Long COVID: Anxiety

Urgent advice: Phone 111 if:

  • you're feeling distressed, in a state of despair, suicidal or in need of emotional support

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety it's a normal reaction when we're in danger or under threat. Ongoing anxiety can start when we don’t feel in control.

A stressful event like having coronavirus (COVID-19) or experiencing a stay in hospital can cause anxiety. This can be particularly true if you've had a stay in an intensive care unit (ICU), which can be a very traumatic experience. You may also experience nightmares and/or flashbacks of your time in ICU. In most cases these reduce over time, but may continue for some people.

You may worry that you may contract coronavirus again, or have another stay in hospital and this can make you feel more anxious about the future. These concerns are normal and common.

Typical worries that people who've had coronavirus have include:

  • fears about health and recovery for example, thinking "I’ll never get back to how I was"
  • stress about being off work and the impact on finances  for example, thinking "I’ll lose my job"
  • worries about family and friends also getting ill for example, thinking "What if my mother gets it?"

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety affects people in different ways. These symptoms are part of the body’s natural ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response.

You may experience:

  • trouble sleeping
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty remembering things
  • changes in mood
  • flashbacks
  • more breathlessness
  • rapid shallow breathing
  • difficulty slowing your breathing down
  • chest pain
  • racing thoughts

For many people these symptoms will only last for short periods of time, but some symptoms may continue for longer and can start to affect your daily life.

Managing anxiety

If your anxiety symptoms are affecting your life, there are some things you can do.

Relaxation techniques

When people feel stressed or anxious, their bodies tense up. You may experience symptoms such as headaches, shallow breathing, and dizziness.

Relaxation can be used to help to manage these physical symptoms of anxiety. You could try doing an activity you already find relaxing - for example, reading a book, having a bath, sitting outside, or having a short walk. You could also try specific relaxation techniques.

Using these techniques can also help you to better manage post-viral fatigue.

Mindfulness

After being unwell, people can become caught up in worries about the future, or difficult memories from being unwell. Sometimes people find it hard to focus on the ‘here and now’. The aim of mindfulness is to help you to focus on the present moment, and to ‘step back’ from any worries.

Further information on mindfulness

Getting back to usual activities

It's normal, when you’ve been through a difficult time, to stop doing things which feel too hard or unsafe. This can help you to cope with being unwell, but you can lose sight of what is important to you. Avoiding activities can also make them feel even more scary.

Getting back to normal activities may feel overwhelming, but breaking activities down into small steps may help them feel more achievable, and can help you to manage your energy. For example, if you're keen to get back to shopping, try visiting a local shop for one or two items, rather than trying to visit a busy supermarket or shopping centre right away. You can then build this up gradually over time.

Positive self-talk

When you're noticing racing thoughts and worries, it can be helpful to try to take a step back and reassure yourself. Try to notice what the worry or difficult thought is, then write it down and see if you can think of an alternative, kinder thought.

For example, if you notice yourself thinking "I’ll never get back to how I was", you could try telling yourself "I’m making progress but recovery takes time. It’s ok to take time to rest and look after myself".

Anxiety self-help guide

Work through our self-help guide for anxiety that uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

When to seek help

Although feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal, you should see your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life. For example, if anxiety stops you doing things that matter to you.

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and your worries, fears and emotions and let you know what help might be available in your area.

You may be able to access a computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course or be referred for further support, such as talking therapies.