Confession: Dealing With COVID Medical Anxiety
Last updated: August 2022
As the past two years came to a head and COVID-19 entered our house, I felt a break in my cool, calm, and collected response to sickness. What I feared would happen throughout the pandemic finally did: I contracted COVID-19 Omicron after doing everything to avoid it.
After I tested positive, I started noticing how on edge I felt. Worry consumed me, and I felt close to tears at any moment. Surprisingly, it wasn’t my own health I worried about, but the health of my loved one and kiddos, especially my 3-month-old who couldn’t communicate how he felt.
Identifying COVID anxiety
My specific worry was that my family would decline enough to be in emergency respiratory distress at home. Rationally, I knew this was unlikely. My husband and kids are healthy, they all had very mild symptoms, and showed no obvious signs of difficulty breathing. But why couldn’t I shake this overwhelming fear?
CF plays into my anxiety
Anxiety replaced all the years of medical experience and knowledge I had acquired. I knew the signs to watch for when someone is struggling to breathe, and yet, I was so close to buying an infant pulse ox on Amazon too many times to count. I thought my experience would help me remain collected if my children were sick but it was actually the opposite.
It amplified my fear of coughing, shallow breathing, and blue fingernails. In some ways, it makes sense that difficulty breathing would be my fear as someone living with CF. It’s my deepest and longest lasting fear and we were staring it in the face as a whole family. Difficulty breathing wasn't just a reality for me anymore--but everyone I hold dear.
Ways to respond to anxiety
There’s many healthy and helpful ways to respond to anxiety. These are just a few I tried to utilize during those weeks when I felt my mental health was fragile.
Talk to a trusted support person
In the height of my anxiety, I was able to talk to my mom, which really helped me keep calm. She is a respiratory therapist, so not only did I respect her professional advice but she also validated my worries and past experiences as someone who knows what it feels like not to be able to breathe.
Make a plan
I remember someone once told me to think through the worst case scenario and create a plan on how to respond. In our case, that meant our 3-month old getting sick enough to need emergency care. I thought about who to call like his pediatrician, 911, family members for support, and where the nearest ER was located. Having a plan eased my anxiety about what to do if something alarming happened when my mind wasn’t clear.
Distract your mind
I noticed when I had downtime to worry about my family that was when I felt the most anxious. However when I got up to accomplish a task, my mind was so distracted I couldn’t obsess over their oxygen or respiration rate like a hovering helicopter. Try to do something that takes your mind off the anxiety and keeps your body busy.
Use grounding techniques
If distraction isn’t a helpful technique for you, try grounding techniques to help reduce anxiety through relaxation. Grounding techniques help you focus on the present and what's going on around you instead of the racing thoughts in your mind. Here are some simple and quick techniques to try.
Let your doctor know
In the end, make sure you reach out to your doctor. Let them know you are having intrusive thoughts or anxiety that is disrupting your normal life. Together, make a plan to weather the storm.
Do you have any specific medical anxiety? How do you handle it? Share what’s helped you cope with us!
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