COVID-19 and past traumas : the pandemic bringing back blue emotions

As the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing intensifies, we’re being subjected to collective trauma. Every single day we come across news about the rapid spread of the virus, the latest death tallies, and tragic tales of suffering and loss. If the virus hasn’t already impacted us personally, we fear for our own wellbeing and for our loved ones. These fears can sometimes feel unpredictable and uncontrollable—the signature of traumatic events.

You may be noticing symptoms of anxiety and trauma right now as a result—things like disturbed sleep, feeling on edge all the time, and sturdier emotional reactions than you’re used to.

Past traumas may have a particularly commanding effect on our reactions to this COVID-19 outbreak. If you’re a survivor of medical trauma, for example, it may have resonances of life-threatening sickness or damage that you or a close one faced. In fact, the distress and uncertainty we face from COVID-19 can be a prompt for any kind of past trauma, such as assaults, accidents or abuse—any disturbing event that you experienced as unpredictable and irrepressible.

1. Intrusive Memories 

Flashbacks of your past suffering may come back to haunt you out of the blue when you’re least expecting it. You might be watching a movie or a series, for example, when a scene from your trauma abruptly snaps into your head, along with a plethora of emotion. The recollections might be quite vivid and intense, to the point of being a flashback in which it feels like you are going through the same ordeal all over again. The memories can intervene at night, too, in the form of bad dreams or scary nightmares.

2. Insomnia or sleeplessness

It’s said that nothing good happens in this world post 12 am. So night-time generally is a bit hard, with or without bad dreams. You might feel more and more unsafe as darkness seeps in, and you may have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep. Perhaps you fear calling it a day because you know you’ll face insomnia, or will have nightmares if you do go to bed. Your whole sleep cycle could be revamped, staying up till the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping well into the day.

Lockdown and qarantine can result in awakening of the repressed traumas

3. Difficult Emotions and anxiety 

Worry and trauma can also bring back the feelings you had after a previous trauma, like being more easily distressed, crying frequently, or feeling hopeless most of the time. Dread reactions are common, too, like a general sense of anxiety that’s hard to get away with, or being easily frightened by loud noises. Guilt and humiliation are also common, including feeling embarrassed of having a hard time coping with it right now. You might also feel disconnected from positive emotions, like it’s hard to feel happiness even when something goes well.

4. Being Regularly on Guard 

The current sense of fear and threat that engulfed our society can prompt other times you’ve felt vulnerable. Perhaps you find yourself glued to the news as you keep monitoring the current level of threat. You might feel like you’re keeping a track of danger all the time and regularly bracing yourself for the worst scenario. Your nervous system’s alarm is always on, and you can’t relax. You even feel it in your body—tautness in your shoulders, nubs in your stomach, clenching your jaw.

5. Numbness 

You might even feel nothing at all and cut off from your emotions altogether—incapable to feel the highs or the lows. Some people label it as feeling “wooden” or “dead inside.” The numbness can outspread to your relationships, as well, as you feel distant from others and inept to receive the support and help you need at this time. It might be difficult to gather any interest or eagerness in your normal activities, like finding it nearly unbearable to exercise, get engrossed in a book, or lose yourself in a series or movie.

6. Negative Thoughts 

The COVID-19 crisis might be prompting trauma-related changes in the way you see things. You may have a more pessimistic of the world, seeing threat everywhere. You might see other people in a different way, too, like thinking that no one can be reliable or that everyone is just seeking you out for their selfish benefits. Your self-perceptions may have reformed, as well, as you see yourself as weak, insufficient, flawed, or damaged.

7. Avoidance 

Restarted trauma can cause avoiding things that prompt distressing feelings, like trying to avoid the news about COVID-19 or pushing harder to distract yourself from the memories of your trauma. These responses are easy to understand as self-protective measures to avoid overbearing emotions. At the same time, avoiding trauma prompts can avert you from working through those painful involvements.

If you’re stressed with some of these reactions, start by knowing that you are not in any way feeble or flawed. This is an extremely excruciating time, and these are all very normal reactions to an overwhelming condition.

Always have it in your back of the mind that you’re probably tackling the extra challenge of being cut off from your support system and ways of managing that are so significant as we face current traumas of coronavirus and heal from past ordeals. For instance, social distancing might make it tougher to get relief from the people close to you, and you possibly don’t have access to your normal exercise or hobbies.

Specific groups facing more troubles

  • Elder people and people with disabilities are asked to stay inside their homes and receive fewer visitors which could cause their loneliness to deepen.
  • In the west, Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans may experience the tingle of stigma and discrimination. Racial and ethnic minority communities with memory of health inequalities in past epidemics may fear similar repercussions in this one.
  • While physically small, children still experience big emotions, and they may lack the skills and maturity needed to deal with the ongoing emergency.
  • healthcare workers fighting from the frontline providing essential services, as well as people who have lost their dear ones or jobs due to the disease may be at higher risk for developing long-term complications. Those who struggle with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, or who have a prior history of trauma, may be at increased risk of more ongoing distress.

PTSD : The long-term mental health effects of COVID-19

While many people relate PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) with something like combat, it’s a chronic psychiatric disorder that can erupt in people who have experienced or witnessed a shocking event, such as a fatal accident, terrorist attack or a physical abuse.

Also Read: Coronavirus And Diabetes: How To Deal With It?

Even if you aren’t clinically identified with PTSD, you may have a solid emotional reaction to the trauma of Covid-19 that can last long after an event.

When we think about distressing events, it’s not just what the event is, it’s really your understanding and what the event triggers for you.

While it’s impossible to foresee what is stored for us in the future, there are some things we can do currently to flatten the mental health curve. Here’s what experts say you should be mindful of how to avert future issues:

PTSD symptoms

There are a number of symptoms that people can experience after a traumatic incident, including: invasive thoughts like nightmares or upsetting memories and flashbacks, being really stressed out or irritable, having trouble sleeping, Rheingold says. People often feel hyper-vigilant or have trouble concentrating. They may avoid thinking about an incident as a way of coping, too.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, someone would have a certain number of all these symptoms over a long period of time. But even if you’re not diagnosed with full-blown PTSD, people can experience those symptoms after a traumatic or stressful event, she adds.

How long until they last

It’s okay to have an powerful emotional outburst to a significant danger or traumatic incident like an epidemic. But usually, symptoms tend to naturally recuperate over time.

So, there’s a big peak in symptoms right away, and then about 4 months out of the trauma those symptoms get well on their own.

However, sometimes the symptoms don’t necessarily get improved with time.

If you’re still having symptoms that hinder with your daily life (meaning you feel paralyzed or like you can’t work work or sleep), then it’s worth getting help from a therapist or mental health professional. Actually, timing is important; PTSD can’t be detected until one month after a traumatic event.

“Thoughts Emotions Behaviours” method

People should be observing what they’re saying to themselves, and how that makes them feel and what they do.

For example, if you spend all day pondering over getting sick or losing your job, then you might drink a lot to feel better and wake up feeling worse the following day.

If your thought patterns incline towards total “black and white or catastrophic,” then it’s not a good sign.

That causes slanted thinking and dysfunctional behaviour. Instead, find a coping mechanism or process that can heal you, like talking to family and friends or exercising.

Unplug from the news

One of the best coping mechanism when it comes to trauma is making news consumption incredibly minimal. If the news is making you feel negative or pessimistic, halt and ask yourself: Is this helping me in any way? What is this adding to me?

Studies indicate that simply watching news coverage of a traumatic incident can prompt acute stress symptoms. You should detox from the news a little bit and try something that cheers you up. Anything you can do to cool off your mind and body right now is really helpful.

Remember resilience

Most people are extremely resilient, even those of us who are feeling really down or struggling right now.

Even though it might feel hard at the moment, many people have amazing coping strategies and social support systems that will help them sail through this. Maintaining the mechanism that you know has a tendency to to work is one way you can ensure that you’re not suffering months down the road.

Though, if you notice that your normal coping strategies aren’t helping, or that nothing seems to work for you, that’s perhaps where support is required.

Call on this COVID-19 helpline for emotional support

Now we have helplines as well that help you in coping up with the emotional trauma triggered by the whole COVID-19 situation. Nikita Gupta, a Lady Shri Ram College alumna set up a COVID-19 helpline (+91 7707070002) for emotional support during this time. The helpline also has an arrangement that redirects people to a suicide helpline in case the individuals show suicidal tendencies. The helpline took off in association with a mental health start-up, Mentdoc. The helpline is an effort to restore emotional well-being by providing mental and emotional support for anyone experiencing symptoms of depression like distress, isolation or feeling out of control.

Many of us are finding relief in knowing that we’re all in this together. And yet, we’re not undergoing these conditions in exactly the same way—each of us is retorting based on our unique pasts, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Just always remember that this too shall pass and you are going to come out stronger as ever. Until then stay home, stay safe!

Tags: Covid 19 treatment, Covid 19 origin, Coronavirus news

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Jim Carson

Jim Carson is the writer for the mental health section of He is certified in clinical mental health counselling and has conducted cognitive behaviour therapy for war veterans struggling with PTSD. Professionally and personally, Jim is an astute observer of human behaviour that reflects well in his work.