Melody is a volunteer for the Center for Disease and Control Prevention. She enjoys sharing her personal experience with others.
Mental Exhaustion and Bed Bugs
Signs and Symptoms
Chronic bed bug exposure feels bad. It's an emotionally exhausting experience that leads to immense stress, paranoia, and sleepless nights. If you feel like you want to cry, it's understandable.
Present in all 50 states, bed bugs have the potential to create havok. While not everyone who is exposed to bed bugs will have experience long-term symptoms, many report lengthy bed bug infestations to feel like a traumatic experience.
In an attempt to help those impacted by bed bugs Charleen McNeill, PhD, Anna Jarrett, PhD, FNP-BC, and Marilou D. Shreve, DNP, PNP-BC journaled about the importance of the S.L.E.E.P acronym to prevent bringing bed bugs home.
S.L.E.E.P. stands for Survey for signs of an infestation, Lift and look for bed bug hiding spots, Elevate luggage away from the bed and wall, Examine luggage before taking it home, and Place all clothing items from luggage in the dryer for 5 minutes when you get home.
If you are already exposed to bed bugs, the S.L.E.E.P acronym can only help prevent future infestations. If that is the case then do not be afraid to ask for help from medical providers when you have a bed bug investigation.
Ashcroft R, Seko Y, Chan L, Dere J, Kim J, McKenzie K, Public Health Professionals composed an article for The National Center for Biotechnology Information stating, "Practitioners should always evaluate clients who present with a diagnosis of bed bug exposure. Treatment for depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, phobias, or worsening of preexisting psychiatric conditions will likely involve longer term follow-up than the initial treatment of bed bug exposure."
Some signs that you might be experiencing bed bug stress:
- Poor decision making
- Lack of focus
- Quick to anger
- Not able to relax
- Change in diet
- Chang in other habits (smoking, drinking and so on).
- Unexplained pain (or those with unrealistic explanations)Yes, Stress physically hurts!
- Inability to sleep
- Lack of emotions or excessive emotions
How the Internal Struggle Feels
Bed Bug Stress
Bed bugs seem whimsical when all you know of them is the old saying "Don't let the bed bugs bite!" But when you come in contact with them, they become more of a nightmarish beast that creeps up in the night. The implications of bed bug related anxiety and mental health issues are under researched. Many people are relieved of their paranoia, stress, and anxiety when the infestation has been cured by a professional. In some cases infestation causes extreme stress and anxiety it can lead to post-traumatic stress syndrome, and chronic mental anguish.
Jerome Goddard, PhD and Richard de Shazo, MD of The American Journal of Medicine, did compelling research that confirmed that "Infestation by bed bugs may produce psychological distress with nightmares, flashbacks of the infestation, hypervigilance (to keep the bugs away), insomnia, anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and personal dysfunction." Many researchers, doctors, and professionals have stated that this area of medicine and science needs more research.
Remember that bed bugs are temporary, and coping with the experience is essential. Unofficially, more and more people are calling stress-related symptoms caused by bed bugs PTBBS, or Post-Traumatic Bed Bug Syndrome. A person who already has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would be at extreme risk for bed bug related mental distress.
In short, you are not likely to suffer a debilitating, severe or permanent stress disorder because of bed bugs. You might suffer temporary emotional or mental stress, and it may be serious, but when the aggravation of bed bugs ceases, you will return to normal. However, if you feel overwhelming shame, have diminished social interaction, or excessive worry it may help for you to speak with a medical professional to safeguard your mental health.
Some people may choose therapy to help them, and others will try to face it on their own. People are at risk for developing a chronic emotional or mental disorder associated with bed bug exposure, and a small number might even suffer from extreme forms of paranoia and delusions. Reports of people accidently burning their houses down, or becoming ill from using too much pesticides are on the rise. Faced with the fear of bed bugs, some people are driven to make irrational decisions. If you feel at risk at all, seek both medical help and a pest control professional.
Know You Are Not Alone
Since stress is revolved around how we perceive bed bugs as a threat, changing our perceptions can go a long way in preventing bed bug related stress and stress disorders. There are many ways a person can control how they perceive the world around them.
- Get educated about bed bugs. Understand they do not transmit disease.
- Take action, create a bed bug plan, call a professional, get bed bug supplies.
- Treat symptoms. Physical pain and itching have an impact on your perception.
- Focus on what you can do to get rid of bed bugs (not all the bad stuff about bed bugs).
- Create mental images of being bed bug-free, doing things you enjoy and being successful.
- Use buffers to reduce the effects of stress. Buffers are planned activities that are enjoyable. Make it something you love so much the last thing you think about is bed bugs.
- On the flip side, do not procrastinate or put off bed bug extermination. The longer you allow bed bugs to go on the higher chance you will service stress that might lead to a stress disorder.
- Remind yourself, bed bugs happen. They can happen to anyone. They are temporary and will be gone!
- Read books about positive thinking, relaxation and so on.
Sometimes a great way to deal with stress is to activate more than one sense at a time. By thinking, writing, and speaking we can create a holistic kind of healing that can help us work through stress.
When working with a community action program we did not just help people seal their homes against bed bugs and spray. We tried to help people cope with what they had been though.
We passed out "A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook", and would give the people we helped homework. We saw positive results from the use of the workbook. If you need a little extra help you can pick one of these workbooks up from Amazon.
Bed Bug Stress Makes People Feel A Little Crazy Sometimes
Symptoms of bed bug related stress can manifest in four main ways: physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral. Financial stress may be an indirect result of the cost of bed bug exposure. Sleepless nights caused by bed bug anxiety worsen many of the symptoms, and can lead to sleep deprivation.
To understand bed bug related stress, or what many are calling Post Traumatic Bed Bug Syndrome, we must understand what stress and anxiety are, and the four main ways they manifest.
The best place to find information about stress and stress disorders online is a non-profit, non-add, website called Helpguide. They have beautiful charts to explain the effects of stress, so I won't try to compete. While their stress guide is not directly related to bed bug stress, it is a wonderful resource.
According to Helpguide, anxiety is the bodies natural system that creates physiological and emotional reactions that threaten our safety. Bed bugs do not spread disease, but they can cause massive amounts of worry and fear.
Bed bugs can cause financial problems, social unrest within the family places pressure on our time and cause physical discomfort. Together, these factors create tension, worry, and fear. That is our anxiety response to bed bugs.
Anxiety plays a role in our fight or flight response. While similar to anxiety, stress is a slightly different thing. It is fed by anxiety and feeds back into anxiety. If this feedback loop is not broken, people can develop both anxiety disorders and stress disorders from bed bug infestations.
According to Helpguide, stress is also a response system. However, it revolves around how we perceive the world around us. Stress is not the situation itself; it is the perception that any given situation holds some type of threat.
It is important to differentiate between stress and anxiety in any situation. When talking specifically about bed bugs, understanding the differences between anxiety and stress can help us develop ways to cope with the situation.
Knowing the difference also helps families understand that, while most of the family will experience some level of anxiety because of bed bugs, not every family member will automatically feel stress.
Those who feel both anxiety and stress from bed bugs are especially vulnerable to developing a severe stress disorder, or reaction, because of bed bugs. Those people are also at risk for sleep deprivation and its negative effects.
Bed Bugs Effects on Children
Helping Children Cope with Bed Bug Stress
As adults, we have a great deal of control over what we perceive. Bed bugs defiantly cause anxiety and stress, but humans have the power to combat that. Each person in the family needs to find the source of their own strength and courage. However, children will need some help.
You need to get a hold of your own stress and anxiety first, then you can help your child o the same. Otherwise, the children might pick it up your stress without you knowing it. Once you have your stress under control then you can fully address the child's needs.
In children, you are likely to see behavioral issues arise, which stem from bed bugs. However, it is easy to miss the connection. If your child is acting out, it is important to address the underlying cause.
As parents, we have to interpret our child's behavior and find what is fueling the behavior. If you find that a child is experiencing behavioral problems because of bed bug stress and anxiety. It is important to figure out how to help your child change his or perspective about the problem while creating the opportunity for new solutions.
If you have difficulty getting control of your own stress or anxiety, or that of a child, you have options. You can talk with your doctor, see a therapist or read one of the many self-help and parenting books written by professionals and experts.
The more control you have over your perceptions, the easier it is to fight bed bug related stress and anxiety. The less stress and anxiety you have, the more you can focus on bed bug extermination. Without stress disorder symptoms, you will be far more effective during the bed bug eradication process.
If you have young children, it is essential you get rid of bed bugs as soon as possible. While thee hubs promote do it yourself options, people with young children should call a professional. The reason is that stress can have long-term physiological effects on children.
There are many different types of stress in children. Psychologists term short term, low-level stress as positive stress. This type of stress has the least amount of repercussions for a child's growth, health and well being.
However, low-level stress, as caused by bed bugs, over a long period of time becomes toxic stress. When this happens the child's endocrine system is at risk. This could cause many different types of physiological problems, which could lead to illness.
Toxic stress can last a long time after the stressor is gone, and the health effects last well into adulthood. If you have bed bugs and young children, you need to actively reduce stress levels in your children. You also need to remove bed bugs with the help of a professional so the child will not have lasting stress effects.
- Goddard, Jerome PhD, de Shazo, Richard, MD. "Psychological Effects of Bed Bug Attacks" The American Journal of Medicine Vol 125. No 1. January 2012. Accessed from https://agrilifecdn.tamu.edu/citybugstest/files/2018/02/Goddard-and-de-Shazo-2012-Am-J-Med-Psycholog-Effects-of-Bed-bug-attacks-1.pdf
- McNeill, Charleen PhD, Jarrett, Anna, PhD, FNP-BC, Shreve, Marilou D.DNP, PNP-BC. "Bed Bugs: Current Treatment Guidelines". The Journal for Nurse Practitioners. Volume 13, Issue 6, June 2017. Accessed from https://www.npjournal.org/article/S1555-4155(17)30274-X/pdf
- Ashcroft R, Seko Y, Chan L, Dere J, Kim J, McKenzie K. The mental health impact of bed bug infestations: a scoping review. Int J Public Health. 2015;60:827-837. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00038-015-071-8.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Melody Collins
Melody Collins (author) from United States on May 05, 2015:
Cortizone is a good way to reduce itching. As long as you don't scratch and cause open sore your body will heal itself. Also, oatmeal lotions help, too.
michelle on May 05, 2015:
I hate bed bugs too. But everyone deals with it in there own way. How can u heal your body from it.
Melody Collins (author) from United States on June 11, 2012:
Thanks for sharing your grandmothers technique! That is something I never thought of. Beating bed bugs with a soap would collect bugs, but it would also get the frustration out too! Thanks for reading!
Peter Geekie from Sittingbourne on June 11, 2012:
Well researched and informative article.
thank you. It's become an increasing problem in the UK in hotel and motel rooms.
Nasty little blighters - my grandmother used to keep a tablet of soap soaking in water then at bedtime the covers would be whipped back as the lights were switched on and us kids would quickly bang the soap down on the bed, all over, and catch the bugs on the soap.
Doesn't bear thinking about these days but as you say it is still a problem.
kind regards peter
Melody Collins (author) from United States on June 10, 2012:
Changing our perceptions about fears is very difficult. It takes support from friends and family. Since some people can not share their bed bug problem with friends or family, it is not a bad idea to seek professional help if the stress is overwhelming. Thanks for reading!
Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 10, 2012:
I never knew this side of stress - bed bug stress, I understand I am really scared of spiders. People do need help to change their perceptions.