You might have taken all the precautions: wearing your mask, reducing your social circle, distancing yourself from others in public, getting vaccinated, working from home. You might have spent time thinking over how to do things more safely and adjusted some of your habits to match. You might have noted everywhere you went and were being extra vigilant so that you could trace your steps if needed. You might have done everything you felt you could do in your power to avoid contracting and/or spreading COVID-19. And now, a year and a half into the pandemic, you tested positive for COVID.
Mercifully, the symptoms were manageable, and fortunately, you were able to recover at home. Now that it has been weeks since your positive COVID test, now what? You’re not contagious anymore. You are free to go about your daily life. So how do you continue life after a positive COVID test?
From day one, COVID has been not only a physical health issue but also a mental health issue. Self-distancing and quarantining – especially while in a state of fear and uncertainty – had a significant impact on our mental health. While we have yet to see the full repercussions of the pandemic, we are aware of a lot of the struggles people are facing, and many of us have found ways to cope with them by this point. We might find ourselves dealing with
a new set of mental health challenges after testing positive for COVID. If you have contracted COVID-19, there needs to be not just a physical recovery from the virus; but also a psychological one.
The challenges you may experience after a positive COVID test:
1. You might experience an increase in anxiety and depression:
- Uneasiness around going outside; fear that you contracted COVID and residual guilt or worry about anywhere you went or anything you did before you were aware that you were sick.
- You may feel increased agitation towards others who have responded to the pandemic differently than you did or who have disregarded public health advice, such as not wearing masks.
- You might experience a lack of trust towards others who say they are following the protocols – perhaps everyone around you said that before you tested positive, and it has unsettled your ability to fully believe that others are doing what they say they are doing.
- “I was so careful; how did this happen?” You may feel nerves, paranoia, anger, suspicion, and a wealth of other negative emotions that all your hard work and vigilance “went to waste.”
- You may be vaccinated and ruminating about the odds that the vaccine minimized the damage done to your long-term health and how contagious you were.
- Your anxiety may have increased, and you may rethink simple steps and actions that before seemed straightforward. “I don’t know what to keep myself safe anymore; I thought what I have been doing would protect me.”
- You might feel an unusual or unprecedented amount of anger. “Someone in my circle was careless, and now we are all sick. I am so mad at them.” You might also feel guilty for feeling this way and struggle to be compassionate toward yourself about it.
- You may feel scared of the future and long-term effects of having contracted COVID-19. This can bring about anxiety, depression, and anger. It can manifest as racing thoughts, trouble sleeping, exhaustion, digestive issues, elevated heart rate, and other symptoms of stress and discomfort.
2. You might become more hyper-vigilant about your somatic symptoms:
Somatic symptoms are physical issues that you notice. Some examples of somatic symptoms include pain, neurological symptoms such as
dizziness, and digestive problems. We experience somatic symptoms on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes, we experience pain due to poor
sleep, dehydration, and over-extending ourselves during a physical task. This can become a problem when you become hyper-alert towards any symptom and correlate it to COVID-19. This can very quickly become an obsession and a source of anxiety when every little change puts you on high alert. This hyper-vigilance could also lead to fixating on COVID rates, the latest news from CDC, or watching the latest interview with Dr. Fauci. These behaviors can begin to take over your life.
3. You might feel like others are judging you or assuming you weren’t being “careful enough”:
The assumed thoughts of others may be particularly troubling to you. There is a stigma around testing positive where you feel like you have to explain yourself and how hard you tried and how careful you were. You might be feeling guilty that you had COVID and overwhelmed by concerns of your own; it is in these times that we assume everyone feels the same way we do. The guilt becomes the loudest emotion, and we can’t see how anyone would give us the benefit of the doubt.
If you contracted and survived COVID, you may feel guilty that you are struggling. “Toughen up,” you might say to yourself. “At least you survived!” This kind of thinking is a way of doing something positive (looking on the bright side) in a mean way (bullying yourself). This may result from feelings of guilt, worry about your future, concerns about loved ones, or even grief about those you have known who have lost someone to the COVID-19 pandemic. You may have even known people who passed away yourself.
You may also feel a more heightened sense of fear about COVID; knowing it’s out there and contracting it yourself are two different experiences. Processing that fact that it did, in fact “get to you” may cause you to evaluate and re-evaluate a lot of your mentality surrounding COVID-19 and your perceived safety. Whether or not you will ever have definitive answers or solutions to assuage your fears, it is helpful to know that feeling them is totally natural.
While you are processing both the facts and the unknowns of your situation, there are helpful steps that you can take to help you deal with life after a positive COVID test.
How to mentally cope with a positive COVID test:
1. Feel your feelings compassionately:
Journal or talk about your feelings. Stay compassionate instead of blaming or feeling judgmental. It is okay to feel the way you are feeling. Often, we can speak to ourselves the way we would speak to our best friends. This might be tricky in this case, as it may unearth some judgments you have about others. The stress of living in a pandemic for a year and a half isn’t always going to bring out our best and most generous thoughts. Be as gentle with yourself if you
can. Enlist the help of a professional if you find yourself getting off track with your self-compassion. Our therapy practice in Woodland Hills can help you cope with anxiety and shed light on what you may be feeling and how to work with yourself.
2. Engage in self-care activities:
While the source of your anxiety is COVID, and you never dealt with this stressor before, the fear itself is not new. You can rely on your existing coping skills to help you manage the anxiety and stress of this situation, the same way you would any situation. Reach into your self-care box for your bath salts, a puzzle, your journal, your running shoes, whatever it is that makes you feel happy, healthy, and safe. Promote wellness in yourself by drinking enough water
and getting as much sleep as you can. You may be someone who already struggles with sleep and have found that it has gotten worse since this disruption. There are methods of improving your surroundings and routine that promote better sleep. Eat when you are hungry. Move your body, even if you just have a dance party in your living room. Order your favorite takeout. Watch your favorite movie. Reassure yourself through conscious action that you are worthy of being taken care of.
There are so many benefits to meditation, yet many of us don’t do it because we think we have to “do it perfectly” by not having any thoughts in our heads. In reality, thoughts arise all the time in meditation, and we are encouraged to acknowledge them. Taking quiet time to get physically comfortable and apply our energy toward decompressing can aid with stress management and anxiety, as well as sleep. There are different ways to meditate and plenty of online guided meditations and resources to help you find one that utilizes a tactic that works for you in the time you can make for meditation. Meditation is a great way to spend time with yourself, calming your nervous system and being present with your thoughts and emotions.
4. Set your boundaries:
You may fear an onslaught of questions about COVID: how you think you caught it, what your precautions were at that point, how long you had symptoms for if your opinions have changed about any of the recommended health protocols, and so on. You have every right to set boundaries when it comes to this situation. You do not have to
answer every question your family or friends may ask about your experience.
It is also important to set boundaries for yourself around access to information through TV or social media. It can be more anxiety-provoking to read the latest information or the debate on vaccinations. If absorbing information about COVID-19 is creating a cycle of rumination and obsession about your own experience, it is helpful to abstain from accessing this information as much as possible.
Whether you set time limits as to how long you’ll spend researching the news, access limits as to from which sources you will obtain information, or decide not to participate in any sort of updates for a while, that is up to you. It is important to do what you feel you need to to move past this time of additional anxiety and stress.
5. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else:
You might find yourself comparing your symptoms to someone else’s. More importantly, you might compare someone else’s life after COVID, see how they managed to get back to things, and assume that yours has to look like theirs. Part of recovering from this experience is to stay authentic to your needs and preferences. Maybe your friend who had COVID stayed quarantined for months, but you feel ready to be outdoors with a mask after just a few weeks.
Or maybe your friend was ready to be outdoors with masks right away, and you are the one who needs extra time. No matter how you experience this period of time and how the comparisons line up, you should try hard to stay focused on what you feel is healthiest for your mental state.
Testing positive for COVID-19 is bound to bring up a lot of emotions, thoughts, and fears. You may find that you can
unpack your experience with relative ease but then come across events or comments that trigger you. You might
struggle with processing your experience to such a degree that you think you’ll feel anxious about it forever, and then all at once, you begin to feel distant from it. You may find yourself having a change of opinion regarding COVID, the
response to it, and/or the protocols surrounding it from what you previously believed. Maybe you will feel that this change is for the better and regret what you may have said or believed before. Perhaps you will wish you could go back to how you felt before your diagnosis. Whether you cherished that time or resent its loss, you may have strong emotions.
Everything you process and every way you come to terms with it is natural and normal. Even swinging from one
emotion or perception to the other end of the spectrum and back again is to be expected. There is no right or wrong way to go about moving forward from having contracted COVID-19, so long as you are paying attention to your needs and meeting them as best as you can.
Embracing You Therapy Group Practice
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns include Anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress, and then let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.