A COVID-19 Diagnosis Can Be Emotionally Draining, but There Are Healthy Ways to Get Through It
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More than 17 million people in the United States are infected with the novel coronavirus. However, hearing the dreaded words "You tested positive for COVID-19" can lead to stress and anxiety.
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This was done for Maureen Nally (her name was changed), a teacher in New York. “When I found out I had COVID, my doctor reminded me that I was relatively young and healthy and that the odds were good that I would be fine - but that didn't stop me from worrying about which ones Symptoms I might have I have, whether I would turn for the worse and what long-term effects this could have, ”says the 39-year-old mother of two. "Then there was an immediate concern that my husband and daughters would test positive too."
When a quick test revealed that Nally's 5-year-old had COVID-19, she said she felt on the verge of collapse. "All logic goes out of the window and everything just feels really scary," says Nally. “Besides the emotional whirlwind, I felt physically terrible. I had searing headaches, body aches, upset stomach and felt more tired than when my children were newborns. "
The psychological stress of positive COVID-19 tests
It's never fun to be sick, but hearing that you have the novel coronavirus is uniquely stressful, says Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and co-chair of the Integrated Behavioral Health Division at the Mayo Clinic. “We are experiencing a global pandemic with very serious consequences. Since we've been hearing about it for a year and seeing pictures of very sick patients and overwhelmed health care providers, the mind quickly shifts to worst case scenarios, "he says. Combine that with the fact that we were all relatively isolated - which is ourselves Promotes anxiety and depression - and it's easy to see how a COVID-positive test can shake you.
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Additionally, there is a lot of stigma attached to the virus - so much so that those who share the news that they tested positive may end up at the end of the judgment reactions. Despite the fact that Nally is an elementary school teacher who had a known exposure through one of her students, she says she still had friends who asked where she had gone in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis and whether she was wearing a face mask had complied. Then there were friends who brushed off their diagnosis as no big deal and even called Nally “happy” to take the time off work. And the friends who kept calling her, wondering how famous their own children were by going to school with Maureen's kids without asking how she and her family were doing or if there was anything they could do to help.
"What I quickly learned is that this virus has so much stigma and misinformation," says Nally. "And none of that helps when you're dealing with symptoms."
How to Mentally Deal with a COVID-19 Diagnosis
The following can help you manage the stress and anxiety that are often associated with a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Feel your feelings
One of the first steps you can take to navigate the range of emotions is to bring out all of your feelings, says Haley Neidich, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Tampa, Florida. You get more stressed - which puts your nervous system on alert, weakens your immune system, and makes healing even more difficult, ”she says.
Call a friend or loved one and ask them to listen to your fears and just let them vent. Then ask yourself what it takes to help you move through those negative emotions. "While you don't want to reject your emotional experience, you don't want to wallow in it for too long," says Neidich.
Turn to your stress relief strategies.
The anxiety and depression often associated with a COVID diagnosis can be especially dangerous for people with a history of mental health problems, says Michelle M. Carcel, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in La Jolla, California. It's especially important to turn to the tried and tested tactics that have worked for you in the past - whether it be making a virtual appointment with a therapist, saving time to meditate, or getting out into nature if you feel like it (Even if that means going to a park and opening the windows to breathe some fresh air).
"Whether or not you've had anxiety and depression in the past, try to think about the things that make you feel better and start doing those things," says Carcel. "Remember, the tactics that promote health work better in the long run than things like shopping online or drinking too much."
Find a way to ground yourself in the present moment.
When it comes to COVID-19, playing out a number of what-if scenarios can be especially tempting. After all, symptoms are so different all over the map and from patient to patient that there is no way to predict how your body will react to the virus. This is why, according to Carcel, it's especially important to recognize when your mind is racing into any number of potential futures - and to step back into the present.
"It is in our nature to cause a disaster, and this is especially true with a COVID-19 diagnosis," she says. "And while future pitfalls aren't easy to change, the first step is knowing you are."
If you find that your thoughts linger in the past (Ugh, if only I hadn't come into contact with the virus) or in the future (what if I have to go to the hospital and end up on a ventilator?), Give it a try to write down what is true now, suggests Dr. Capchuk ahead. “This is a great way to slow your mind down,” he says. "It's not that there is a need to deny that bad things can happen. However, focusing on what you currently know is true can help your current state of mind."
Create a sense of normalcy.
This may not be possible right away, especially if you are dealing with severe symptoms. However, if you're feeling a little better, you can shower every morning, get dressed for the day, and do some chores that make you feel productive, says Dr. Capchuk. For example, you can sort through the pile of magazines on your coffee table, make a list of healthy recipes to make when you want to cook again, or even clean up your email inbox. "Not only will these things make the day go by, but they'll also give your brain something to focus on, rather than your fear of your illness," he says.
Limit scrolling on social media.
While you may be tempted to spend your time checking out what your friends are up to, avoid going into the social media rabbit hole, says Carcel. Research has shown that the more time you spend on these websites and the more of them you visit, the more anxious and depressed you may feel. "The brain is old-fashioned," says Carcel. "The more you do things that slow the brain down, like reading a book, the easier it will be to capitalize on your relaxation response," she says. "Even if you think you are calm as you scroll through social media, your brain is activated and your nervous system is more likely to be in a fight or flight state."
Be careful how much you share.
A week after Lisa Liberati and her husband first contracted COVID-19, the Atlanta-based photographer took her two children to an empty park and posted them on Instagram. “We drove to a number of parks until we found one that we were literally the only ones in and we didn't come in contact with anyone during the entire trip,” she says. "The kids were so cooped up and we had to get out - but the comments about how ruthless I was and how to stay home made me regret the post."
It's smart to be picky about how you disclose your COVID-19 diagnosis - and who you're going to say, says Neidich. Of course, you need to tell everyone you've come in contact with that you tested positive. That being said, it's “supportive to only share the news with people you trust,” she says. “And if you get an unhelpful answer, it's okay to say something like, 'I'm trying to manage my stress right now while I'm cured of this virus. So I'm not interested in rehashing how I might have got it. '”Says Neidich.
Ask for help - and say "yes" when it is offered.
If you have difficulty answering requests for support and accepting kind actions when they come, you are not alone. "The sad truth is that asking for help is often seen as a weakness in our society," says Carcel. “But the strongest among us are those who know when they need support and ask for it. Silence is the worst thing you can do. “It's also important to remember how good it feels to take care of others, Neidich adds, and to let your people do the same for you.
If a friend or loved one has COVID-19 and you need assistance, just show up with help. For example, drop off a bag of library books for the kids at the front door or arrange a night's meal delivery and just send heads-up text about timing - without asking if it's needed. "Sometimes it's best not to ask for permission first," says Neidich.
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