Understanding the trauma of Covid 19 on its victims

Understanding the trauma of Covid 19 on its victims

  Photograph by Jonathan Kelly

Covid 19 has presented many challenges to all of us. However, for some of us it has been a heart wrenching time when we have found that loved ones have fallen ill with this virus. The media coverage directs our first thoughts to the worst-case scenario, death, and not recovery. However, that is not the only possible outcome- not everyone dies, some people recover quite rapidly depending on their physical and emotional well-being. Many of you will understand the physical aspect of being able to recover from the virus but many will question the validity of the emotional impact or its importance.

From a personal perspective, the emotional impact is huge. The discovery that a loved one having the virus is not only heart wrenching, but it immediately leaves you overwhelmed with fear for losing them. The fear seems to wash over you, zapping all of your energy, and if you are aware of your body and how it reacts, you would notice that the fear penetrates every part of your body from the pit of your gut to your limbs. The feeling of stress and anxiety and hopelessness weighs heavy on your shoulders, immobilising you into inactivity.

Once you recognise that you are immersed in this trauma induced inactivity that you have a decision to make: one of staying in the trauma state and doing nothing or getting up and doing something useful. Perhaps of contacting the loved one, perhaps arranging to help with shopping, or having a friendly chat, giving encouragement, and laughter. For those of you who believe in the greater power offering prayers.

What just happened here?

Put simply I found myself in apposition where I was presented with such a terrifying experience, which activated that age-old survival instinct of flight, fight, or freeze that we are all prone to. I wondered if I felt such acute fear hearing about their situation, what might it be like for them as the victim of the virus? What must they have felt when they fell ill?

I can only imagine that it must have been similar. They would feel the impact of fear and anxiety and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Perhaps they would wonder at their life and all the things that they wished to do and the people that they wished to see and speak to. Maybe there are things they feel need to be ‘said’. A wonder if they can make it through. The fear immobilising them too.

Interestingly I was recently listening to Dr Bruce Lipton who reminded me of my training days and the impact of the survival response on our bodies. I thought Dr Lipton’s explanation more scientifically helpful.

When we receive shocking news, our brain sends out a signal to the rest of our body telling it we are in danger. Generally, the brain perceives stress, worry, anxiety and trauma all as dangerous and signals our body to shut down all unnecessary actions in order to conserve energy to face this danger (the shocking news). So, the heart starts pumping blood away from our skin and digestive organs into our muscles because our survival response will be either to run from the danger(flight), challenge the danger (fight), or to play dead (freeze). 

The flight fight freeze reaction is designed for action and survival. For someone suffering from the virus this initial response has limited the ability of the immune system to fight the virus and stop it spreading. In the longer term it could be counterproductive and inhibits their recovery, simply because the immune system is jeopardised as the brain is sending all the body’s resources to the muscles. So, the immune system being already stretched is further strained and struggling to fight the virus. I guess when things settle down a little, then the body would begin to respond with supporting the immune system. But somewhere emotionally some of the victims of the virus are compromised and may suffer trauma in terms of panic attacks or flash back. As for those of us who simply hear of the loved one contracting the virus, we also suffer trauma, and while activity and realistic perspectives can help mute the response, it may well be that the effects will continue long  after the virus has disappeared, haunting us all in some way.

It is both the initial shock and the longer-term emotional outcomes in response to trauma and fear that can leave us suffering and in distress. Fortunately, there are many ways of helping people recover from trauma. Using counselling approaches such as mindfulness, CBT, Dr David Moss’s rewind technique and even the rewind techniques adopted by Fusion and Human Givens too. EFT often can help certain people. It is really about the right technique for each individual client. For me, like many others, it is about recognising what is happening in our body, managing our response to it, that can help. It is about standing back a little and becoming aware that some of the fears surrounding the virus are unfounded and that sometimes common sense needs to prevail. For many us, it is important to remember that COVID19 poses no danger, and like the flu virus we can recover quite rapidly from it. This recognition and acceptance can help keep us calm when and if we are ever faced with the virus.