The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how people operate in their daily lives, affecting work, school and social interactions. Most news sources have reinforced the dangers of the virus, reporting the number of deaths and illnesses daily. For some people, the pandemic threats can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it can also exacerbate existing PTSD symptoms. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, not only could the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate existing mental health conditions, but it could cause new stress-related symptoms.

How to Help Someone with PTSD During the COVID-19 Pandemic

If you’re living with a loved one with PTSD, it affects you, too. PTSD can take a heavy toll on a relationship. You might feel hurt by your loved one’s distance and moodiness or struggle to understand their behavior when they become less affectionate or volatile. You might have even taken on a more significant share of household tasks and have become frustrated. It is important to remember that your loved one might not always have control over their behavior. Supporting a loved one with PTSD takes patience; you can’t force them to get better, but you can help them in the healing process.

1. Provide Social Support

It is common for people with PTSD to withdraw from family and friends. They might feel ashamed or feel that nobody will understand what they are going through. While it is essential to respect their boundaries, your support can help them overcome feelings of helplessness, grief and despair. 

Remember not to pressure your loved one into talking. Talking about their experiences can be very difficult. Some have even said it could make them feel worse (NCBI). However, letting your loved one know that you are willing to talk when they are ready to talk can be comforting. It creates feelings of being engaged and accepted by you. 

Understand that during this process, you will likely go through an emotional wringer. You will experience a complicated mix of feelings, some of which you might not want to admit. At times you might have negative feelings toward your loved one, but this does not mean that you do not love them.

2. Listen to Their Experiences

PTSD episodes can occur in cycles, causing your loved one to experience these feelings over and over. When your loved one feels comfortable enough to talk, they might speak of their trauma over and over again, too. Understand that this is part of the healing process, so try to avoid keeping them from rehashing the past. Instead, offer to talk as many times as they need, and listen. Some of the things your loved one tells you might be hard to hear. Try to remember to respect their feelings and reactions. If you come across as disapproving, terrified or judgmental, they might not open up to you again.

Try not to minimize their trauma by giving easy answers. For example, if your loved one reads news heavily steeped in grief from the pandemic and they express worry or fear, responding that everything will be OK simplifies their concern and diminishes what they are going through. Stopping your loved one from talking about their fear of telling them what they should do is also just as damaging to them making progress. Being a good listener can be challenging, and it may be hard not to want to lend advice or try to calm your loved one with an example from your experiences, but you are not experiencing what they are. Remember to be patient and calm while listening. Allow them to express what they need to communicate.

3. Rebuild Trust and Safety 

Trauma can create a world that looks perpetually dangerous. This sense of danger is likely heightened because of the pandemic. It can damage your loved one’s ability to trust others and themselves. Working to rebuild a sense of security will contribute to their recovery. Let your loved one know you are in this together and facing the fears of the pandemic together. Knowing that you are in it for the long haul can be reassuring to your loved one.

Work on a structure. No matter the restrictions, finding ways to maintain structure will benefit you and your loved one’s recovery. Creating a schedule that supports consistent times for sleep, meals, work, chores, caring for children and self-care helps restore a sense of stability in your household. It also helps motivate your loved one to participate in activities, building confidence and empowering them. Finding ways to plan for events, whether it is a date night at home, or hopping on a video call with friends and family, helps create variety and fun within the schedule.

4. Anticipate and Manage Triggers

As the pandemic wanes on, the news remains a primary cause for stress, worry and anxiety, and can culminate to them turning to unhealthy ways of coping, such as abusing substances. Knowing the places where your loved one can experience a trigger can help you plan to get them through the episode. Before the triggering experience occurs, talk with your loved one about what they do to manage them, including what works and what doesn’t. You both might discover that watching the news at a particular time is unhealthy, so you might decide not to watch the news at that time. Knowing the causes of their triggers can significantly reduce the strong emotional reactions from the triggering experience.

Living with someone who has PTSD can be challenging, especially during a pandemic and if they are turning to substances to cope. At New Hope Ranch, we treat those and their loved ones that are struggling with PTSD. Our trauma-informed care offers a combination of one-on-one therapy, family therapy and small group sessions. We aim to provide the tools needed to create an enlightening journey that extends well beyond the treatment.

Our specialized veteran treatment program is designed to help veterans get on the road to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, as well as co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety and PTSD. While we continue to implement adjustments to accommodate restrictions presented by the pandemic, it has not slowed us down. To learn more, call us today at (737) 600-8565. 

Learn more about our Covid-19 response and safety measures at New Hope Ranch.

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