fear of catching COVID, spreading COVID, or that the vaccine won’t work

Global Scale 

  • Strained Infrastructure
  • Increased fear, xenophobia, and violence
  • Loss of resources
  • Worry about vaccine distribution 
  • Growth in political and social engagement

These symptoms may have effects that are positive, negative, or somewhere in between. You are likely impacted, and you aren’t making that up. Whether you feel confused about the next best steps for you, fear about the future, or overall apathy; you are not alone. 

Even if you have had a vaccination, you may not feel comfortable getting back to the grind. Psychologists have named this phenomenon, Cave Syndrome. It is the feeling that you aren’t ready to join the life you have already created.

You may be experiencing fear that has resulted in social isolation. It may feel nerve wracking to approach the world again after you have been in your home without much interaction for an extended amount of time.

For some, the risk of death due to an infection rather than death because of social isolation is scarier. Going at the same speed you did pre-pandemic may not be plausible for some people right now as exhaustion took hold. That is okay. 

No matter what, this time period deserves understanding, empathy, and love toward yourself. You have gone through a major life event that was traumatic and full of grief.

You have likely felt losses, increased fear, or apathy. There was no perfect way to handle the pandemic because no one has handled it before now. There are ways to ease yourself back to an internal space that feels comfortable again. Several methods include:

  • Name emotions you are feeling like fear, anger, grief, and apathy.
  • Build community with friends, coworkers, and chosen family and stay connected with them.
  • Empathize that others are going through similar emotions as you; recognizing you are not alone.
  • Share experiences with others either through therapy or friendships and relationships
  • Think of how quickly transitions occurred during the pandemic to provide hope that this will pass too.

Resilience, creativity, community, and therapy are all ways to help recalibrate yourself. You are not alone if you feel anxious, depressed, and full of grief. A mental health therapist is an available option for guided support if you do feel any of these emotions or find yourself struggling.

Voicing your concerns with trusted individuals can help lessen shame and loneliness. When you talk about what you are feeling by naming emotions and relying on a community; you may find calm, stress relief, and peace. You don’t have to be perfect in your reactions. It is not too late to develop skills and validate how you handled the pandemic. You are worth the effort.

Read More: “How To Manage Anxiety With Restrictions Lifting”


Learn More About Denver Metro Counseling

Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC

Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We provide supportive therapy for people struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, negative body image, and more
Denver Metro Counseling

Our Clinician’s Bios:
Audrey Bristol, LSW
Molly Ward, LCSW
Karan Steuart, LCSW, LAC
Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACC, ACS

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