Post-Covid Stress Disorder is a sub-set of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder caused by the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leave treating its symptoms to others. Put your efforts into helping colleagues improve their stress reduction skills, and regain self-confidence and self-esteem as you shift back from a crisis management command and control posture to re-empowering others.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder “that can happen after a deeply threatening or scary event.” Its symptoms include insomnia, flashbacks, low self-esteem, and painful and unpleasant emotions which, as Dr. Bill Berman describes, “range from merely troubling to severely disrupting your life”.
Pyramid Healthcare lays out four stages to the condition starting with Impact or “Emergency,” and then Denial, before moving into short and then long-term recovery. Berman notes these are more “phases” than stages as people may not move through them consecutively.
Unlike other traumatic events, COVID-19 impacted everyone on the planet. While few developed full Post-Covid Stress Disorder (PCSD), everyone was shocked. Everyone lost something. Everyone felt the effects. Expect everyone to be anxious, hyper-vigilant, emotional, and struggle with guilt – natural responses to events like these.
It’s hard to distinguish between the larger group of people that do not have PCSD and the few that do have it and are in denial, as the latter “will attempt, either consciously or unconsciously, to avoid the difficult emotions.”
Look for changes in behavior and these symptoms lingering on and adding up to feeling alienated or detached:
- Re-experiencing flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts.
- Avoiding places, events, or objects that remind them of their COVID-19 experience, thoughts, or feelings.
- Arousal and reactivity like being easily startled, feeling tense or on edge, difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts.
- Cognitive and mood issues like trouble remembering, negative thoughts, guilt, blame, loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
The generally accepted treatment for PTSD involves psychotherapy and medication to improve symptoms, teach coping skills, and restore self-esteem. If you know someone’s got PCSD, get them to a qualified professional to treat their symptoms. Period. End of sentence. End of paragraph. Do not try this at home yourself.
However, there’s no risk in helping others learn skills to deal with their post-pandemic reality and regain their self-esteem – essentially by focusing on conditions and not symptoms.
The skills required to deal with the post-pandemic reality are the skills of resilience. A couple of the components of Leo Flanagan’s resiliency model are applicable here and to the wider set of adults impaired by anxiety and/or depression.
Invest in relationships by listening and being curious. Concentrate on seeing the situation from their viewpoint and perceive how they are feeling. Flanagan suggests BATHEing:
- BACKGROUND – “How are things?”
- AFFECT – “How do you feel about it?”
- TROUBLES – “What troubles you the most?”
- HOW – “How are you handling the situation?”
- EMPATHY – convey understanding
Be empathetic in helping them review their behaviors, attitudes, perspectives and results. The objective is to help them realize that things could be better, that they could feel better.
Balanced Goal Setting
The key here is balance. Help them set goals in five life arenas: work; family; health; spiritual; and community.
On the one hand, they are in charge of themselves. They have to make things happen. At the same time, you can help them limit distractions and avoid multi-tasking, make conscious choices under pressure, and control their expression of emotions to maintain relationships and personal performance.
COVID-19 reset everyone’s progress up Maslow’s hierarchy of physiological, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization needs. This means you likely can’t jump straight to helping people work on self-esteem, but have to meet them where they are and work back up the hierarchy.
Crisis management requires command and control leadership. Even the most democratic pirates of the Caribbean looked to their captain to make all decisions in battle. And COVID-19 has been a battle for all.
But command and control means telling and compliance and subjugation of self to the greater good.
As you lead out of the pandemic, relaxing your command and control posture to re-empower others, help them regain their self-confidence and self-esteem by emphasizing confidence-building in your approach to the direction, authority, resource, and accountability aspects of delegation.