Everyone is suffering from Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) with all of the continuous news reports, cancelation of schools, events, and employment, personal experiences from the quarantined, FB updates from family and friends in quarantined countries, and inability to get cleaning supplies or toilet paper.
While the threat of the virus is real, the anxiety that it has created is excessive. There is an undercurrent of stress, anxiety, frustration, shock, horror, helplessness, and disbelief of what has occurred. STS is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Its symptoms mimic those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Nearly everyone has an element of STS as they deal with the changes in normal everyday life.
Those, especially at risk for STS, include:
- Those with family members who have contracted the virus.
- Those with family members living in quarantined countries.
- Professionals potentially associated with the virus such as hospital staff, doctors, nurses, police, military, firefighters, EMTs, medical examiners, social workers, and counselors.
- Family members of victims, vulnerable adults and children, and those with compromised immune systems.
Symptoms of STS include:
- Intrusive thoughts of the event at random times,
- Sadness that comes and goes,
- Poor ability to concentrate yet there is a strong desire to try to focus,
- Second-guessing even simple decisions with an inability to think clearly,
- Detachment from the event (it still feels like this happened somewhere else, not here),
- Hypervigilance to loud noises, shouts, sirens, helicopters, and screams,
- Feeling hopeless and helpless yet wanting to be hopeful and helpful,
- Inability to embrace the complexity of the circumstance and wanting things to be more simple,
- Inability to listen to one more story,
- Anger and cynicism over things that did not bother before (projecting anger into a safer target),
- Sleeplessness, waking up and unable to return to sleep,
- Fear of what will happen next as the entire week was filled with other traumatic events,
- Chronic exhaustion that is not relieved by rest,
- Physical ailments that appear out of nowhere or are reoccurrences of past injuries,
- Minimizing what happened, and
- Misplaced feelings of guilt.
There are several ways to prevent the effects of STS. They include:
- Psychoeducation: reading and understanding the effects of STS on individuals,
- Informal and formal self-screening for assessment purposes,
- Self-care with others such as talking to a counselor or spending time with family,
- Flextime work scheduling for employees who might be in danger,
- Self-care accountability to a buddy about progress or lack thereof, and
- Exercise (yoga or meditation), good nutrition and hydration.
It will take time for us to recover from the effects of STS. If you know of someone suffering from STS, please be patient with them and encourage them to seek professional help.