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  • Dr. Kate Henry

You May Have PreTSD. Here's How to Manage It.

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

PreTSD isn’t an official diagnosis, but it’s a good descriptor for what many people are experiencing as they wait for infections to spike as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Alison Block discussed PreTSD in her article last week about doctors and nurses who are struggling with a unique form of anxiety as they prepare to respond to the looming spike in infections. But it’s not just doctors and nurses. People from all walks of life are also describing feelings of anxiety, panic and shutdown in anticipation of what’s to come.

The symptoms are similar to the post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that many physicians, therapists and healers help clients with every day. They include anxiety or overwhelm, dissociation, and fight-flight-or-freeze.

Understanding PreTSD as a concept is helpful because when we have a name for something, we can investigate it and treat it. In this case, it helps professionals and sufferers understand the mechanisms behind a traumatic response to anticipated events. From there, we can work backward to help people develop tools to manage their symptoms.

If you’re struggling with some of the symptoms described above, I’ve got your back. Below are some tips that I regularly share with patients in my practice who deal with PTSD and anxiety. You can also schedule with me to go in-depth to problem-solve according to your unique biochemical and lifestyle needs (if after trying these techniques you decide you need more help).

Breathe Out

Purse your lips and breathe out as if you’re breathing through a straw, slowly and gently. This will help to reduce the risk of hyperventilation, which is a response to stress that can increase your anxiety. The science behind this is intense, but the concept isn't: The faster and more shallow your breath, the more anxious you feel. The point of "straw breathing" is to slow down the rate of your breathing. This, in turn, slows down your heart rate. It also changes the chemistry of your blood. These physiological changes tell your brain that things are going to be okay.

Breathe out for 10 seconds

Breathe in for 3 seconds

Gently and slowly


Within the first few breaths you will feel yourself begin to settle. The point of this exercise is not to completely fill and empty your lungs each time you breathe. Instead, it's to control the rate of your breath. This should feel comfortable and easy.

Ground into Now

Ground into the moment by paying attention to all five senses. Say the following

It is (today's date and exact time)

I am in (city, state, exact location)

I am doing (verb)

I feel (physical sensation)

I smell (scent)

I see (5 objects of different colors)

I hear (sound)

You should feel your breath calm down by the time you name your fifth colored object. This is because you’re forcing your brain to concentrate on something other than your anxiety. Make yourself name at least five things for this really work.


After grounding yourself, go do something else. Something active is best. You can:



Shake your hands out