Managing my health anxiety through the COVID-19 outbreak (guest post)

After being poorly a few years ago, I have lived with severe and sometimes crippling health anxiety.

This fear has influenced every aspect of my life from work to my social life and relationships. For a long time, I felt as though it controlled everything, but, after extensive counselling and CBT, I finally felt like I had gained back that control. And then COVID-19 happened…

Like many, I had no idea about how serious this situation was until recently. I felt relatively calm and couldn’t actually understand why others were panicking. It was not until the Prime Minister’s speech on 12th March that it hit me. Panic set in.

I felt that same familiar feeling. A tight chest, overwhelming emotions, a barrage of intrusive, catastrophising thoughts.

Later on, it dawned on me that this situation was going to be particularly hard for me to deal with mentally. The problem is that many of my usual coping strategies are now invalid. I cannot assure myself that I won’t get sick, because I might. I cannot remind myself how advanced our healthcare system is, because the NHS may struggle. I cannot go out and keep busy, because we must practice social distancing.

It’s particularly difficult when intrusive and unhelpful thoughts you have spent years letting go of are now almost validated. It feels like everything is backwards and extremely confusing.

It’s also difficult when symptoms you need to look out for are similar to symptoms of anxiety that you regularly experience, such as a tight chest and shortness of breath.

I am no medical expert and I do not have all the answers. All I do know is that when I searched online for advice and stories of others in a similar situation, I found very little. I wanted to share my own story and how I am coping through this crisis so that if you’re reading this and can relate, you know that you’re not alone.

Firstly, I’ve acknowledged how I’m feeling, and I know it’s going to be tough. I am lucky to have a supportive partner who is willing to listen when I need to get things off my chest. Talking can be so underrated, but I personally find it extremely helpful.

I spent a few days watching the news almost constantly. It does not help. It just isn’t necessary. I now check the news first thing in a morning and watch the daily update from the government in an afternoon. That’s it… and I already feel better for it. Social media can be a real pain sometimes too! There is lots of fake news out there and it can really cause a panic, so I’ve been limiting my exposure.

I often find that keeping busy stops my mind from running away to dark places. I’m lucky that I can work from home and I have a 3-month-old puppy taking up most of my time! I’ve been cleaning the house and pottering about doing all the things I don’t usually have time for.

Keeping things as normal as possible is helping too. We are still getting up (I can’t say getting dressed because we all need a pyjama day sometimes!), having breakfast, settling down on a night with my wax melts and candles, watching rubbish telly for light relief. All the things that we can keep normal, we are.

Honestly, it’s up and down. The worst thing about this is the uncertainty and none us know how long this will go on for. I’m just trying to take one day at a time and focus on the present. I can be fine all day and then when I stop, it overwhelms me, and I need a minute. That’s fine. I know it isn’t going to be easy.

There are so many things right now that I cannot control. But there are also many things I can. I am following the government advice closely – not leaving the house unless absolutely necessary. Washing my hands often. I’m limiting my exposure to the news. I’m making sure I keep busy. I’m talking to friends and family, ironically maybe more than ever before! I’m actually learning to appreciate the little things too. It’s hard to remain positive in such a terrible situation, but I’m trying.

The one thing I do know is that living with anxiety is hard and that makes us very strong people.

 

Bethany Smith is a freelance writer from Hull, UK.