You’ve just tested positive for COVID-19, or been told by your health care provider that you likely have it.
Fortunately, your symptoms are mild, and your provider has told you that you can self-treat at home.
Of course, you must also completely self-isolate for at least the next two weeks.
Your provider has suggested remedies for easing the physical symptoms of the virus.
But what about the mental discomfort you may also have to contend with over the coming weeks? What about the boredom, the loneliness and, most of all, the anxiety?
“The best way to manage anxiety is to have a plan,” says Robert L. Trestman, Ph.D., M.D., chair of Carilion Clinic Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.
“Ask yourself what you will need, how you can add structure to your days and what positive things you can focus on to help yourself cope with the next few weeks.”
Avoid Obsessing Over Your Symptoms
Getting a COVID-19 diagnosis can obviously feel quite alarming.
Still, it’s important to keep in mind that, as with most medical conditions, the vast majority of us who do go through this will get better on our own.
“But by overly focusing on the symptoms, by worrying about them frequently, we can often intensify them in our minds,” says Dr. Trestman.
A classic example, says Dr. Trestman, is to think of how you might hit your leg on a table or counter while rushing around in the dark to answer a phone call. “Because you’re preoccupied trying to get to that phone, you may not even feel any pain until things settle down and you notice the bruise afterward.”
“On the other hand, if you watch while someone drops a heavy object on your leg, that’s going to hurt a lot more! And that’s because you are anticipating and focusing on the pain.”
Staying as busy as your symptoms and energy level will allow can help ease your anxiety. You can:
- Catch up on your reading list
- Try some relaxing arts or crafts
- Do some organizing or light spring cleaning
- Ask a friend to drop off ingredients, then cook or bake a recipe you’ve always wanted to try
- Reach out to family and friends—maybe even distant relatives or old pals you’ve lost touch with lately—on Facetime, WhatsApp or a similar platform
“Telling ourselves ‘don’t be anxious!’ just doesn’t work,” says Dr. Trestman. “What works is focusing on something else.”
Support Yourself With a Sense of Structure
“Waking up and facing a day empty of any structure can increase feelings of anxiety or depression,” says Dr. Trestman.
As much as your symptoms allow, or as they start to improve, try to incorporate regular activities into your routine. These can include:
- Waking up and going to bed at the same time each day
- Eating your meals at the same time each day
- Scheduling an hour every day to call or video chat friends and family
- Scheduling time—up to thirty minutes daily as you start to feel better—for gentle exercise like stretching, walking up and down your stairs or following an easy YouTube workout
You can also set aside a specific, limited time to get up to date on the news. Dr. Trestman recommends limiting your news consumption to no more than one hour each day.
Use the Time for Reflection and Growth
If your symptoms are mild, Dr. Trestman suggests that time in isolation could be an "opportunity in disguise” to focus on long-held interests or goals
Being able to find meaning in challenging times is an important aspect of mental well-being.
"The goal is to come out of this physically healthy and mentally healthy, too,” says Dr. Trestman.
This content was reviewed April 8, 2020 by Robert L. Trestman, Ph.D., M.D., chair of Carilion Clinic Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.
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