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Not seeing family or friends. Losing your job or watching it transform beyond recognition. Getting a life-threatening disease or fearing you will. Having someone you know pass away.
Psychiatrists consider any of these events — which were especially common during the pandemic — to be potentially traumatic. For some, such high levels of prolonged stress may leave deep and lasting psychological scars, with the most extreme of these effects being post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
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Not Just for Soldiers
PTSD often conjures images of shell-shocked veterans returning from war or someone witnessing a violent crime. But many experts believe a wide variety of situations can trigger this condition, whose symptoms range from extreme irritability and difficulty concentrating to insomnia, hypervigilance, nightmares, severe anxiety or even depression. These symptoms can come on right away, or they may take many months to develop, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
"In this past year, some people absolutely experienced PTSD,” says Bruce Perry, an adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and the coauthor, with Oprah Winfrey, of a new book What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. And he doesn't mean only those who were hospitalized with COVID-19.
All of us are at risk for such psychological trouble, says James Gordon, founder and executive director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the author of Transforming Trauma: The Path to Hope and Healing. “Everybody on our planet has been traumatized by this pandemic. We understand that every day around the world, thousands of people are dying from an illness who were not dying before,” he says, adding that having your life upended and facing uncertainty about the future are further distresses that can trigger a more severe response than you may expect.