Feelings after coming home
A sudden illness such as COVID-19 can be a traumatic experience which can upset and distress us. Traumatic events can arouse powerful and disturbing feelings in us which usually settle in time, without any professional help.
You have been through a traumatic experience such as COVID-19 and may want to understand more about how you are feeling
This section describes the kind of feelings that people have after a trauma, what to expect as time goes on, and mentions some ways of coping and coming to terms with what has happened.
A traumatic event occurs when a person is in a situation where there is a risk of harm or danger to themselves or other people. Situations like this are usually frightening or cause a lot of stress. In such situations, people feel helpless.
Examples of traumatic events include:
- serious accidents or incidents
- being told you have a potentially life-threatening illness.
Immediately after a traumatic event, it is common for people to feel shocked, or numb, or unable to accept what has happened or cut off from what is going on around you. When in denial, you can't accept that it has happened, so you behave as though it hasn't. Other people may think that you are being strong or that you don't care about what has happened. Over several hours or days, the feelings of shock and denial gradually fade, and other thoughts and feelings take their place.
People react differently and take different amounts of time to come to terms with what has happened. Even so, you may be surprised by the strength of your feelings.
It is normal to experience a mix of feelings.
Some things that might help:
- Give yourself time - It sometimes takes weeks or months to accept what has happened and to learn to live with its effect on you. You may need to grieve about what has happened.
- Ask for support - It can be a relief to talk about what happened. You may need to ask your friends and family for the time to do this, at first they may not know what to say or do.
- Take some time for yourself - there may be times when you want to be alone or just with those close to you.
- Talk it over - Bit by bit, let yourself think about the illness and your experience and talk about it with others. Don't worry if you cry when you talk, it's natural and usually helpful. Take things at a pace that you feel comfortable with.
- Get into a routine – Eat regularly and start exercising gently.
- Do some 'normal' things with other people when you can. Sometimes you will want to be with other people, digitally or in person when you can, but not to talk about what has happened. This can also be part of the healing process.
- Take care - After a traumatic illness, people can be distracted and therefore more likely to have accidents. Be careful around the home and when you are driving.
Things that do not help
- Bottling up your feelings - Strong feelings are natural. Bottling them up can make you feel worse and can damage your health. Let yourself talk about what has happened and how you feel, and don't worry if you cry.
- Taking on too much - You need time to think to go over what happened so you can come to terms with it. Take some time to get back to your old routine.
- Drinking or using drugs - Alcohol or drugs can blot out painful memories for a while, but they will stop you from coming to terms with what has happened. They can also cause depression and other health problems.
- Making major life changes - Try to put off any big decisions. Your judgement may not be at its best and you may make choices you later regret. Take advice from people you trust.
What else might I notice?
Strong feelings affect your physical health. In the weeks after a major traumatic illness you may find that you:
- Cannot sleep/feel very tired.
- Dream a lot and have nightmares.
- Have memory problems.
- Have difficulty thinking clearly.
- Suffer from headaches.
- Experience changes in appetite.
- Experience changes in sex drive or libido.
- Feel that your heart is beating faster.
When should I get professional help?
Family and friends may be able to see you through this difficult time. Many people find that the feelings that they experience after a traumatic event gradually reduce after about a month. However, you may need to see a professional if your feelings are too much for you, or go on for too long (typically beyond 4-5 weeks after the traumatic event). You should probably ask your GP for help if:
- You have no one to share your feelings with.
- You can't handle your feelings and feel overwhelmed by sadness, anxiety, or nervousness.
- You feel that you are not returning to normal after you have physically recovered.
- You have nightmares and cannot sleep.
- You are getting on badly with those close to you.
- You stay away from other people more and more.
- Your work is suffering.
- Those around you suggest you seek help.
- You have accidents.
- You are drinking or smoking too much, or using drugs to cope with your feelings.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
Following a traumatic event, some people experience a particular condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms that are most commonly experienced by people with PTSD include:
- Re-experiencing the trauma through vivid and distressing memories or dreams.
- Avoiding situations that remind them of the traumatic event.
- Feeling numb, as though they don't have the same range of feelings as normal.
- Being in a state of alertness - watching out for danger.
What professional help is available in Swansea Bay University Health Board?
If you are experiencing problems that might be PTSD, you should seek professional help from your GP. Your GP can refer you to the Psychological Therapy Service in the Local Primary Mental Health Service where you will be able to access the most appropriate talking treatment assessed to help alleviate the trauma that you may be experiencing. Your GP may also prescribe you medication to help you cope.