The majority of people are experiencing anxiety, panic and fear as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s no exaggeration to say these exceptional circumstances represent a national trauma.

Trauma is a commonly used word to convey emotional experience of a terrifying event. While such events can be stressful and shocking, they only become traumatic when a person’s ability to cope is compromised. This happens in response to events that are perceived as life-threatening, violent or shocking to self and others. 

A person’s subjective experience of an event, and to what extent they believe their life, bodily integrity, or psychological well-being was threatened determines the extent of trauma. They may react with intense fear, horror, numbness, or helplessness. Reactions to trauma vary greatly, from mild reactions to a range of chronic, severe, confusing and debilitating symptoms.

For those personally impacted by the virus by becoming symptomatic, the fear of mortality, of becoming a statistic is very real. The experience of moderate to severe symptoms, or even mild symptoms with the fear of them advancing to becoming very serious, and possibly deadly will, for many, likely result in post-trauma symptoms.

NHS and other healthcare workers are, of course, on the front lines of the pandemic. They face something they have never seen before, a debilitating, contagious and deadly threat both to themselves as well as to those they care for. A huge amount of long-term support will be required and as the pandemic develops many healthcare workers will begin to experience intense post-trauma symptoms.

Profound societal changes have elevated fear and anxiety levels for the general public, including those who never acquire the virus, leading to a range of trauma responses, already being reported. Many will lose jobs, income, livelihoods. Many people are facing such possibilities, without knowing when things will return to normal as well as experiencing daily fear of contracting this virus.

Not everyone who experiences a trauma, or even the exact same situation, will perceive or respond to it in the same way. Not everyone will experience post-trauma symptoms or go on to develop full blown PTSD. Many are already experiencing an acute stress disorder, reporting a range of minor PTSD symptoms. Some go on to naturally recover, but some are left with PTSD. 

Initially, it’s important to resist the temptation to ignore negative thoughts and emotions. Acknowledge present experience and the challenges we all face. Do not numb or self-medicate. Do not minimise what you are going through. Have empathy and compassion for self. 

Become aware of the effects of trauma and recognise its common symptoms. These include overwhelming body sensations, intrusive emotions and distorted thought patterns.

Seek out a specialist in treating PTSD and other trauma-related conditions. Develop personal resilience through mindful practice, leading to greater emotional self-regulation and the capacity to tolerate the ups and downs, frustrations and setbacks that will inevitably occur during the course of this global pandemic.