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Overreacting, or “Triggered”? Pandemic and Prior Mental Health Issues

mental health issues

photo by: Amin Moshrefi

by Andrea Blundell

Is someone you love responding to the global pandemic in ways you don’t understand, or are even upsetting for you? Or are you yourself reacting in ways others around you are annoyed by? 

It’s time for us all to recognise and have patience with the fact that prior mental health issues make dealing with a global pandemic a greater challenge than normal. 

How to recognise prior mental health issues in pandemic reactions

What are the signs you or a loved one has been triggered by global pandemic?

1. Random Sobbing.

This is undoubtedly a sad and difficult time, and many highly sensitive people will find themselves randomly crying with frustration and helplessness. This doesn’t signify mental health issues. 

Pandemic, with the death it brings and the fear of death and dying, can re-trigger the grief process, even if the loss was far in the past. 

  • Crying not for the world, but for yourself?
  • And losing yourself to rumination of all your past failures and hurts?
  • While being sure you have no future anymore?

If you are a depression sufferer, stay alert for other signs of depression. And do reach out for support if it seems you are entering an episode.

mental health issues pandemic

photo by: Christian Fregnan

2. Anger and lashing out.

  • Confused by a loved one suddenly acting vicious?
  • Blaming you for crazy things?
  • Or saying deeply hurtful things?

Before you overreact in turn, ask yourself if he or she has previous life trauma.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and complex PTSD leave someone highly sensitive to even a whiff of danger, let alone real danger that will take many lives and change the face of society.

PTSD triggers a strong fight, flight, or freeze response in sufferers. In something like a pandemic, they can remain trapped in this mode, navigating a flood of powerful brain chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline that ‘normal’ people only experience under severe duress.

These can change reactions and personality, leaving your loved one lashing out or seeming ‘like another person’.

Also note that addiction can cause huge mood swings. If your friend or loved one has long had a secret addiction they cannot fulfill in quarantine or lockdown — porn, alcohol, drug use, workaholism, sex, food?  They can become edgy and mean. 

3. Immobilised by fear and paranoia.

  • Is your loved one sending long, detailed emails about all the possible outcomes of the pandemic?
  • Or unable to stop talking even for a minute about everything that needs to be done to stay safe?
  • Do they seem tense, are they clenching their fists or jaw? Or sweating?

Generalised anxiety disorder feeds on fear and a diet of increasingly illogical thoughts. In a time where fear is in some ways merited, anxiety sufferers can be heavily triggered.

Note that severe anxiety can also be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder and complex PTSD.

4. Making big unrealistic plans.

  • Has a friend called your ranting about their amazing plan for you all to leave, immediately, tomorrow! To create a countryside commune! 
  • Or are they saying anything else unreasonable, while also talking faster than usual, and seeming 0verly overconfident?

Check to see if he or she has  bipolar disorder.

5. Unsafe behaviours. 

  • Is your friend, who is usually practical and calm, going on dates with strangers when they are supposed to be isolating?
  • Not obeying rules and handshaking or hugging?
  • Acting as if Covid-19 doesn’t exist?

Again, if your friend is not usually reckless, it could be a manic episode and signify bipolar disorder. Or it could be severe depression and your friend might be in self-destruct mode and really need support.

6. Withdrawal.

  • Is a loved one suddenly not responding? Does it seem their phone is even off?
  • Have their other friends also not seen them?

Depression has social withdrawal as a symptom. Full withdrawal usually signifies quite extreme depression. Do what you can to find your friend and connect.

7. Pushing everyone away. 

  • Has your loved one been suddenly hostile?
  • Are they accusing you of not caring?
  • Are they saying things that seemed designed to push you away? 

Again, depression. When we are depressed our self-worth plummets. And in order to ‘prove’ we are unworthy and a ‘monster’ we find ways to push people away and then tell ourselves, “See? I knew it. Nobody likes me.”

mental health issues8. Sleeplessness.

  • Partner tossing and turning all night and up before you?
  • Swears they are ‘fine’?
  • Or friend leaving you intense messages in the middle of the night?

Stress itself causes sleep problems, so it’s to be expected that many of us will struggle with sleep at this time.

But sleeplessness is also sign of depression and anxiety, so it can be worth noting if there are symptoms of either at play. If you are feel calm in the day but wake up suddenly in the night with a pounding heart and feelings of fear, it can be night anxiety.

9. Not taking appropriate action.

  • Do you have a smart friend who is acting suddenly very stupid?
  • Not getting in enough groceries or supplies?
  • Seeming to suddenly be sitting around doing nothing?
  • Oddly quiet on the phone, or saying disjointed, senseless things?

Brain fog is caused by depression. It makes it hard for someone to think straight and take action. Depression also has a physical component, leaving someone feeling deeply exhausted even if they sleep, or as if their limbs are weak and they are pushing through wet sand. Real life can seem far away and unreal.

Anxiety, if it goes into overdrive, can lead to what’s known asdissociation‘. This means someone doesn’t feel able to ‘stay in their body’, but has a sense of floating outside of themselves. This evidently makes thinking and acting logically a challenge.

And PTSD, which has anxiety as a symptom, can also lead to extreme dissociation and ‘foggy thinking’.

What do I do if a loved one seems triggered? 

If someone is experiencing mental health issues, it can be harder than usual to communicate with them.

Do reach out anyway – what matters is that the other person feels cared for. But if possible educate yourself first on best ways to help those in distress, such as by reading our articles:

Want to offer counselling to a loved one or friend in distress? Or need some for yourself in these troubled times? Our roster of top London therapists is now available by telephone or Skype. Or use our booking platform that connects you to a huge array of online counsellors for every budget

Still have a question about mental health issues during a global pandemic? Post below. 


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