Emotional effects

Coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery

Everyone recovers from coronavirus (COVID-19) in a different way. People have a range of difficulties. These include emotional (psychological) symptoms, such as feeling anxious, depressed (low) or tearful, or having distressing memories of their experience.

Dealing with these difficult symptoms and other things that cause stress might feel overwhelming. Some people might find that this affects their mental health.

This is our short film about the emotions you might feel when you are unwell. You can also watch other films in this series.

These short films are based on the best available information at the time they were made. They can help you to manage and reduce symptoms after COVID. Speak to your GP if your symptoms continue or get worse.

Understanding the connection between your mind and body after COVID

After COVID, longer-lasting physical symptoms, such as fatigue, disrupted sleep or breathlessness, can be frustrating and frightening.

Worrying about your health after being unwell is normal, but continued anxiety can make some of your symptoms last longer.

Understanding how your body reacts to the stress of being unwell can help you to manage these symptoms and may help recovery.

When your body is stressed your nervous system produces more adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster, and your muscles tense.

This is a natural response of your body, but can prevent recovery if it's triggered often, or stays switched on for a prolonged amount of time.

The following tips can support your mind and body connection, reduce the body's stress response, and help you to recover.

  • Try not to keep worries to yourself.
  • Talk to people you trust or a health care professional.
  • Writing your worries down can help.
  • Try practising relaxed breathing, or try a relaxation exercise, or some mindfulness, whichever one relaxes you the most.
  • Try to do something small every day that you enjoy.
  • Ask people around you for practical help with daily chores.
  • Try to spend time with others to avoid feeling isolated, even if it's just a phone call with a friend or family member.
  • If you cannot go out, try not to spend all day in 1 room.

For a lot of people, unpleasant feelings are a response to extreme or ongoing stress on the body and mind, and it's common to feel sad or have mood changes after a long illness.

However, these feelings might become a longer-term problem that needs treatment and support.

If you've been experiencing continuous anxiety, worry, sadness, inability to sleep, or have any feelings that are making you feel low, contact your GP.

Sometimes painful thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming and mean that it's difficult to understand what's going on in our body.

If you think that you might act on thoughts of harming yourself, call a friend or family member.

Call the Samaritans on 116 123, or text SHOUT to 85258, or go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

So, remember these 3 things ...

  • How you feel in your mind can affect how you feel in your body, and the other way around too.
  • Relaxation of your mind and body can help recovery.
  • Feelings and emotions are a normal reaction to things that happen in our lives.

Talking to someone about them helps.

You don't have to experience this alone.

These films were created by the King's Health Partners' South East London long COVID programme, hosted by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

Thank you to South East London Integrated Care System, King's College London, and the following NHS foundation trusts for their contributions: Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Special thanks to our patient advisory group that took the time and energy to guide us.

This programme was funded by NHS Charities Together, and Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, with thanks to the following NHS charities for their support: Oxleas, Maudsley Charity, NHS Charities Together, Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, King's College Hospital Charity, Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust Charity.


Anxiety affects your body and mind. The physical symptoms include:

  • sweating
  • a dry mouth
  • a fast heart rate
  • fast breathing
  • numbness
  • feeling dizzy

You might feel worried all the time, tired, unable to concentrate and irritable. You might also not be sleeping well. Anxiety can lead to unhelpful thinking patterns when you focus on negative things.

Breathlessness can often cause anxiety and feelings of panic. If you are anxious, this can make the feeling of breathlessness stronger. This can then lead to more anxiety.

You cannot stop anxiety from happening. It is your brain’s automatic survival mechanism (an automatic feeling to help you survive in a dangerous or unpleasant situation). What matters is learning how to respond to anxiety helpfully, so that it does not become overwhelming.

Relaxing your mind and body can help to calm feelings of anxiety. You might need to try different relaxation techniques to see which one works best for you. Watch our film for guidance about how to relax, to learn more.

Speak to you GP if:

  • you have anxiety most of the time on most days, for at least 2 weeks. Your GP can help you to manage anxiety.

Anxiety is common and many people overcome it or cope without professional help. However, some people need more support. It is important that you ask for more help if you need to. 

Memory and concentration problems

Most people who have COVID-19 recover with no long-term effect on their memory or concentration. Others might have some mild changes that do not last long.

A small number of people have longer-term problems with their memory or concentration. This can affect how they plan things, solve problems and make decisions.

Memory and concentration problems are more common in people who had difficulties with these things before being ill.

Unpleasant feelings

If you are recovering from COVID-19, you may have a range of emotions. These may include feeling depressed (low), tired, anxious or tearful. Your sleep may be disrupted or you may have distressing memories of your experience.

There are things that you can do to help yourself cope with unpleasant feelings.

  • Do small things every day that are important to you, however you feel. These should include things that you enjoy, as well as things that you have to do.
  • Speak to your friends and family. Have regular contact with your loved ones and do not just talk about your treatment.

For a lot of people, unpleasant feelings are a response to extreme stress on the body and mind. The feelings and experiences resolve as people recover.

For a small number of people, these feelings might become a longer-term problem that needs extra treatment and support.

If any of these feelings get worse, are long-lasting and affect your everyday life, you might be developing a mental health problem. There is treatment and lots of support available through the NHS.

Depression (low mood)

It's common to feel sad or have mood changes after a long illness. If the changes in your mood are severe and last a long time, you might be developing depression.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • a low mood
  • sleeping a lot more or a lot less than usual
  • changes to your appetite
  • poor concentration
  • loss of enjoyment in activities
  • feeling irritable
  • loss of interest in sex
  • thoughts of suicide or harming yourself

Speak to your GP if:

  • you have had symptoms of depression every day, or most days, in the past 2 weeks.

This includes long-lasting sadness or low mood, loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy, and any of the other symptoms above.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms or disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common in people who have been very unwell, especially if you have been in an intensive care unit (ICU). This is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • flashbacks to traumatic experiences
  • nightmares
  • intrusive images or sensations (feelings)
  • poor sleep
  • anxiety and low mood
  • fear of further illness
  • increased alertness (hyper-vigilance) to symptoms

It is common to have upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event. For most people, these problems get better with time.

Speak to your GP if you still have distressing symptoms after 4 weeks.

Speak to your GP if:

  • you feel that you cannot cope any more or have thoughts of harming yourself. You can also ask someone to get help for you by contacting your GP.

A mental health crisis can feel unpleasant, scary and overwhelming. You need to get help.

If you think that you might harm yourself, go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

Outside of working hours

The NHS website has advice on dealing with a mental health emergency or crisis. Call 111 or, if you think that you are about to hurt yourself, phone 999.

South London and Maudsley NHS Trust has a 24-hour mental health crisis line. Phone: 0800 731 2864 (choose option 1)

Samaritans has a free service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, if you want to talk to someone in confidence. Phone: 116 123

Solidarity in a Crisis is an out-of-hours support service, over the phone and in person. The helpline is open on Monday to Friday from 6pm until midnight, and on Saturday and Sunday from midday to midnight. Freephone: 0300 123 1922 or text 07889 756 087 or 07889 756 083

Talking therapies

Talking therapies (psychological therapies) are effective and confidential treatments given by fully-trained NHS healthcare professionals. They can help with common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression.

There are a wide range of options to help you manage and improve your mood. These include individual or group talking therapies, and workshops to learn more about managing your mental health. These sessions might be in person, by video, on the phone or as an online course.

Find contact details for your local mental health services.

You can refer yourself for talking therapies. You can also ask your GP or any healthcare professional to refer you.

For talking therapies in:

Resource number: 5122/VER2
Last reviewed: February 2024
Next review date: February 2027

Contact us

Find out how to be referred for an appointment with our long COVID assessment service, or speak to our patient booking team about your appointment, phone: 020 7188 9910.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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