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This content is taken from the Maudsley Learning & The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust's online course, COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health. Join the course to learn more.

How might we experience the threat of COVID-19?

You heard previously how things that help us thrive are being threatened. Many are also experiencing threats to things that help us survive.

Some of us have already suffered losses. From the loss of our final school year, a relationship, employment, and health, to the actual loss of loved ones. We are therefore collectively experiencing the fear of further losses. This can take the form of a fear of financial survival, as we try to keep meaningful employment alive. Or we may be fearful about our relationships surviving. And many of us are fearful around survival itself.

Whether it is COVID-19 or a raft of other physical and psychological conditions, the burden on global healthcare systems at the moment means that staying well is far from a certainty. This experience of ongoing fear can become traumatic.

Dr. Jo Stubley

In the following clip we asked Dr. Jo Stubley, Head of the Tavistock Trauma Service, what makes the current situation with COVID-19 particularly distressing from a trauma perspective?

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Jo Stubley on Trauma (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab)

This pandemic can be physically and mentally exhausting due to the competing demands that it places on our bodies and minds:

  • What we want to do when faced with a loss is slow down, mourn, and re-group
  • What the body does when faced with a threat is speed up, act, stay vigilant, and look out for danger
  • When we can neither remove a threat nor mourn, what we seek is security and reliability in routines and relationships

We are thus faced with multiple opposing challenges to our wellbeing.

Fight-flight response

In Dr. Stubley’s next video, she explains that our responses to fear and threat involve both the mind and body and so making divisions between the two can be unhelpful. Fluctuations in attention, mood, energy, or sleep difficulties are far from being “all in our head”.

What we commonly see in response to threats is something called the fight-or-flight response. We asked Dr. Stubley, what happens to our bodies when they go into fight-or-flight mode?

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Jo Stubley on Fight or Flight (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab)

Ongoing psychological threats can be physically taxing. In the following section we’ll hear about individuals for whom this burden can be especially great.

Can you relate to this fight-flight response? Have you noticed any of these experiences during COVID-19? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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This article is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health

Maudsley Learning