Boxed In Episode 6: ‘The Lasting Effects of Trauma During COVID-19’

April Naturale, PhD, discusses how traumatic experiences during the pandemic may change frontline workers — and everyone else — emotionally and psychologically.

Everyday Health Archive

Boxed In Episode 6: 'The Lasting Effects of Trauma During COVID-19'

Recorded 5/21/20. April Naturale, PhD, discusses how traumatic experiences during the pandemic may change frontline workers — and everyone else — emotionally and psychologically.
Boxed In Episode 6: 'The Lasting Effects of Trauma During COVID-19'

In episode 6 of Everyday Health's video series?Boxed In: COVID-19 and Your Mental Health,?“The Lasting Effects of Trauma During COVID-19,” editor in chief Maureen Connolly talks with April Naturale, PhD, a traumatic stress specialist who works with victims of traumatic events like 9/11 and mass shootings.

Dr. Naturale shares her insights about the stressors healthcare workers are facing today, and what people can do to help reduce pandemic anxiety. Naturale and Connolly also speak with George Contreras, a paramedic in New York City who is working 12-hour days on the front lines.

The following are some highlights from an edited transcript of the interview.

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Maureen Connolly: You've been on the front lines in the aftermath of so many traumatic events, including 9/11 and the Las Vegas mass shooting. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, what are you seeing in terms of how people react to a trauma like this, and what could the long-term effects of that be?

April Naturale: In the immediate [term], we see sleeplessness, stomachaches, headaches, and anxiety-like symptoms. Later on, we see more personality and social-type issues, such as domestic violence or substance abuse. We don’t have a whole lot of research on the long-term effects of these events, but we know it will affect mental health as people deal with this incredibly frightening and invisible threat to their lives. So, we have to keep ourselves abreast what the changes in symptoms are and the severity of them so we can figure out how to help people in the long run.

Connolly: What are some things we can do to help manage our anxiety during the pandemic?

Naturale: Any way we can get a little bit of control over this can decrease our anxiety. Our problem with this event, though, is that the threat continues. Not having a break from it keeps us at a very high level of anxiety all the time, so it's really important for us all to talk about this and do whatever we can to make ourselves feel better. Practice de-stressing types of exercises, whether it's deep breathing, meditation, or simple exercise like walking, jumping, and yoga. Moving will help move the toxic stress hormones that flow continuously when you're under a constant threat out of the body.

And I highly recommend that if there are protective measures you want to take, whether you go grocery shopping early in the morning because there are fewer people there, or you double up your mask, do so. It's all about perception, and if I think that I'm doing things to protect myself, it's going to decrease my anxiety.

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Connolly: There are millions of Americans who are now out of work and dealing with an unbelievable financial burden, and on top of that are taking care of kids at home and doing what they can to get by each day. How would you describe what's happening to them in terms of trauma?

Naturale: It's probably one of the biggest issues that we're concerned about. On a psychological level, work is really important to us. We need to have a sense that we're part of the community, and we're participating in that community. And again, of course, that we can provide services for our family. So I think at this point, people should access whatever services are out there and available. There shouldn't be any shame in accepting food donations from the food bank, or getting help from a family member or a colleague who's able to do something.

Everybody needs to feel like they have a role in helping each other. The people we get the best support from and who make us feel more secure than anybody else are the people in our immediate social circle. So it really is communities and our social support that really helps us to get through these things. The research is pretty clear on this — social supports help more than anything else.