Minimizing the Risks of PTSD from the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is a stressful time. Many have begun feeling the emotional and psychological effects of being quarantined. People are being told to stay indoors, to limit leaving their home except for necessities and to skip socializing altogether, if possible. Supermarket shelves are empty; toilet paper and hand sanitizer are sold out. Many communities are placing restrictions on where people can go. Buzzwords like “social distancing” and “martial law” are in the news in recent weeks. Hospitals are overcrowded and staff are overworked. Many playgrounds, amusement parks, hotels and beaches have been closed until further notice. Families are stuck at home, schools have begun distance learning, and most companies are having their employees work from home.

We have reached a crisis. 

A Global Pandemic 

The panic many are experiencing is part of a growing global pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies COVID-19 as, “a novel respiratory disease that is spread from person to person and may include cough, fever, and shortness of breath.” Severity of symptoms can range from mild to severe, up to and including death for those living with other health conditions. People with diabetes, asthma, young children, or advanced age are at an increased risk for contracting COVID-19.1

In this time of uncertainty, it is important to recognize the impact on mental health including the potential for developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

PTSD and Its Effects

The American Psychiatric Association identifies PTSD as a cluster of symptoms which may include: flashbacks, mood, behavior and cognitive symptoms, and emotional arousal.2 Signs of potential PTSD:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Feeling detached or numb
  • Guilt, panic, or anxiety
  • Avoidance of people or places that trigger distress
  • Anger
  • Easily startled
  • Depression
  • Problems sleeping 

Symptoms may vary in intensity or duration from mild to severe. Risk can depend on many factors which may include personal resiliency, previous exposure to a traumatic event, or individual coping style. While the ultimate goal is to prevent PTSD, there are things that can be done to reduce the chances of developing it. 

Stay in the Present

The practice of mindfulness has research supporting its usefulness in times of stress and in coping with symptoms of PTSD.3 Learning how to recognize internal triggers, use of breathwork or keeping a daily diary may assist in self-awareness and in reducing feelings of emotional distress. 

Monitor Habits, Emotions and Thoughts 

Thoughts and feelings can guide behavior. In times of stress, it is perhaps even more important to gauge emotions and thoughts as well as habits. For example, watching the news may be a daily habit for many of us. If however, watching COVID-19 updates triggers emotional distress or intrusive thoughts, then turning off the news may be helpful. Or limit updates to a couple of reliable and valid sources, such as the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), which may help reduce anxiety from overexposure.  

Focus on What You Can Control

With a pandemic being handed to us, we may feel like we have lost a sense of control over our own lives. Some tips to help regain a sense of normality and a sense of calm:

  • Have several go-to hobbies you can do from home (reading, knitting, video games, jogging in your neighborhood, binge-watching your favorite shows, etc.)
  • Switch up chores with loved ones to break the monotony.
  • Take time to journal your thoughts and feelings at the end of each day.
  • Have a family movie night a couple days a week.
  • Allow yourself to have personal space.
  • Try meditation or yoga in your room.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Allow your loved ones to have personal space.



  1. Centers for Disease Control. (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19). Retrieved on March 24, 2020 from
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  3. Walser, R. D., & Westrup, D. (2007). Acceptance & Commitment Therapy for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & Trauma-Related Problems: A Practitioner’s Guide to Using Mindfulness & Acceptance Strategies. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

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