• Grace McMahon

Post-pandemic stress disorder: What is it and do we all have it?

Post-pandemic stress disorder (PPSD) is not an official condition, but psychotherapist Owen O’Kane coined the term to describe the mental impact of living through the pandemic. Which, we’re sure you’ll agree, hasn’t been easy on any of us. But now there’s a term for it, do we all have it? And how do we know what it looks like? Keep reading for the down low on PPSD.



The impact of traumatic life events


The pandemic is most definitely classed as a traumatic life event that we all experienced, but there are variations in terms of its impact on each of us. Some lost family members, friends, colleagues to the virus. There has been job losses and financial insecurity for many, we were kept at home under lockdowns which impacted socialisation and confidence for many. Our children and young people’s education was disrupted, missing out on big school events, achievements, and seeing friends and teachers. Many ended up falling behind or finding it difficult to return to school - and the same goes for returning to work, as adults.


It led to a range of mental health difficulties for many, from the worsening of pre-existing illnesses and the development of others: including anxiety, depression, stress-related disorders to name a few. For some of us, the trauma of it all has led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), those most susceptible include people with existing mental health conditions, front line and key workers, and those who witnessed the tragedy unfold before them first hand.


But a new term was coined by psychotherapist Owen O’Kane. Post pandemic stress disorder describes the impact living through the pandemic has had on some of us. It is not yet recognised as a condition, but some experts strongly believe it should be. When it comes to living through trauma, the impact usually takes its toll after the event is over. Although living through it is challenging, once it’s over we can find triggers that cause us to feel completely overwhelmed and unable to cope long after the event has passed. So now that we've reached that bit of normalcy, (that we were all wishing for last year), we might start to experience feelings or thoughts that leave us feeling the same way we did when we were in the thick of it.


For many of us, the trauma of the pandemic will concern the social isolation and loneliness, whether that’s from having to stay at home (even now), still working from home, being vulnerable, and not wanting to go out just yet. There’s also been strains on relationships and family life, all the while worrying about trying to maintain and afford to run a household, and avoid catching the virus.


So how do we know how it affected us?


The symptoms of PPSD and when to get help


The symptoms are similar to those of PTSD, which may not surprise you. The pandemic, upheaval of routines, and the fear and uncertainty of it all was a lot of trauma for us to process.

The symptoms of PPSD will vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Increased anxiety

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Low motivation

  • Feeling out of control

  • Disrupted sleep

  • Changes to appetite

  • Feeling numb

  • Withdrawal from social situations

  • Being easily agitated

  • Catastrophic thinking or imagining the worst


Now many of these symptoms might sound familiar, we all experience periods or moments of low mood, heightened anxiety, lacking motivation and feeling irritable, right? So if these symptoms are disrupting your day to day life - meaning work, responsibilities or taking care of yourself - are feeling really difficult, constant and all-consuming, it’s time to speak to a professional about your mental health.


Asking for help from a GP or therapist with our mental health is so important, especially after a period of difficulty and something we’re still going through - even if restrictions have eased and some normalcy has returned. But taking care of ourselves is important too, to help us keep going when things get tough, and to feel our best when things are good.


Here’s 3 simple reminders of how to do this:


Share your feelings with people who comfort you

Not anyone and everyone, but a selected person, a group of close friends, your mum or even your boss. Talking about the tough stuff you’re going through with people close to us helps us feel supported, loved and safe. And that always gives us a little boost. It’s also important to give yourself time to feel these feelings - whatever they are - which you might prefer to do by yourself. Just remember to check in with someone, you don’t have to do it alone.


Move and nourish your body

Gentle movement, a casual stroll through the park, nipping to the shops on foot instead of the car, a soothing yoga flow. Even when we least feel like moving, gentle activity can help us squeeze in a bit of exercise which will help us in a number of ways! And don’t forget to replenish the energy with nourishing meals and snacks - but remember, the key is balance so allow those treats too.


Rest and relax

Whether it’s sleeping at night, an afternoon nap, slobbing on the sofa, sitting in the garden. Make time to do nothing, or at least enjoy a moment of it if you’re a busy bee. Many of us enjoyed the slow pace of lockdown, so don’t lose that if you did, try building it into your routine. And relax in those moments - don’t spend the time worrying about doing nothing, or about that load of washing still in the machine, or the dirty dishes on the side.


While life feels more and more like it did, keep taking things a little slower than before, especially if you’re finding things challenging, are struggling with your health and wellbeing (mentally and physically), or simply aren’t quite ready yet.


Asking for help: If you’re experiencing challenges with your mental health, the bad days are more common than the good, make time to speak with a professional. PTSD is a serious mental health condition but with support and help those with it can lead full and peaceful lives, and we all deserve that.