Post-traumatic stress disorder, with chronic or persistent symptoms ranging from insomnia to nightmares and anxiety, can affect one in three individuals. This is what emerges from a systematic global review on the topic of Covid and mental health, one year after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nobody will be the same as before. The pandemic is leaving deep marks on the psyche, compromising well-being and mental health.
And those affected are not only those who have come face to face with the disease, such as the families of the victims and patients who recovered from the virus, the health workers who have fought it on the front line.
But a year of Coronavirus is undermining the balance of many. Up to one in three individuals could in fact experience chronic or persistent symptoms, ranging from insomnia to nightmares and anxiety: it is the so-called post-traumatic stress disorder (Ptsd). Women are the category most at risk, reconciling family and work during the lockdown has weighed more than ever.
Previous research has revealed increased anxiety, depression, and severe stress; however, these studies were conducted on non-representative samples of the population.
This study instead evaluated the psychological impact of COVID on 67000 individuals, representative of the population in terms of age, sex, and geographical areas.
One year after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the picture was taken by a systematic review of the studies published on the topic of Covid and mental health.
Several studies conducted in Italy, Spain, China, India, Ireland, and Israel have evaluated the presence of symptoms of PTSD in the general population, and overall an incidence of 30% was found.
The results showed that variables such as female gender, being a student, having symptoms of COVID-19, and perception of poor health were associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression. Other typical features were unpredictability, uncertainty, disease severity, misinformation, and social isolation.
Other data have reported the prevalence of significant symptoms of PTSD.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can develop following exposure to traumatic events so excessive as to cause psychic upheaval.
It is not an event that takes place immediately from a clinical point of view, but it needs time to build.
The effects on people are long-term and sometimes chronic and also depend on the person’s ability to adapt and cope with adversity.
If in the first phase of the pandemic we observed a worrying increase in levels of anxiety, depression, and insomnia, the persistent stress of an emergency situation that has lasted for more than a year, without any certainty of getting out of it soon, represents a chronic traumatic event that is still in progress but whose effects we already see over time, extended to the general population.
The spread of post-traumatic stress disorder had already emerged on the occasion of the Sars epidemic in 2003, with negative psychic effects, manifested for example with sleep disorders, which lasted even 30 months later.
In the Covid era- the experts add – the data seem to reveal a similar reality in the general population, starting with people under 50 and women, most likely due to an overload related to the role of caregiver to be balanced with work and home management.
In particular, the analysis shows that the conditions of isolation, the loss of freedom, the concerns about the impact of the virus on pregnancy have been raging on people’s psychic balance. While the greatest protective factor seems to be a condition of spiritual well-being.
Most epidemiological studies reviewed indicate that survivors of the infection have a higher likelihood of long-term ailments, followed by victims’ families and health workers.
Symptoms of stress – Handle Stress and Anxiety
If we want to learn how to handle stress and anxiety, we must first know how to identify the symptoms.
Stress is a very common condition, even outside of the pandemic reality, which can cause various symptoms, such as heart attack, panic attacks, anxiety, high blood pressure, and depression, just to name a few of the physical and psychological ailments.
Work-related stress is a disorder caused – as the name suggests – by the condition in which one is at work and which can, therefore, be accompanied by physical and psychological disorders, determined by the fact that some people experience the feeling of not being able to respond adequately to the requests they receive or the expectations placed on them in the workplace.
Work stress can trigger heart attacks, panic attacks, anxiety, sleep disorder, high blood pressure, depression, and other symptoms.
Stress can be defined, in general, as a response by the organism to external pressure or stimuli and all this does nothing but provoke an adaptation reaction, which, under certain conditions, can take on a pathological character.
Specifically, work-related stress occurs when requests exceed the employee’s ability to deal with them and manage them in the most appropriate way. In itself, stress cannot be considered a real disease, but we must not forget that it can generate health problems both on a physical level – such as, for example, heart disease – and for what concerns mental well-being.
It is, in fact, possible to run into disorders such as depression or nervous exhaustion. It seems that the age group between 45 and 55 years is most affected, as well as women, those with precarious contracts, and those who work more than 50 hours a week.
Here are some of the symptoms of stress:
- Reduction of judgment
- Difficulty in interpersonal relationships
- Eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa
- Addiction to alcohol and smoking
- Reduction of attention and concentration
- Memory problems
- Panic attacks
- Bad mood
- Crisis of tears
- Excessive self-criticism
- Disorders of the gastrointestinal system, such as nervous colitis
- Cardiovascular disorders, respiratory and locomotives, like heart attack , high blood pressure , low blood pressure , cerebral ischemia , asthma , and headaches
- Sleep disorders
- Feeling of cold hands and feet
- Sense of dissatisfaction
- Urogenital disorders, such as urinary incontinence and irregular menstrual cycle
- Dermatological disorders
- Longing for isolation and difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- Weakening of the immune system
Anxiety is a particularly important and significant symptom of a general altered state of the person. For example, it is one of the symptoms most present in the state of chronic stress (distress). And since today (with the latest research in Functional psychology) we can scientifically measure distress, we can finally also evaluate a person’s anxiety.
Anxiety can also be considered as the common denominator of disorders of varying severity, which go up to the syndrome of Panic Attacks.
Te are many points in common with the dysfunctions of anxiety, but also notable differences.
The sensations of losing control, severe fear attacks, breath is more altered, memories and fantasies worsen, the time structure collapses, planning and rationality come to a complete stop, movements and postures stiffen, fears lead to anguish, indecisions become paralyzing doubts, even more, chronic sympatheticotonia produces sudden vagotonic collapses.
How to Handle Stress and Anxiety – Diagnosis
First of all, it is necessary to become aware of the problem and, upon the appearance of suspicious symptoms and signs, to speak to a doctor who will establish the diagnosis of stress/anxiety and will be able to indicate the appropriate therapy for solving the problem.
In addition to the medical examination and the study of symptoms, some tests, examinations, and analyzes could be performed, so as to exclude or not the presence of any pathologies.
How to Handle Stress and Anxiety – Remedies
What to do against stress and anxiety? What are the remedies?
It may be useful to take some medications against the symptoms caused but, certainly, these would not solve the problem of anxiety and stress at the root.
To help, against stress, there are Bach flowers: these can help against states of anxiety and there are different types, for example, the Rock Rose remedy against panic attacks, the Cherry Plum to find calm, Oak against anxiety or Rescue Remedy, a mix of different flowers useful for feeling better.
Surely, the first step against stress and anxiety is to admit that you have a problem and become aware of it.
Changing jobs or other drastic life changes may not be the solution, as this malaise may reoccur.
What to do then? Who to contact in case of work stress?
Specifically, psychotherapy can be of help and a psychotherapist could help to understand the mechanisms that must be modified to get better and live the various situations in a different way.
By modifying, for example, the lifestyle and implementing some small measures, as well as learning how to implement psychophysical relaxation so as to change the relationship between ourselves and the environment in which we live every day.
Finally, the prognosis will depend on certain factors, such as the patient’s ability to change their lifestyle, working on their symptoms, on themselves, and on their habits to eliminate factors that induce stress and anxiety.