How to Recover from COVID-19, Emotionally

by InnerHour on Mon, 17 May 2021
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On 11th March, 2020, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Since then, the entire world has been reeling from the impact of the virus. Nation-wide lockdowns, working from home, wearing masks, social distancing, frequent swab-testing and COVID-scares have become a usual feature of our everyday lives.

These changes have taken an undeniable toll on our mental health. Globally, over 114 million people lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and were left to face immeasurable financial and emotional stress. Staying at home led to greater conflicts in the family and an increase in rates of domestic abuse and violence. 

The prolonged nature of the pandemic is making it more difficult for people to manage their emotions. People are now feeling less resilient and hopeful, and are experiencing more mental fatigue than before.

The link between mental health concerns and COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the rates of mental health concerns. In January 2021, 41% of adults surveyed in a study reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Another survey found that 13% of adults had turned to using substances to cope with COVID-19 related stress, and 11% of adults were battling thoughts of suicide.

Such numbers are troubling, because time and again, researchers have demonstrated that individuals with mental health concerns such as depression, stress or anxiety have weaker immunity, and are more susceptible to developing physical illnesses. This means that people with mental health concerns are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. In fact, studies show that people diagnosed with more severe mental health conditions - such as attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia - are much more likely to contract the virus than people without mental illness.

The relationship between mental health and COVID-19 is bilateral: not only are people with mental health concerns at greater risk of getting COVID-19, but those who contract the virus are highly likely to struggle emotionally. 

When a person initially receives a COVID-positive diagnosis, they experience shock, disbelief, sadness, anxiety, or even panic. These emotions are influenced by various factors, including their beliefs about the virus, the negative news and reports seen on TV or social media, and the fact that treatment facilities are scarce and hard to access. They may fear for their lives, and the lives of their loved ones. They may feel lost and helpless as they try to navigate an incredibly overburdened healthcare system. 

As someone with COVID-19 has to isolate themselves during recovery, they are likely to further suffer emotionally because of the lack of contact with loved ones. Social support is one of the most potent buffers against emotional distress. Even the physical absence of loved ones can be debilitating to someone who has to face the ordeal of recovering from this virus. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to impact one’s mental health even after one has recovered physically from the virus. A recent study led by Oxford University found that almost one-third of COVID-19 patients receive a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis within six months of infection. Almost 13% of them had never received such a diagnosis before. 

According to reports, there is also a high likelihood of COVID-19 patients developing mood and anxiety disorders within three months of the infection. Of the patients studied, 17% were diagnosed with anxiety disorders, 14% with mood disorders, 7% with substance use disorders, and 5% with insomnia.

In various studies, people have reported experiencing anxiety, depression, anger, delusions, and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of getting COVID-19. They have also noted memory loss, poor decision making ability, brain fog, and difficulties in concentration and attention. 

The bottom line is this: COVID-19 is not just a physical illness. It has long-standing mental health implications for affected individuals. Thus, for someone to truly recover from this virus, it’s critical that we focus on the mental and emotional aspects of recovery too.

Protecting your mental health as a COVID-19 patient

If you have tested positive for the virus, you are likely to have spoken to a doctor already. In addition to following the medical advice that they have prescribed, here are a few simple actions that can help you care for your mind during this time. 

Follow a schedule: While you are self-isolating, you may feel bored, lonely, or distressed. Keep yourself occupied by creating a schedule for your day. You might not be able to do much, but try to incorporate time for meals, naps, and light exercise if possible.

Avoid news and social media: Watching too much news or constantly going through social media can expose you to negative information about the pandemic, which can take a toll on you emotionally. Limit the time you spend consuming news, and use social media only to stay in touch with your loved ones or to go through specific non pandemic-focussed pages.

Find healthy distractions: Your mind may be overwhelmed by thoughts about the virus. Give yourself healthy distractions so you can shift your attention away from these negative thoughts. Read a book, listen to music, do a crossword puzzle, or just take a nap for some time.

Talk to your loved ones: Spend time each day talking to your loved ones via messages or video calls. Connect with friends and family and let them know how you are doing. Think about how they can support you during this difficult time. Remember: we all need someone to lean on, and it’s okay to ask for help, now more than ever. 

Have a relaxation routine: Carve out some time each day to relax and unwind. You could try out a few guided meditation and mindfulness practices in the day or night. You could even check with your doctor for specific breathing exercises that can aid your recovery.

Find something you have faith in: Having hope that things will get better can keep you going on your journey to recovery and good health. Talk to people who bring positivity and hope in your life. If you’re a religious person, seek out prayer groups, or have a specific time set aside for prayer every day. You could also focus on spirituality in whatever way seems possible for you right now. 

Remember: it’s okay to do whatever you need to do in order to heal and recover. 

Strategies to protect your mental health after recovering from COVID-19 

If you have already recovered from COVID-19, but are still feeling the emotional toll of the illness, here are some things you can try.

Follow safety measures: Even after you have recovered from the virus, it is important that you continue to take care of yourself and others by following safety measures. Wear a mask, practise social distancing, wash or sanitise your hands regularly, and stay indoors as much as possible.

Create a plan for going back to work: While you were unwell, you may have taken time off work. Now that you’ve recovered, you may consider resuming work from home or office. As you work through this decision, have a conversation with your manager. Discuss what you think you can take on, and let them know if you need to take things slowly at first.

Focus on eating and sleeping well: Food and nutrition are a big part of the recovery process.  Make sure you are eating a balanced and nutritious diet. If your doctor has prescribed any supplements, continue taking them. Your body also requires sleep to rest and recharge - so try to get 7-9 hours of sleep each day.

Let yourself feel your emotions: People who have had COVID-19 experience a mix of emotions. These could range from relief, gratitude and joy about the fact that they have recovered, to guilt, anger and helplessness about the ongoing situation and the rise in cases and deaths. If you too find yourself struggling with multiple emotions at this time, tell yourself it’s okay to feel what you are feeling. Write about these emotions  in a journal, or just sit with them for a while.

Create a self-care routine: Your mind has been through a lot. Give yourself time to unwind and relax. Spend some time every day doing something just for yourself. You could enjoy a nice cup of tea, spend time with your pet, or take a nice, long shower. Even a few minutes of conscious self-care can help you feel grounded and relaxed.

Limit your consumption of toxic news: Give yourself a break from the mental strain caused by watching or reading too much negative news. Instead, find positive news outlets that you can focus on instead. Read an uplifting article or watch a lighthearted show or movie.

Talk to your loved ones or a mental health professional: A problem shared is a problem halved. This age old wisdom rings true even today. Talk about how you’re doing with a trusted friend, family member, or partner. If you feel like you need more support, reach out to a mental health professional, such as an InnerHour therapist, to get the help you need.

The current situation and suffering seem to be never-ending. But it’s important to remember that the pandemic will subside, and that things will eventually get better. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that our mind and body are important and need our constant care, attention and love. So don’t forget to prioritise your well-being, so you can move forward in life with resilience, and hope for a brighter tomorrow. 

References

Basu, M. (2021, April 7). 1 in 3 Covid patients who recovered have neurological, mental health disorders: Study in Lancet. Retrieved from ThePrint website: https://theprint.in/health/1-in-3-covid-patients-who-recovered-have-neurological-mental-health-disorders-study-in-lancet/635216/

Covid-19: How to manage stress and anxiety about the new normal. (2021, March 22). Retrieved from India Today website: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/featurephilia/story/covid-19-how-to-manage-stress-and-anxiety-about-the-new-normal-1782335-2021-03-22

De Hert, M., Mazereel, V., Detraux, J., & Van Assche, K. (2020). Prioritizing COVID ‐19 vaccination for people with severe mental illness. World Psychiatry, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20826

Four Simple Tips to Help You Manage Anxiety Related to COVID-19. (2021, March 2). Retrieved from Mental Health First Aid website: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2021/03/four-simple-tips-to-help-you-manage-anxiety-related-to-covid-19/

ILO: Uncertain and uneven recovery expected following unprecedented labour market crisis. (2021, January 25). Retrieved from www.ilo.org website: http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_766949/lang--en/index.htm

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Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Orgera, K., Muñana, C., & Chidambaram, P. (2020, April 21). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. Retrieved from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation website: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

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If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health during this pandemic, reach out for support to an InnerHour therapist, or download the InnerHour self-care app: bit.ly/ih-app






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