For nearly two years, the country has tried their best to dodge the coronavirus. We have submitted to lockdowns, hidden ourselves away at home, and shunned gatherings with friends and family. When vaccines rolled out last year, many Americans lined up to get the jab. Millions more have gotten a booster and vaccinated their children as soon as they were eligible. Despite our vigilance, the Omicron variant is ripping through the country, infecting both the vaccinated and unvaccinated in record numbers. After being so careful for so long, how have we failed to stay safe?
In part, some of our distress at the high number of Omicron cases is due to a misunderstanding of what vaccines do. When they were first rolled out, both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines reported above 90-percent efficacy rates against the virus. If you got the feeling that you were pretty much invincible after being fully vaccinated, you’re not alone. Vaccination, combined with mask-wearing and social distancing, made it seem as if we were golden.
Not so much.
Then, at the beginning of the summer of 2021, the CDC loosened mask-wearing restrictions. They told us that it was fine to gather in small groups, as long as everyone was vaccinated. We began to feel like we were climbing out of the valley and catching tiny glimmers of hope that the pandemic might be nearing an end.
But then Omicron replaced the Delta variant across much of the world, and suddenly everyone is either sick or knows several people who are.
The timing of the new variant was awful, coming right around the holidays. Many people were forced to cancel plans to see loved ones, or to travel, and all the trauma of the past two years came flooding back to us.
After all, the pandemic has been very traumatic for countless people. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) have now become part of our daily lives.
By definition, a post-traumatic stress disorder can occur when someone has “experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with a terrible event.” Although facts and figures are still emerging, mental health professionals are now recognizing that factors associated with the pandemic have given rise to what is being called “Covid PTSD.”
“We are seeing more and more traumatized people in our clinic and many express a feeling of being hopeless and disheartened now that Omicron is here,” says Andrew Rosen, Ph.D., psychologist and Clinical Director of The Center for Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Delray Beach, FL. “If they catch it, they feel as if they have failed themselves and everyone around them.”
But, is catching Omicron really a “failure”?
Absolutely not. In reality, we have succeeded. What we need to do now is revise our way of thinking about the pandemic’s trajectory.
When the virus began, our arsenal was designed around “flattening the curve.” It was never intended that we could completely stop the virus. We only hoped to slow the spread so we wouldn’t overwhelm our resources and wouldn’t have more sick people than hospitals and staff could handle.
Now, we have Omicron, which Dr. Anthony Fauci says, “with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody.”
Scientists have determined that Omicron has “upwards of 50 mutations in its genome, 30 of which exist in the gene encoding Spike,” according to the American Society for Microbiology. With an unprecedented rate of transmission (it replicates 70 times faster than Delta), we aren’t going to be able to outrun it or hide from it.
Instead, right now it is very important to find a calm “center” – something that can help to shield you from the stress. After all, you may not be able to change the larger picture, but you can definitely control your personal environment and work towards attaining a small measure of peace.
Making time for self-care can help you regain a sense of control, which reduces anxiety and soothes your emotions. “Above all, make sure to break away from what you fear if it is something you are focusing on too much,” says David A. Gross, MD, a psychiatrist and the Medical Director at The Center. “When we are in the grip of fear, it is sometimes hard to stop the catastrophic “what if” thoughts that come along with those emotions.”
If you are highly focused on something that is creating stress for you, that laser-focus creates more stress and anxiety. Redirecting your attention to something else can break that destructive pattern. Things that require the sensation of touch – like knitting, kneading dough, folding laundry, or exercising – are very helpful in allowing you to turn off and let go of your distressing thoughts.
“Know that it is okay to ask for help,” says Dr. Rosen. “We all have days when we feel sad, stressed, or angry, but it is best to seek help if you can’t shake those feelings after a reasonable period of time. Think of it like you would if you had a wound on your arm that won’t stop bleeding or a headache that won’t go away. You would go to a doctor for help in those cases and you should do the same for the Covid trauma that is troubling you now.”
“Remember that mental and emotional trauma create changes in brain function, which means your distress is not your fault. In many cases, you can use self-care to reduce your anxiety, but if your symptoms continue for more than two weeks or seem to be increasing, we encourage you to seek therapy.”
Dr. Rosen and Dr. Gross are co-authors of Covid Trauma, Healing From The Psychological Impact Of The Coronavirus Pandemic.
Learn To Feel Safe Again
If you are struggling with coronavirus anxiety, reach out and get the help you need. By working with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma, you can experience recovery from your PTSD relating to the pandemic. For more information, please contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 today.