Emotional effects of coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery

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

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

Anxiety

Anxiety has physical and mental symptoms. The physical symptoms include:

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

You might feel worried all the time, tired, not able to concentrate and irritable. You might also have poor sleep. Anxiety can lead to unhelpful thinking patterns when you focus on uncertainty or negativity.

Breathlessness can often cause anxiety and feelings of panic. Anxiety often makes the feeling of breathlessness stronger, which leads 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.

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 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 this. 


Memory and concentration problems

Most people who have coronavirus recover with no long-term impact 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, concentration and the ability to plan, solve problems and make decisions. This is more common in people who had problems with these things before becoming ill.

Unpleasant feelings

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

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

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

For a lot of people, these feelings are a response to extreme physical and emotional stress. The feelings and experiences resolve as people recover.

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

If any of these feelings and experiences get worse, start to be persistent and affect your day-to-day life, you might be developing a mental health problem. 

Depression

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

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • a low mood
  • sleeping a lot more or a lot less than usual
  • appetite changes
  • poor concentration
  • loss of enjoyment in activities
  • feeling irritable
  • loss of interest in sex
  • thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Speak to your GP if:

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

This includes persistent sadness or low mood, loss of interest in things 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 those who have been very unwell, especially if you have been admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU).

Symptoms of PTSD include:

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

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

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

Speak to your GP if:

you feel you cannot cope anymore 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 and you need to get help. 

If you think that you might act on these thoughts of harming yourself, go to your nearest emergency department (A&E). 

Outside of working hours

NHS website has advice on dealing with a mental health emergency or crisis. Call 111 or, if you think 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

You can access talking therapies for support with your mood, or symptoms of trauma, through Improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT). 

IAPT offers 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. 

Find contact details for your local IAPT services.

You do not need a GP referral and can refer yourself. If you need help to refer yourself, your GP or any health professional can also refer you.

For talking therapies in:

Resource number: 5122/VER1
Last reviewed: January 2021
Next review date: December 2023

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about your coronavirus recovery, please speak to a doctor or nurse caring for you. Your discharge letter should have their contact information.

Physiotherapy, phone 020 7188 5082 or 020 7188 5089

Occupational therapy department at St Thomas' Hospital, phone 020 7188 4180

Occupational therapy department at Guy's Hospital, phone 020 7188 4185

Nutrition and dietetics department, phone 020 7188 4128

Speech and language therapy department at St Thomas' Hospital, phone 020 7188 6246

Speech and language therapy department at Guy's Hospital, phone 020 7188 6233

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