Health anxiety about COVID-19 and what you can do about it

My name is Sally Percival and I chair The National Co-production Advisory Group (NCAG) and co-chair The Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) partnership, but more importantly I care for my son and step daughter both of whom have significant disabilities and at the moment my partner who is immunosuppressed.

Lying in bed on Monday night after hearing the news about everyone going into self isolation, only being allowed to go out once a day and the news reminding me every 5 minutes how many people are dying from this terrible virus, my heart began racing, I felt hot and I then began to cough! That’s it then I have it, the coronavirus, COVID-19, whatever you want to call it, I must have it! Is this really happening? I began to look for symptoms which make you notice subtle things that previously I would have ignored; they then become stronger and last longer.   I worried all night and eventually fell asleep at 5am.

The good news is I don't have it, I am fit and well but the truth is there are lots of people all over the country that feel this way; I have health anxiety but what is health anxiety? It’s an obsessive and irrational worry about having a serious medical condition. Many people with health anxiety are unable to enjoy life due to their fears and preoccupations - compounding this are new words and phrases that some people just don’t understand and when you don’t understand you’re more likely to be anxious. TLAP will be updating their Care and Support  Jargon Buster to include COVID-19 terms. The following day I began to get phone calls from my friends and colleagues from NCAG who were feeling the same way and who don't normally have health anxiety. I soon realised I was not alone!   

So what have I done to help myself and what have other people shared with me?

  1. Don’t listen to the news or look on social media, if you need to keep up to date listen to the radio on the hour once or twice a day, these news updates tend to be short, reliable and don't go into a lot of detail.

  2. Check in with family or friends, it may be important to them to hear from you, they may be concerned about you. You can manage their anxiety by reassuring them you are ok.

  3. Tell yourself this is just the anxiety talking, and this thought or feeling is only a thought (opens new window) or feeling.  Don't believe everything you think!  Thoughts are not statements of fact.
  4. Stay occupied, do something for other people, make something nice or call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time.
  5. Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don't have to respond to them.  You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
  6. If you can, Video link with someone every day. I am learning how to set up a group chat on my computer.
  7. And lastly be kind to yourself I have a treat once a day, at 3pm I sit down with a proper coffee and an ice cream.

Thank you to my NCAG colleagues Isaac Samuels and Kate Sibthorp for contributing to this blog.


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