Anxiety & COVID-19
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According to the World Health Organization, “in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of Anxiety and Depression increased by a massive 25%”. In the past two years, there have been multiple ties between Anxiety and COVID-19. Namely, in terms of similar physical symptoms as well as the stress of the pandemic triggering anxious feelings in many individuals.
My experience with COVID-19 in particular is a prime example of the ties between Anxiety and COVID-19. In July of 2021, I was diagnosed with COVID-19 after a series of unfortunate events that made it difficult to tell the virus apart from my typical Anxiety attack symptoms. The night before I was diagnosed, I noticed a rise in my body temperature.
However, I had already gone through an instance where I got tested because of a rise in body temperature and it came back negative, I thought nothing of it. Still, later that night I began to overthink the possibility of COVID-19. As a person with hypochondriac tendencies, the pandemic made it increasingly easy to take any possible change in wellness as a possibility of the virus, especially a virus with such a broad range of symptoms:
Common Symptoms of COVID-19 (CDC):
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or Difficulty breathing
- Muscle or Body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Nausea or vomiting
Common Symptoms of a Panic Attack (NIMH):
- Pounding or racing heart
- Difficulty breathing
- Weakness or dizziness
- Tingly or numb hands
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain or nausea
Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chills, and weakness/fatigue were things that I already experienced regularly as a result of my Anxiety disorder. Funny enough, that same night I even Googled “Can Anxiety cause fever?” and found that many sources did name fevers as a symptom of Anxiety. That being said, the pandemic was especially harsh on anxious individuals, giving us more reason to stress over wellness issues on top of the effects of the virus on our families, our jobs, and our futures.
The following day, on the way home from driving a family member to work I began to work up a very familiar sweat accompanied by difficulty breathing and trembling limbs. This time, however, in addition to my typical symptoms I began to feel a chest pain that drove my Anxiety over the edge. I immediately pulled over and gave my father a call.
“Hey Dad, I have a really bad chest pain right now and I can’t breathe. I think I need to go to the ER.”
Unfortunately, my dad was downtown in an important meeting, so I only had a few choices: wait about 45 minutes to an hour for him to come get me on my side of town, call an ambulance, which was out of budget at the time, or drive myself to the emergency room. Though I am not proud of it and would never advise it to others, I got on the highway and drove myself to the emergency room. Thankfully, I made it safely and my father later met me at the hospital.
I signed in, gave the nurse my insurance information, and was then shortly brought in for an EKG test. Since my primary motive for being there was my chest, they checked for heart conditions immediately. However, after noticing normal signs and learning about my Anxiety disorder and history of panic attacks, the nurse explained that what I was feeling might’ve just been signs of a panic attack.
Still, I went back out and sat to be seen by a doctor. All of this was occurring during peak COVID-19 times in the summer, so as you can imagine, the waiting room was full. The room was so full, in fact, that it was almost difficult for patients to be within six feet of each other. I was probably in the waiting room for 3 – 4 hours before I was brought in, but I really had no other choice.
Finally, I was brought in and after briefly explaining my symptoms to the doctor I was tested for COVID-19, and it came back positive. However, because of the pandemic, there was a lack of hospital room availability and I was not able to be admitted. Instead, I was sent home with a couple prescriptions to help relieve the symptoms of COVID-19.
What followed in my two weeks at home was a whole lot of coughing, sleeping, and scrolling through social media. Thankfully, my COVID-19 diagnosis was not additionally aggravated by my Anxiety. For many, Anxiety stems from the fear of the unknown, but I knew exactly why I was feeling the way I did.
Most of my anxious feelings prior to this experience stemmed from fear of what effect COVID-19 would have on me. I was hearing all types of things: that it mostly just affects adults, children younger than me who unfortunately passed as a result of the diagnosis, you could have it and not feel a thing, or that it could sneak up on you and immediately give you chest pains, uncomfortable bowels, and terrible headaches.
To be completely transparent, the worst part of the pandemic for me was before I got COVID-19. I was constantly consumed with the thought of anything I was feeling being COVID-19, and it if was it would be the end. Looking back, what kept me from countless panic attacks was unplugging from technology, and being mindful that I was not the only one going through this pandemic.
There were millions of people all around the world being hospitalized for it every day, who were losing their jobs, family members, and whose lives would be changed forever. It wasn’t necessarily that I was glad that the rest of the world was going through the pandemic with me, but understanding that the issue was bigger than me did give me a slight peace of mind.
Today, I hardly get anxious over COVID-19. However, with the constant political discourse and social commentary, it is still essential for me to take time to unplug, think my own thoughts, and not be consumed by what is happening in every corner of the world. It’s one thing to stay mindful about what’s going on around you, but it’s a different thing to allow the stresses of global disasters to become a part of your everyday routine.
If you struggle with Anxiety like me and find yourself constantly entrapped in the social media bubble, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the media that I am consuming right now helping or hurting my current mental state?
- How do I typically feel after consuming this type of media? Do I feel drained?
- Is there another way I can stay informed without allowing everyone’s opinions to affect my way of thinking?
- Have I taken time to take care of my mental health lately?
The goal of these questions is to help you recognize your current mental state and identify ways to remain in tune without losing yourself in what’s going on around you. There is so much going on in the world today, and we are all experiencing things differently. Give yourself time to feel your emotions, process your surroundings, and decompress.
‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ – J.K. Rowling
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