5306 Ballard Ave NW, Suite 212, Seattle, WA 206-403-1148 Accepting New Clients

Pandemic PTSD Is Real: How to Recognize & Cope with the Trauma

March 31, 2022


Dr. Jennifer Chain is the President and Owner of Thrive for the People.

Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if we are a good fit.

The coronavirus pandemic continues and the world continues to deal with its impact on our lives. How are you managing right now? You have been through a lot.

You are not alone if you feel this period of loss, tension, and uncertainty in your mind and body. Your sense of safety, community, and a COVID-free future are constantly being challenged. There is no shame in acknowledging how difficult this time has been.

You may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s important to recognize the signs of the disorder to determine how to heal and cope effectively.  The sooner you take action, the better you will fare throughout the pandemic and beyond.

How Can You Tell if You Have Pandemic-Related PTSD?

When your mind and body are unable to process and release the emotions linked to a traumatic experience, your mind and body hold on to the memory of it. Negative emotions remain stuck, falsely signaling danger. Sometimes, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder develops. I wrote about how trauma can get stuck in the body in a previous blog post

PTSD symptoms typically appear within a few months after the traumatic event. In this case, we are all still living through the trauma and are re-experiencing it regularly. Signs include, but are not limited to:


Do memories of your traumatic experience vividly invade your thoughts, daydreams, or sleep? Old traumas in which you felt trapped, threatened, helpless, or violated may be triggered by COVID events. In addition, the social isolation, sudden loss of freedom and loved ones to COVID, and the feeling of helplessness to protect yourself and others during the pandemic can also be traumatic. Therefore, you may deal with:

  • Recurrent, intrusive images, ideas, and perceptions
  • Sleep disturbed by distressing dreams or nightmares
  • Re-lived past trauma through flashbacks or hallucinations

Anxiety & Emotional Dysregulation

Are you feeling anxious, panicked, and emotionally troubled by reminders of  COVID-related losses, changes, or difficulties? Unprocessed trauma inside you may lead to extreme reactivity. You may be dealing with a host of feelings, including:

  • Fear and worry
  • Persistent negativity
  • Intense loneliness
  • Guilt or negative self-perception
  • Distrust of people or the world
  • Emotional detachment

As a result, you may now be:

  • Avoidant
  • Irritable
  • Socially isolated
  • Hypervigilant
  • Acting in ways that are risky or self-destructive
  • Unable to enjoy activities that were once pleasurable to you

Physical Distress

Are you physically reactive? Trauma-related tension can reside in your body. When you deal with reminders of the pandemic, you might have a bodily response. You may feel sensations like:

  • Numbness
  • Aches or muscle tension
  • Jumpiness or jittery feelings
  • Disconnection to your body
  • Physical feelings similar to those felt during the trauma

Cognitive Disruption

Are you struggling cognitively? Pandemic trauma can impact your ability to think clearly, too. You might have:

  • Problems concentrating or making plans
  • Difficulty feeling that the world is real
  • Trouble remembering parts of the trauma, including the timeline of events after March of 2020

How You Can Cope with Pandemic PTSD

PTSD symptoms can significantly impair your ability to function. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is an ongoing, invisible threat. Yet, you do not have to continue suffering.

Work With a Therapist

Recalling the losses, pain, fear and helplessness linked to COVID-19 can be devastating. Quality treatment by a qualified psychotherapist can ease the strain and flood of involuntary, psychological and biological responses you experience. Your therapist can help you process through the emotions related to the trauma and together, you can make sense of what happened. Your therapist can also help you master skills to self-soothe, self-care, and construct a solid support system.