Emotional effects of coronavirus

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 your 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.

Anxiety

Anxiety affects your body and mind. 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, unable to concentrate and irritable. You might also have poor sleep. 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. In turn, this 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 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 needed. 

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.

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
  • appetite changes
  • 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 experienced 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 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. 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

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

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme offers talking therapies to support you with your mood or emotional symptoms. 

IAPT has 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 can refer yourself for talking therpaies. You can also ask your GP or any healthcare professional to 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 (COVID-19) recovery, please speak to a doctor or nurse caring for you. Your discharge letter (the letter that you get when you leave hospital) should have their contact details.

Physiotherapy 
Phone: 020 7188 5082 or 020 7188 5089

Occupational therapy department 
St Thomas' Hospital, phone: 020 7188 4180
Guy's Hospital, phone: 020 7188 4185

Nutrition and dietetics department 
Phone: 020 7188 4128

Speech and language therapy department 
St Thomas' Hospital, phone: 020 7188 6246 
Guy's Hospital, phone: 020 7188 6233

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