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A woman gently clutching her chest
Managing your worries

 

A woman gently clutching her chest

Why do I still feel anxious and fearful now I am recovering from COVID?

Feeling anxious or fearful (at times) is normal and it is usually in response to a certain situation or memory. Your anxiety and fear usually passes once the situation is over or you start to think about something else.

Being treated with COVID in hospital can be a frightening experience. Even though weeks or months have passed, and you feel less anxious or fearful, you may still be worried at times.

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What happens to my body and mind when I feel anxious?

When you feel anxious, you might notice changes in your body and mind such as:

  • Your heart beating faster
  • Your breathing is faster
  • You sweat more
  • You have stomach cramps
  • Psychological changes – thinking about the same things over and over
  • Behavioural changes – putting off doing something important
  • Social changes – avoiding going to a social event

You may have had trouble breathing when you had COVID which can be scary. Now if you get a little out of breath you might panic and feel scared like you did when you had COVID.

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What things might make me feel anxious?

You may also feel anxious when you:

Ignore things

You might try to stop thinking about bad things that have happened to you in the past.

Try to stop thinking about bad memories

When you try to stop thinking about something, it can make you think about it even more.

If you have bad memories about a hospital stay or an upsetting time this might be your brain helping you to deal with what happened.

You may feel less scared by reminding yourself you are safe. You could also try out a short exercise to calm your mind. Take a deep breath in and out and then:

  • Name five things you can see
  • Name five things you can hear
  • Name five things you can feel
  • Name five things you can touch
  • Name five things you can smell

Focus too much on how your body feels

If you are worried about how your body is feeling following your experience of being in hospital with COVID, you might think about how your body feels often.

Have unhelpful thought and beliefs

Some things we think about can make us worry. For example, if you thought someone was trying to break into your home every time you heard a noise at home you might feel worried all the time. Unhelpful thoughts could include:

It may help you to notice unhelpful thoughts that make you feel worried if you write them down. You may not be able to stop these thoughts, but this should help you learn to recognise unhelpful thoughts so you can recognise them for what they are.

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What can I do if I am having unhelpful thoughts?

One way is to test out other things you could think about instead of that unhelpful thought. So, if your anxious thought is  “I am having a heart attack!”, you could think  “I am not as fit as I used to be”  or “I am having a panic attack” instead.

You may then ask yourself “Do these symptoms match having a heart attack?” or “Has a medical professional told me how I could feel when I walk around the park? Does this explain why I might be feeling these symptoms?”

You can do this more easily by writing a ‘balancing thinking’ chart:

Draw a table with two columns. Write your anxious thoughts in the first column and then write more balanced thoughts in the second column.

Anxious Thoughts Balanced thoughts
“My chest feels tight, if I am not breathing properly, I might have a heart attack”
“The doctor said it will take time for my lungs to get better but I am getting a lot of oxygen into my body and doing exercises to make me feel healthier”

Checking that you’re fine

If you have a physical health issue that worries you it is important to keep an eye on it. You could check yourself or ask someone around you if they notice any changes.

You could also phone 111, talk to your medical team or go to your GP.

But if you check your body a lot you might worry more. Try to plan time to do checks, say every 2 hours and then reduce this every day over a week.

Seeking reassurance

If you have a health issue, you will want to know what it is. But if your test results come back normal you might think “they missed something” or “maybe I have something else”.

If you are not sure, get advice by phoning 111.

You could ask your GP or health professional: “I know you told me this is not serious but could you help me understand my health issue?” This might help you worry less if you speak to someone about it.

Information you can trust

If you are worried, you may try searching the internet or posting on social media to get information from others with the same health issues.

Websites and social media groups can offer support to make you feel less lonely, but sometimes they can make you feel more anxious.

This is because people with the worst health issues post more times than people who have less serious health problems. Reading about the worst health issues can make you feel worse.

Use trusted websites and social media groups for information and support but take care to compare your health issues with this information.

This link has all the information: https://www.patients-association.org.uk/finding-trustworthy-information-online

Check how long you spend on COVID websites and social media groups and work out if this makes you feel better or more anxious. If you worry more take a break from reading websites or social media for a couple of days and see if this helps.

You could look for support or advice on the websites and social media or speak to your GP or other healthcare professionals for advice.

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What else can I do to manage my worries?

There are lots of ways you can manage how worried you feel.

Set a ‘worry time’

Trying not to worry can make you feel worse. You could set aside a time of the day to worry, then if you start to worry at any other time, make a note and come back to it during your ‘worry time’.

‘Worry time’ is often used by healthcare professionals to support people to worry less.

Distract yourself

If you start to worry, try doing something else like going for a walk or calling a friend.

Get back to daily activities

Slowly start doing things you have stopped doing due to your health, such as gardening or DIY. You could set a goal of doing gardening for 20 minutes a day, 3 times a week and build towards that goal.

Relax

It can be difficult to relax when you worry, here are some ideas to help you relax:

Visualisation

Picture in your mind a place that makes you feel relaxed. It could be a blue ocean, a beach, a forest, a field or somewhere you have been on holiday. What can you see, hear and smell? Can you feel the sun on your skin or a cool breeze across your face?

You will know you are relaxing if you start to breathe more slowly and your shoulders drop.

Millions of people do this to manage stress as it means you can focus on the present and try not to let yourself worry.

If you think this might help you there are lots of websites or apps that can help you learn this type of relaxation, which is also called meditation or mindfulness. Read more here.

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When do I need extra support?

If you worry a lot or anxiety affects your daily life, try to get more support. Talk to your GP or a health professional and tell them how you feel.

To can find local free NHS talking therapy services online or by phone click here.

You can self-refer to this service, so you do not need to speak to your GP first.

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What if I need urgent help?

Speak to your local mental health crisis service. Your GP will have their details.

Or call 116 123 to talk or email jo@samaritans.org to talk to the Samaritans.

More information

Find out more about the following topics by clicking the images below:

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