You don’t have to fight a war or be the victim of a violent crime to experience trauma. Living through the catastrophe of COVID-19 has brought on emotions many of us didn’t know we had. You don’t have to be on the frontlines to find the past year psychologically distressing. The ongoing uncertainty, isolation and fear is having a real impact on emotional health, and in some cases causing trauma.
The Centers for Disease Control defines a traumatic event as an “event, or series of events, that causes moderate to severe stress reactions.” These are characterized by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury or the threat of serious injury or death.
Everyone reacts differently to disaster, but a trauma disorder can result any time you experience a highly stressful event or a prolonged stressful situation. Signs to watch for include:
- Nightmares, difficulty sleeping
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Anxiety, fear, panic attacks
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Withdrawing from others
- Sadness, hopelessness
- Physical symptoms (headaches, stomach upset, fatigue)
- Feeling detached/estranged from others
- Shock, denial or disbelief
Anytime you’re struggling with emotions, a safe place to turn for help is your primary care provider. These health care professionals play an important role in mental health. They can help you determine if you’re what you’re feeling is stress or trauma, and connect you with the resources you need.
Too often, people suffer in silence because they hesitate to bring up their feelings during a clinic visit. What providers know, and what they want patients to understand, is that mental health and physical health go hand in hand. That’s why primary care providers include a depression assessment during office visits. They will tell you it’s always the right time to bring up how you’re feeling, because help is just a conversation away.
Camille Settelmeyer, DNP, FNP-C