The experience of having a disease, temporary or chronic, can have a huge impact on your mental health. Feeling stressed, scared, anxious and sad is natural when you're unwell, more so if your ailment led to hospitalisation. And when it comes to being a COVID-19 patient, the emotional impact is likely to be more heightened given that the virus has infected 18 million people across the globe.
Why managing mental health is necessary
If you've been infected by COVID-19 and are on your way to recovery now, you should know that getting back to normal life also includes dealing with the immense emotional impact. It's not something you can or should take lightly because it can not only hinder your recovery but also lead to more complications related to your mental health.
A study published in Global Health Research and Policy in June is one of the many recent ones to point out that COVID-19 patients are at a very high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which in turn can cause serious distress and disability in the future.
Another study in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, published in July, showed that 55 percent of the recovering COVID-19 patients they studied presented clinical scores for at least one mental disorder. Females suffered from these disorders more than men did, but all patients were affected by the length of their hospitalisation, the care they received for the disease and their individual psychological history as well.
How to manage your mental health after COVID-19 infection
The World Health Organisation (WHO) points out that those who've been hospitalised due to COVID-19 may have vivid memories and dreams about what they experienced there. The patients may also have unresolved emotions about their survival as well as frustrations about not being able to return to their pre-pandemic life with ease during their recovery. This is why the WHO recommends that all recovering COVID-19 patients must focus on managing stress, anxiety and depression with the help of the following steps:
1. Sleep: Your sleep is likely to have been disturbed and uncomfortable while you were in the hospital or at the peak of the infection. Sleep is regulated by the circadian rhythms, and getting it in order can have a refreshing effect on your mood. The routine of maintaining a sleep-wake cycle will also give you a better sense of control. Create a healthy sleep environment with minimum disturbances and focus on fixing this cycle.
2. Eat well: You should follow a healthy diet during your recovery period to replenish the nutrients your body has lost. Sticking to a good recovery diet can not only have a positive effect on your mood but is vital for your overall well-being. Foods that are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants also help regulate hormonal function in the body, which can keep mood swings at bay while protecting your mental health.
3. Ease into activity: Physical activity can be exhausting after COVID-19 and it can leave you breathless. But gradually increasing your mobility and being active can improve both your physical and mental health. Start small and slowly restart activities you enjoyed before as you gain back your strength.
4. Relax: While it's important to gradually restart physical activity, it's also important to engage in relaxing activities to reduce stress and improve your psychological state. Meditation, controlled breathing exercises and light stretching can be as relaxing as reading a book, listening to music or an audiobook and engaging in spiritual practices that make you feel content.
5. Reconnect: Anybody who has ever had a disease will you it can be isolating, which is never good for your mental health. Having been through a lot, sharing your experiences, the challenges you faced and reconnecting with friends and loved ones can be a stress-buster. Connect with people on the phone or through the internet, but find somebody to talk to. If friends and family reach out to you with offers to help or support, accept it and let them know how to help you best.
All of these steps can help you reacclimatise with society while you recover and improve your mental health. If, at any point, it all seems overwhelming, you should get in touch with a mental health professional without delay.
For more information, read our Complete Guide to Post COVID-19 Care.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India's first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.