It’s been over a year since COVID-19 first started in the US. And unfortunately, many of us know someone who has been infected. Whether you have had the virus, many have faced physical and mental health challenges as we all are trying our best to navigate through challenging times. We are learning to adapt to a “new normal” that has made us change daily routines and adapt to our newfound aim in life: to stay healthy and free of the virus.
In the early days of the pandemic, there were a lot of unknowns about the virus, how it spread, its symptoms, and the potential long-term consequences. As additional information came in, checking the CDC’s recommendations became a daily routine for me! And while we all are learning to cope with these changes in real-time, some may feel “pandemic fatigue” and might think that this virus is not as ‘real’ anymore. Wearing a mask every time you step outside of your house has almost become second nature for us and who doesn’t know the feeling of ‘oh no, I forgot my mask! Let me run back and get it!’. We try to make the best out of the worst situation and take it day by day.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to navigate through this pandemic perfectly. Even if you are extremely cautious like me, never taking off your mask in public places, practicing social distancing, washing your hands, you are still likely to have been exposed to the virus and there still is a chance of being infected. Despite my great caution and care, I woke up with light symptoms about three weeks ago. I felt more tired than usual and developed a mild fever. My body felt weak and I knew something was wrong.
When I first started feeling sick with common symptoms that are associated with COVID-19, I went to get tested right away. Luckily, I could get my PCR test fairly quickly with little wait time. PCR tests are considered the more accurate form of testing and usually take about 2-4 days to receive the test results. Since I was worried about friends whom I saw a couple of days prior, I got an Antigen test as well. For the Antigen test, I had to stay in my car and they exchanged most of my information via my phone. For comparison, the Antigen test provides you with results in about 20 minutes.
It was during the waiting period where I felt an uncomfortable emotional feeling for the first time.
"What if the test is positive? What is happening next?’
These questions kept going through my mind. My heart rate was rising as I sat in my car and I felt anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed. After about 20 minutes, which honestly felt more like an hour, my test results came back positive. Even though I knew something was wrong with my body and that I was mentally preparing myself during the wait, I was on a verge of a total meltdown. Thankfully, I did not experience serious symptoms, but I started feeling worse and overall terrified. I immediately started calling my friends and family to inform them and situated myself into self-isolation.
I still had a glimmer of hope while I was still waiting for my PCR test results in self isolation. However, this hope was fleeting once I got the second positive result and reality slowly sank in...
I had COVID-19.
I felt scared about my development of the virus, and to add to this mounting stress, the feeling of being completely cut off from the outside world for the next weeks filled my anxiety even more.
The Test of My Mental Resilience
After being diagnosed with COVID-19, I started to feel stressed and overwhelmed. You are not alone if you experience the same feelings as I did. We know of the short-term symptoms and the potentially life-threatening concerns of COVID-19. While every person has a unique body and will experience different physical symptoms in their own way, a lot of us aren’t aware of the mental impact of it. If you also tested positive, you may also have asked these same questions I had:
“Why me? What did I do wrong?”
“Have I not been careful enough?”
“What could I have done differently?”
“My symptoms aren’t that bad, but I’m worried about long-term effects...”
“Did I infect other people too?”
First, I want to tell you it’s normal to have these questions and to feel overwhelmed. Doubting oneself can come naturally to people, especially when it comes to our health. These questions show how important our health is to us. If you had no doubts about the virus or how you got it, you most likely don’t take this situation or your own health seriously enough to prevent careless behaviors in the future. So, if you are doubting yourself after being tested positive, it means that you care about yourself and your health and that is great. Of course, everything is better in moderation; Don’t doubt yourself too much as it can easily result in a spiral of negativity and may impair your overall mental wellness.
How to Mentally Cope with Your COVID-19 Diagnosis
If you tested positive and you feel that you have been a victim of anxiety, stress, and other factors that can affect your mental wellness, don’t worry. I’ve been there; you’re not alone. In fact, a study by the University of Oxford showed that people who tested positive for COVID-19 had a two times higher risk of developing a mood or anxiety disorder for the first time. And I can understand why — my first couple of days in self-isolation were filled with anxiety and overwhelming emotions, and by the end of my self-isolation I even thought I was going crazy! I have been through these same emotions and I hope to share with you how I stayed calm and in control.
I’ve been there. You are not alone.
Please note that everyone reacts differently to COVID-19, and I have been fortunate to have experienced the symptoms that are non-life-threatening. Below are my tips and advice that got me through my recovery. The following is not medical advice. If you’re feeling unwell, please consult a doctor immediately.
Here are 3 tips that can help you with overcoming the frightening feeling during your self-isolation:
1. Note your feelings
One of the first steps you can take is to be aware of your mental wellness. Have there been any changes in your mood and emotions? Likely so, and it’s important to identify and process them. Let your feelings surface because in doing so, you will work through them. In these stressful moments, it is common that negative feelings might overwhelm you. Call a family member or a friend and ask them to listen to your situation. Explain how you feel and that you are scared. It is important that you feel secure with this person. If you’re uncomfortable with talking to someone, you can try to write your thoughts out. I recommend journaling with pen and paper, but typing it out on a blank page works too. After releasing your thoughts and emotions, it is important that you overcome those feelings. You can live with them, but they can’t own you.
Own your feelings but don't let them own you.
2. Practice destress strategies
There are many de-stressing strategies like yoga, reading a book or listening to music. Choose your favorite strategy where you can take a break from all the craziness. Remind yourself of what strategies have helped you before when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed. Practicing mindfulness can also help you. If you’re looking for other ways to destress, you can check out this handy list. Personally, I dedicated about 30 minutes each day to those strategies to release my stress and pass time during my self-isolation period. They not only helped me feel more relaxed in the moment but also taught me how to cope with other stressful situations.
3. Find something positive in each day
Since we are required to self-isolate once we test for the virus, finding positive things around us may feel like a challenge. However, it is important that you try to actively look for them! It’s natural to be consumed by anxious thoughts when you have the virus, but unfortunately, being anxious about it will not make you less infected—you’re better off shifting your headspace and energy into something else, and focus on your own recovery. Your positive light in your day can be something simple as a picture of you and your friend, or a phone/ video call with a loved one. Make sure you take notes and if you feel overwhelmed, go back to those positive things that will bring your mind back to a cheerful place.
My Final Thoughts Post-Infection: Fight the stigma
COVID-19 is very real, and the physical effects and psychological stress that accompany this virus are also very much real. I feel very lucky that I was able to recover after taking time to rest and focus on healing my body and mind. But to be honest, after testing positive, I felt a sense of shame as well. Besides being anxious about how this virus will physically affect me, I started thinking about whether people will think less of me now. Unfortunately, there is a stigma that comes with COVID-19, which can make the victim feel more isolated or even abandoned. It is important to fight the stigma because anyone could catch this virus.
If you know someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, show compassion and be supportive. Be a listening ear to them as they go through this tough journey. Check-in with them (virtually, of course!) and show them your love. Your simple act of care goes a long way and makes them feel less alone. We are all in this together, so let’s be kind to one another and be safe.
By: Jil Johannpeter