WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus classified the pandemic as a mass trauma, a term generally reserved for tragedies such as natural disasters or wars. Yet the collective experience of Covid-19 inflicted wounds on society that the Director-General believes exceed even those caused by World War Two. His March 5, 2021 declaration feels more relevant than ever, now in 2022, as we deal with the enduring effects of the pandemic.
Director-General Ghebreyesus wasn’t making this claim for the shock factor. Upwards of 70 million soldiers fought in World War Two. Yet, an estimated 7.76 billion people were suffering through their personal battles when COVID struck –– taking the lives of loved ones, rattling the economy, and devastating traditional societal norms. Impacts that had profound effects on the population, and still do, despite the pandemic being “over.”
“Victory in Europe Day” was declared on May 8, 1945, signaling the end of World War Two and an optimistic return to normalcy. President Biden’s attempts to dedicate July 4, 2021, as “Independence from COVID Day” never came to fruition. A sad reminder that “the bloodiest war in history” was awarded a more definitive end than the pandemic. Though fittingly so.
Our collective experiences during the height of the pandemic have left lasting mental scars that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, many of the initiatives to transition back to “normality” have the unintended consequence of reopening those wounds. So if you find yourself worried or anxious about navigating a “post-pandemic” world, your feelings aren’t invalid – and you aren’t alone.
What Is Post Pandemic Stress Disorder? (And What Are FOGO and FONO?)
Many of us have heard of PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The condition affects those who’ve experienced trauma that impacts their daily lives with intense physical and emotional reactions. For some individuals, the trauma of the pandemic elicits a similar response.
Author and therapist Owen O’Kane coined the term Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder, which is likened to post-COVID-19 PTSD. Though you won’t find the term in the manual of recognized psychological disorders, many experts agree that it should be, especially when you consider the extent of the pandemic and its devastating impacts that likely won’t be fully recognized until it’s well and truly over.
Unfortunately, the younger generation, adolescents, and kids might have experienced the worst traumas when the pandemic struck. As restrictions are lifted and communities are encouraged to return to normal, the symptoms of PPSD may begin to become more apparent. According to O’Kane, the world’s children may start to show “increased anxiety, low motivation, feeling hopeless or powerless, disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, feeling numb, being increasingly angry or irritated, negative or catastrophic thinking, withdrawing socially, and feelings of struggling to cope.”
Those who experienced anxiety and depression pre-pandemic are also at risk of seeing their ailments worsen. According to Professor Andrea Raballo at the University of Perugia, we have yet to realize the full extent of the impact of the pandemic. Its adverse effects on our mental health “still have to be properly appreciated and discerned.”
As more of us return to work, receive invites to gatherings, and venture out into community gathering places, mental health challenges are beginning to make themselves known and commonly appear as FOGO or FONO.
FOGO and FONO
FOGO is an acronym for Fear of Going Outside. It can extend to more than simply walking through your front door. It also refers to difficulty being around large groups of people or simply being away from your home. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, it can escalate into Cave Syndrome. As the name suggests, sufferers have an extreme aversion to in-person interactions.
We have done a 180 from pre-pandemic FOMO, or the fear of missing out. Now, we have FONO or the Fear of Normal(cy). Dr. Lucy McBride describes this as a fearful emotional response to things once considered commonplace, such as returning to work or going to birthday parties. Younger folks, specifically Zoomers who were on-boarded to new jobs from home during the height of the pandemic, may be affected more than others.
If you’re dreading returning to pre-pandemic routines, don’t hesitate to find support and strategies for coping with post-pandemic mental health concerns.
How Can I Cope With Post Covid Anxiety and Depression?
Pandemic mental health impacts and the proper support required will be essential both in the acute phase and long-term. Christian Lindmeier, Communications Officer for WHO, shared these sentiments when he emphasized the importance of “focus[ing] on solutions for people and communities” during the 74th World Health Assembly.
Ways to be proactive about addressing post covid anxiety and depression include:
- Consider therapy. Seeking out professional psychological support provides you with a safe space to talk with someone about your feelings. They may be able to recommend support groups, suggested activities, and medication if necessary.
- Stay social. Keeping social with friends or family members who understand and empathize with your position and emotions is vital. Even if you’re not comfortable meeting in person, try to maintain communication. Socialization from home can look like talking on the phone or “meeting up” for a virtual class together.
- Devise new routines. The shift to staying home and social distancing was abrupt, giving few people time to adapt in a healthy manner. Try to incorporate some of your old routines in a manageable way. Maybe you could try attending an online exercise class or joining a virtual book club. At the very least, make a goal to go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day to help your body get into a rhythm.
- Take baby steps. The first step is to acknowledge the uncertainty certain activities hold, then recognize your feelings surrounding them. With the help of your therapist or support system, make a list of activities that make you uncomfortable. Next, devise a plan of manageable baby steps that will slowly allow you to experience any activities or situations you hope to enjoy once again.
Post covid anxiety and depression affect people of all ages across the world. The pandemic’s profound toll on our society’s emotional wellness and mental health is only just beginning to be researched. However, these symptoms cannot be ignored. If you’re struggling to cope post-COVID, know that you are not alone, and there are plenty of resources available to assist you.
Mental Health Resources
Mental Health Resources
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline
- Psychology Today – Find a Therapist
- Survivor Corps
- Covid Survivors for Change
- Good fit