Thank you, Juliet Catrett (LCSW, EMDRIA Certified Therapist, EMDRIA Approved Consultant), for offering this article in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) specializing in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I cannot help but notice how much our community has been impacted by traumatic incidents. In the last fifteen years Baton Rouge has seen both man-made and natural disasters. In our current state of events, it is not unusual for some people to re-experience reminders of past traumatic events. In this article, I share ways people may try to cope with disruption in their lives, some of the noticeable and subtle signs of PTSD, and suggestions for self-care. At the end of this article are resources for you to learn more about PTSD and ways to access treatment.
Are you finding you are eating more chocolate than usual? Are you getting too much sleep? How about too little sleep? Are you glued to the newsfeed on your phone? Leaving your TV on all day tuned in to the news to make sure you don’t miss anything? Or maybe you notice you are avoiding the news? Maybe you are drinking more alcohol than usual? Are you eating more junk food? Are you noticing worry thoughts are keeping you up at night? Are you having a hard time establishing a new normal to adapt to the disruption in your life?
It is no secret that our community has seen its share of critical events. When we encounter an event that overwhelms our ability to cope and keep things in perspective, sometimes our emotions, thoughts and bodies may store information related to this event in a way that makes it difficult for us to get resolution about what happened to us. Sometimes we can pack all this unresolved stuff away. We may mentally duct tape that box shut and store it in “the back of our minds” in an effort to put it away and move on with our lives so we can function. When a new disaster strikes, sometimes those unresolved emotions, thoughts and body sensations can pop back up again. Some people may experience the sensation of seeing images of the event that can make them feel like they are back there in the past reliving what happened. Some people may feel they are coping just fine and then seemingly from out of blue they are overcome with anxiety and may experience a panic attack. Some people may notice they are having nightmares. Some people may find themselves feeling more agitated and becoming more irritable or friends and family may notice angry outbursts. Sometimes people may have thoughts about past traumatic events that resurface and may be triggered by some of the things experienced in previous disaster situations. Some people may notice they are beginning to feel like “the world is not safe” or “there is something seriously wrong with me” and may blame themselves or others for these events. Some people may notice they cope by becoming more alert, vigilant and may look for ways to channel this energy in an effort to feel a sense of control over their emotions and the situation. Some people may notice they reach for more alcohol or sleep more in an effort to avoid reminders of the event or to dull the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. These are just some of the more common ways people may respond when experiencing symptoms that may be related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
So, how do you know if it is PTSD or simply the expected anxiety that comes with having our lives disrupted? The key is noticing how much these experiences are bothering you and impacting your relationships with family and loved ones. Another key is to look for moderate to severe impairment in your ability to concentrate and sleep.
Some tips that can help you cope include limiting your exposure to social media and news. Find ways to engage with your children and enjoy being together. If you are isolated from your family, make plans to have a family gathering via an online meeting platform so you can stay connected. Make an effort to leave the house at least once a day to exercise and go outside. Try to cut back on the chocolate because it contains caffeine and sugar and this can impact your ability to sleep at night. Be mindful of how much alcohol you are drinking, as alcohol is a depressant, and it can also disrupt your sleep cycle and prevent you from getting the quality of sleep you need to be better able to cope. Give yourself permission to go to bed so you can allow your body, emotions and brain to recharge to give you more energy to deal with life the next day. I also invite you to be kind to yourself. You are doing an amazing job dealing with all this. Also, don’t forget to take some deep breaths when you need to. Give yourself permission to find the silver lining in all this. How we approach a situation can have an impact on the outcome. Putting a positive spin on things can also help decrease anxiety.
PTSD is treatable with counseling. If you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD, then please reach out to Becky Williams, Director of Health Ministries at St. Luke’s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 335-2068. If you would like more information on PTSD, please visit the website for the National Center for PTSD at https://www.ptsd.va.gov/ or National Institute of Mental Health at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml.
If you are interested in treatment, then I recommend you consider seeking out a counselor who offers evidenced-based therapy to treat PTSD. Evidenced-based therapy means the treatment has been researched to determine its effectiveness. Trauma Related Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) are evidenced-based therapies to treat PTSD. The National Center for PTSD has information on both of these treatments. To locate an EMDR trained clinician in your area please visit https://www.emdria.org/ and click “find a therapist” link. Here is a link to a brief informative video about EMDR https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKrfH43srg8.
Remember Hurricane Katrina did not last forever. Hurricane Gustav did not last forever. The 2016 flood did not last forever. This too will end. We are a resilient community and we will get through this and move on from it.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1.