Armageddon, Trauma and PTSD during a Pandemic

I shut off the screen but the headlines suspend in that second, etched in my mind, like the voices of my father and mother who repeatedly insisted I had to perfectly follow their beliefs or I would not be saved when “the fire rains down from heaven”. And, I wonder — how many others are also feeling triggered by this pandemic?

When I let in the onslaught of media messages and worried voices of friends and neighbours, it brings me back to a frightening time. A time when I lived with a looming dread of Armageddon. Listening to how people talk about this pandemic has triggered all of that for me again. Thankfully, the tools I’ve developed in life to reclaim my power and construct my personal armour allows me to help others do the same.

Stocking up on toilet paper seems illogical on the outside, however it can be motivated by very good intention on the part of your subconscious brain – to keep you safe! Many of us are unsure how to respond to feelings of impending doom. The vast majority of people are bound to not only find themselves isolated, but also triggered by the barrage of negative messages coming at them during the COVID ‘lockdown’. Constant, anxiety-inducing messages create ‘internal chaos’ in huge segments of the population. So, I’ve wondered what will become of our society if we don’t ease up on this ‘lockdown‘?

Those who grew up in households where they just never knew how a parent was going to react, may be feeling that familiar re-engagement of hyper vigilance. A fight or flight response. The low grade full body tension and sense of “I have to get this right or something bad will happen”, leaves you scrambling for all information possible in the drive to ‘get it right’.

I have held off talking about this; it has been too raw. I needed the time to move through it, sit with it, be with it, yell at it, and then come to make friends with it. I now see the necessity to share in case readers also grew up in dread of any type of doomsday prophecy or life-threatening events. I am out the other side of this now, and I am grateful for the opportunity to clear these triggers from my system.

”Am I Safe?”

For those who have been through traumatic events like wars, or for our immigrant population who escaped from horrific conditions in their home countries, this situation has likely revived the familiar “I’m not safe” feeling. Even though they are surrounded by the same walls that just a few months ago felt safe and comforting, survivors of trauma may have a shift of perception that induces extreme fear. And, those who have experienced  any sort of religious indoctrination with a ‘doomsday prophecy’ — as I have — could experience flashbacks when triggered by people who choose to view and talk about the pandemic as if it were an inevitable death for all.1

I mostly love being alone, so staying at home with the cats is not that unusual. And, keeping distance from people has kind of been a relief; too many people have no awareness of personal space or how to contain their ‘stuff’. I am quite happy to have some physical space. However, what has been so extremely hard are the flashbacks that the pandemic has caused; and I have barely breathed a word of to anyone.

It would be impossible to estimate how many of us fall into the category of ‘flashback re-traumatization’, however, I estimate that upwards of half of the population are affected. A classic flashback symptom is that you experience a past event as if it is happening today. For the war veteran, he or she is pulled back to battle, hearing the same frightening sounds and smelling recognizable odours once again.

pandemic affecting those with PTSD and trauma

”It’s Just Over-reacting…!”

So now that we are in a ‘Pandemic’, our brains try to reason that we are just over-reacting to the current events. Under these circumstances, it is more challenging to identify a flashback of feeling unsafe or impending doom. When I feel suddenly overwhelmed, longing to pull the covers over me as I binge watch Ozark (possibly not the best choice), I feel I’m ‘taking stuff on’ from others.

What is actually going on, are flashbacks of fear and dread, echoing brainwashing and control tactics from the cult that I grew up in. Always there, always looming — I was made to feel never quite ‘good enough’ so I was made to believe I wouldn’t likely survive by my own parents. There are many layers buried in this kind of manipulation, and it can take time to unravel such a deceptive tactic.

According to researchers at the University at Albany and the University of California Los Angeles, there are many forms of memory and Post- traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be caused by early childhood trauma in which emotions flashback, but the memory does not. Because of this, people who are experiencing flashbacks attempt to feel safe in any way possible. Some seek out massive amounts of data, some stockpile and over-consume; and, some will feel the need to control others. Each person attempts to regain a sense of control in her own way.

So what can you do if you feel this way?

When we can clearly identify where this loss of control feeling is coming from we can then take steps to deal with it. If you grew up in dread of any type of doomsday prophecy or trauma and are finding it hard right now, there are ways you can release your fear:

1) Say it out LOUD!

Our brains do a great job of escalating any situation when we keep it in our heads. But, giving voice to the emotions rolling around in your mind allows you to feel a level of release. The act of saying it aloud allows us to hear it from outside our brains, immediately giving us a new perspective on the situation. So, go to a place where you are not worried about others overhearing you and get it out of your head. Say everything you are feeling and worried about.

Remember… keep breathing, and if this process feels overwhelming please seek out the help of a professional. Most therapists, physiologists, coaches and councillors are working remotely these days.

2) Name it for What it is

Your behaviour, be it stocking up, or sleeping till noon, or binge watching Netflix are all signs that you are attempting to take care of yourself. Let’s STOP calling it irrational behaviour and see it as it is: safety-induced reactions. Once you can see that, you can choose to change the behaviour to things that will give you a deeper sense of “safety”.

You could opt to go for a walk, imagine giving your inner child a hug and some re-assurance, do some deep breathing or call a friend. A small change in behaviour can net you a large return in feeling safe again, in recognizing that this is not the past and you are okay.

3) Resist Temptation

Now that you have given yourself space and time to honour your own emotions, making small changes in your behaviours will help you resist the temptation to make other people wrong for what they choose. This sets up the perception of ‘us vs them’, and if you have experienced any of the situations named earlier, you’ll see that attitude is a huge part of not feeling safe.

For many, this means choosing to not open social media and possibly to cut out any news sources until you can find your own sense of self amidst the uncertainty.  Granted this is far easier to write than to implement, so you may want to consider other distractions and projects while you reflect.

This is a unique time in history where the world is on pause: creating a space for us to heal our pasts and begin creating the future in a way that works for us. It is okay to remind yourself that you are safe now, and to go in and give your inner child some hugs and reassurance.

Be safe, breathe and together we will get through this.

References and links to quotes

Steve Hassan: “COVID-19 Pandemic is NOT Proof of the End Times as Proclaimed by Doomsday Cult Leaders”

“Coronavirus pandemic could inflict emotional trauma and PTSD on an unprecedented scale, scientists warn”

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

“PTSD can develop even without memory of the trauma, study concludes”

“Is What You Are Feeling A Flashback?”