Anxiety about health and Coronavirus | Advice for young people

Anxiety about health and Coronavirus

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency has led to a situation where we have to be mindful about our health and wellbeing.

We are being told how to keep safe, recognise symptoms and respond if we become ill. If you do notice worrying symptoms follow the HSE advice: phone doctor to make sure you are OK and discuss what care you might need. However, many of us are feeling increased anxiety about our health which is not helpful.

Many of us are at home now and are not able to take part in our usual routines. Now we have to think of alternative ways to manage ourselves during these difficult times. The current situation can increase worry about our own health and that of others. This stress in itself can impact on our physical health. For this reason, we must do our best to manage stress.

This is a natural way that our body responds to what we perceive as threats

The vicious cycle

Stress can lead to us becoming over-aware of possible risks. Focusing on symptoms or physical sensations can create worry about what they are. Our body responds to stress in natural ways such as an upset stomach, headaches, breathlessness and tightness in our chest. Tuning into these feelings can lead to further worries, feeding thoughts that we are not well. This can become a vicious cycle: checking for health symptoms, thinking more about our health and increased anxiety.

A natural response

Keep in mind, this is a natural way our bodies respond to what we perceive as threats. Human beings have evolved that way for safety reasons. Recognising this can help us respond better to these symptoms.

Worry can become a problem if it becomes excessive. It can feels uncontrollable and interfere in our ability to do things. Excessive worry can be mentally draining and leave us feeling exhausted and upset. Sometimes we are not aware of how much attention it takes or the impact it can have on our health. It is also OK to feel overwhelmed at times and to be upset.

How to manage health anxiety:

  • Remember, stress isn’t a problem in itself, if balanced with periods of relaxation.
  • Take time to mindfully breathe. Focus on the breath and recognise that these are only thoughts, not necessarily facts. Check out our Instagram account where clinicians are running relaxation sessions live.
  • Find distractions such as reading, cleaning and calling a friend. We can also find a quiet space in our homes to relax, play board games or watch a funny movie.
  • Get the health basics right. Exercise, eat well and try to not let the situation mess up your sleep routine.
  • Create structure and routine as much as possible.
  • Rememember, this distress is understandable. It is OK to worry about our health right now but also important to focus on something positive.
  • Consult with a doctor if you don’t feel well, particularly if there is a risk to the health of others. If you are assured you are OK, do not continue to seek assurance unless these health issues persist.

Finally, we need to remind ourselves that “this will pass”. This is the case with our concern around our own health, that of those around us and the difficulties being experienced around the world.

You can read more about health anxiety in this self-help guide produced by the NHS.