“Globally, COVID-19 infections have crossed the 18 million mark, and with over half a million infections in South Africa alone, the virus is so widespread that you or someone you know may have already contracted the disease. Operations Director at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Cassey Chambers shares key tips on how to manage your mental wellbeing if you’ve recently been diagnosed with COVID-19:
As infection numbers increase, so too does anxiety
With a disease that is new to human populations, it’s natural for us all to be feeling anxious and even somewhat overwhelmed – especially as new infections or even deaths increase daily, bringing this pandemic ‘closer to home’. As the country’s health authorities introduce extensive screening measures, South Africans are likely to see an increase in the number of diagnosed infections, in the coming weeks in particular as we near the peak of infections in our country. With this health crisis now so widespread, it’s entirely possible that one of the next confirmed cases may be you or someone close to you.
“More and more people are now having to deal with a positive test result,” says Chambers. This is likely to intensify feelings of anxiety.
Dealing with a diagnosis
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, it is likely that your levels of anxiety peaked the moment you started to feel unwell or even suspected that you were exposed.
Anticipation of a possible diagnosis can be stressful for anyone. The testing process itself can increase levels of worry and stress. You do not receive the results of a test instantly; the process takes time. This can increase anxiety even further while you wait for your test results. “It can feel very scary and you might feel frightened,” says Chambers.
“During that time, it’s important to keep busy,” she adds. Remaining as calm as possible is important. Chambers suggests calming mechanisms such as meditation and mindfulness to help get you through the period of waiting for test results.
“Once you’ve tested positive, it can feel very overwhelming. Your anxiety levels are heightened. You’re worried. You’re stressed. You’re even feeling instantly lonely,” she says. “You might even have feelings of shame, guilt or isolation. You may also feel that others might judge you or fear you because of your diagnosis.”
Such feelings may negatively affect your ability to cope and work with your healthcare team while you try and get better. “It is often the case that people who are diagnosed are too afraid to speak out,” says Chambers. The fear of stigma is real but it’s important to remember that many people will respond with kindness and care. “If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, reach out to someone that you can trust and speak to about how you’re feeling – and let them also support you during this time,” she adds. Often, it comes down to how much we ourselves and others really understand what we’re all dealing with. We all have to equip ourselves and those around us with what we can and can’t control about this pandemic. If you receive a diagnosis, understand what you’re dealing with, what will help you and what you need to be careful of.
“I think it helps to empower you – and knowledge is everything. So, knowing the signs and symptoms and necessary protection measures can help you to cope and understand what you can and can’t do. It also equips your loved ones. So, it helps to break the stigma and break the fear,” explains Chambers.
What to do to better manage mental wellbeing after diagnosis
First, try not to be so hard on yourself. “Please remember that you are not to blame for your diagnosis,” encourages Chambers. “Anyone can get the virus. It does not discriminate.”
Having to be in isolation or quarantine for a period of time will be challenging in itself. You’ll need a support system and various ways to maintain your overall state of wellness. Chambers suggests setting up a wellness plan – one that takes care of the mind and body in every way you need. Isolation may need to take place over an extended period of time, but it’s important to use it wisely. You will need this time to recuperate and get well again. Resting a lot, implementing recommended treatment measures and taking in healthy amounts of fluids will help to give your body a chance to recover from this infectious condition.
Anything that helps you to relax and reduce stress levels is important too. “During this time, if you’re able to, it’s really key that you do things that you enjoy,” says Chambers.
- Taking bubble baths
- doing stretches
- practising mindfulness through meditation
- listening to podcasts or music
- reading books or watching movies
all of these things can really just help you to feel calmer and more relaxed. “Your attitude and your outlook can contribute to and affect how quickly you get better and how well you cope during your self-isolation,” says Chambers. You will also need to be quite resilient.
Connecting with others is so important for our mental wellbeing – whether we find ourselves in the middle of a health crisis or not. Even though you may be keeping a distance from others, you can still connect. Your options may be of a virtual nature but these tools and mechanisms can be very effective. “Skype, Zoom, video calls and telephone catch-ups – you’ve got all the time now to speak to people and have those deep conversations you’ve been meaning to.”
“So often in our normal lives, we’re so busy and hardly have time to get past ‘Hello, how are you? before we move on,” she adds. Now’s the time to really take advantage of the opportunity to truly connect again.
“It’s very difficult and isolating to be living with COVID-19 by yourself. So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or down, build your support circles, so that you have more people to speak to. And people can check in with you too,” she adds. “You will be amazed at how many people actually want to help and reach out,” says Chambers. You’re not entirely alone.
If you need to, “please reach out to a mental health professional – whether it be a counsellor, a therapist, SADAG helpline, your doctor. There is support available; you don’t have to do this alone. Sometimes, it’s just about knowing where to start and who to speak to.”
Contact SADAG or your Health Care Practitioner
- To contact a counsellor between 08:00 and 20:00 Monday to Sunday, call: 011 234 4837
- For a suicidal emergency contact 0800 567 567
- SADAG’s 24 hour helpline: 0800 456 789