Receiving a text or an email that says you’ve tested positive for Covid-19 can understandably be an anxious time.
You might be worried about how serious your symptoms will get, how long it will take to recover and whether you’ve passed it on to anyone else.
But this anxiety can spiral, making the psychological impact of coronavirus just as unpleasant as the physical symptoms.
Here, we asked experts to explain how you can stay calm and in control in the face of a positive coronavirus test result.
Firstly, is it normal to worry this much about my test results?
“It’s entirely normal to feel anxious when receiving a positive Covid-19 test from the NHS,” says Dr Meg Arroll chartered psychologist with wellbeing brand Healthspan.
“When we’re faced with a threat, particularly a threat to our health and safety, our bodies engage in the fight-or-flight stress response.”
Arroll explains that ‘fight or flight’ is the in-built mechanism that causes us to become sweaty, shaky and short of breath when we’re worried. It’s an adaptive and evolutionary response that has allowed us to survive in the face of tangible threats such as predators.
“Anxiety triggers a cascade of physiological processes and reactions to physically allow us to flee or fight off danger. For example, our bodies release glucose for a boost of energy, our hearts beat rapidly to oxygenate our cells and eyes dilate to pinpoint these dangers,” Arroll notes.
“This same response is activated in situations such as getting a positive Covid-19 test result – but of course, we can’t run away or physically attack the virus, so it’s important for our overall health to calm the body and mind so that we can support our immune system to fight the virus on our behalf.”
What can I do to stay calm about my result?
1. First and foremost, breathe
“Breathing deeply through your diaphragm will engage the parasympathetic nervous system which re-establishes a resting state,” says Arroll.
“Try breathing in through your nose for a count of three, feeling your belly rise on the inhale, then out for a count of four so that your stomach contracts back down. It usually only takes a couple of minutes to start feeling calm again.”
2. Check and challenge any catastrophic thought patterns
“It’s entirely natural to think the worst when you first get a test result, but it’s unhelpful to ruminate on negative outcomes when we have evidence that shows the vast majority of those affected by the coronavirus recover fully,” assures Arroll.
“As tempting as it is to seek reassurance online, try to avoid doom scrolling through news sites, as this will reactivate the stress response, leaving you in a perpetual state of anxiety.”
3. Use ‘safe place imagery’
Registered psychologist Dr Juliet Anton explains: “This calming technique involves closing your eyes and imagining a real or imagined place, person or thing that makes you feel calm, safe and happy.
“Whilst holding this image in your mind, breathe deeply, in and out. You can do this exercise until you feel your muscles relax and your breathing become more slow and shallow.”
4. Give yourself a positive pep talk
“When we feel anxious, our thoughts tend to rush and we start to feel overwhelmed and out of control,” says Anton.
“Always reflect on times that you’ve encountered challenges in the past, and remind yourself of how you’ve managed to deal with it.
She continues: “Positive mantras such as ‘I can do this’, ‘this will pass’, ‘everything will be ok’ can help us get past our anxious moments.”
5. Play the ‘five things’ game
“If you feel like your mind is going 100mph, one of my favourite grounding techniques is the ‘five things’ game,” says yoga instructor Hannah Barrett.
“Notice five things you can see, hear and feel. It sounds very simple but it helps to bring you back to the ‘now’.”
6. Self-care with sensory pleasure
“Lighting a favourite candle, using essential oils or running a scented bath can help to reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety after some anxious news,” suggests Barrett.
“Some of my favourite calming scents are lavender, rose, geranium, neroli and orange blossom.”
7. Knowledge is power
“If you’re feeling worried about how to deal with your symptoms, it’s important to read the NHS guidelines on how long you need to self-isolate and how to treat Covid-19 symptoms at home,” stresses Arroll. NHS 111 is also available 24 hours a day if you’re concerned about your symptoms and want to seek medical advice.
Finally, Arroll adds “Even if you don’t feel particularly symptomatic, do follow the guidance to protect others.”