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Am I Traumatized By COVID-19?

Meg Mulroy, LPC 

As we usher in the new year with a highly contagious new strain of COVID, it’s hard not to think about how the pandemic has affected us all. In the past two years, our daily lives have drastically changed and we as a nation have witnessed numerous traumatic events and have had front row seats to death, loss, and grief. People have not just lost loved ones, but also jobs, routines, and much-anticipated plans, vacations, or adventures.  Not only have we lost these things, but many people have also lost stability, their identity, and a sense of control. 

Research shows that the pandemic has been a significant traumatic stressor that’s causing PTSD-like symptoms. Research from Case Western Reserve University found that 85% of participants in a study were experiencing at least one symptom of PTSD in 2020 and early 2021. If you have noticed yourself feeling differently than usual, perhaps more withdrawn or on-edge, you may be experiencing a response to the trauma that COVID has caused.  Some signs that you may be traumatized by COVID are here: 

Hypervigilance: After experiencing a traumatic event or events, oftentimes we see folks stuck in a hyper-alert state. This is your body scanning for threat, even after the threat has passed. Your body is spending a lot of energy to keep you in survival mode so difficulty focusing or staying present is a good indication you may stick here. You may feel more on-edge, sensitive to loud sounds or bold stimuli (including sneezes and coughs in this case), and react to small things in a more pronounced way. 

Fatigue: While emotional and physical fatigue is not criteria for PTSD, the ongoing trauma of COVID has caused more fatigue than usual for folks. Going into the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses when we are triggered can be extremely exhausting and energy-exerting. 

Dark and Gloomy Thoughts & Feelings: After experiencing trauma, experiencing a depressed mood is very common. You may be overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts and feelings of hopelessness. Because we have been living in a pandemic for almost two years, it makes sense that the thought of, “this will never end,” would show up. Try and simply make space to notice these thoughts pass through, acknowledge them, and let yourself feel what you need to. Remember that nothing is permanent and this too will pass. 

Declining Physical Health: Because trauma is stored in our bodies, it can have a negative effect on our physical health. If you have been noticing more aches and pains, stiffness, or just feeling out of touch with your body, it’s possible that the pandemic has taken a physical toll on your body. This looks different for everyone, but this may present as increased blood pressure, migraines, weight gain/loss, joint pain, or digestive issues. 

Poor Sleep: Traumatic stress often presents in difficulties sleeping. You may be having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, having nightmares, or having stress dreams. Studies show that 91% of people with PTSD have problems with sleep.

Avoidance: The act of purposefully avoiding others or triggers is a common occurrence for people after being exposed to trauma. Especially with COVID, many folks are having trouble re-engaging with people, places, and things that used to bring them joy. It’s important to note here that there is a difference between shutting yourself off from others and keeping yourself safe from the virus itself. There are still ways to be social safely whether that means moving to virtual parties or keeping your distance and masking up at events. 

If any of these symptoms feel familiar to you, it’s important to work through them with a therapist and to give yourself the grace to heal. The pandemic has affected us all greatly, so please remember there is no shame in experiencing any of the responses to the trauma that COVID has inflicted upon you. Symmetry Counseling is currently accepting new clients, so please feel free to schedule an appointment by calling 312-578-9990 or by following the link here.   


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