Feeling so hot you’re sweating? Struggling to breathe? Got a mouth dryer than the Sahara?
Don’t let your mind jump straight to ‘oh God, I have coronavirus’. You might be having a panic attack.
Feeling anxious amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is to be expected. We’re in scary times with misinformation flying about and a fear of what’s going on and what could happen next.
But while you can easily recognise when you’re having worried thoughts about coronavirus, you might not be able to identify the physical signs of struggling with anxiety – which, frustratingly, can be similar to the symptoms of coronavirus.
This can cause a dangerous cycle of panic. You worry about coronavirus, so your body creates what feels like symptoms of coronavirus, which you then take as evidence that you do actually have coronavirus… which leads to more anxiety and worsening symptoms.
Early symptoms of coronavirus include a fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and a sore throat.
Symptoms of a panic attack:
- a racing heartbeat
- feeling faint
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- hot flushes
- shaky limbs
- a choking sensation
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
- a churning stomach
- a tingling in your fingers
- feeling like you’re not connected to your body
Dr Martina Paglia of The International Psychology Clinic tells Metro.co.uk that it’s very likely many people are developing symptoms similar to coronavirus, simply due to anxiety.
‘They are so concerned regarding the uncertainty surrounding the virus that they will convince themselves it’s only a matter of time before the symptoms appear,’ she explains.
The mind is unable to discriminate between real and perceived danger, and when we feel threatened and vulnerable, adrenaline surges through the body, causing increased anxiety and often triggering chest pain, shortness of breath, and feeling too hot.
If you have a history of anxiety and panic attacks, remind yourself that it’s more likely your symptoms are psychosomatic than you’ve caught the virus.
When you feel overwhelmed and physical symptoms appear, pause and try some grounding techniques. If your symptoms ease off once you’re more relaxed, you can be reassured that they were due to panic, not coronavirus.
Grounding techniques to try when you’re feeling anxious
When you’re having a panic attack, it’s key to slow your breathing, relax your body and mind, and bring yourself back to the present moment.
A common grounding technique is simply asking yourself to describe your surroundings. What can you see, smell, hear?
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is any easy one to remember. List five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
It can help to have something soothing to hand that stimulates one of your senses. Try listening to a song you know is relaxing or holding on to a soft blanket.
Try the categories game. List off your favourite places to eat (you can do this in your head if you’re in a public place and don’t feel like shouting ‘Nando’s’, all the minor Gossip Girl characters you can remember, good things that have happened this week.
Take deep, slow breaths in and out, counting in for four and out for four.
Remind yourself that this will pass.
But don’t feel silly for needing to call 111 regardless. If you’re seriously worried that you may be ill, it’s always worth getting a professional opinion – if only so you can have your suspicions that anxiety’s to blame confirmed.
‘Research has shown that women are more than twice as likely to suffer from anxiety attacks than men,’ says Dr Paglia. ‘A panic attack could easily be mistaken for the onset of Coronavirus, particularly in cases where there is already an underlying respiratory problem.
‘If you are aware that you suffer from panic attacks and suddenly experience chest pain or breathing difficulties without an accompanying cough or fever, it is unlikely that you are infected with the virus.
‘However, it is always advisable that you still contact 111, and the medical team will be able to make an informed decision about your condition.’
And if you do find yourself consistently experiencing high levels of anxiety amid the coronavirus pandemic, chat to your GP or therapist to see if medication or counselling could help. Many therapists will offer video counselling, so you don’t need to leave the house if you’re self-isolating.
WHO’s mental health advice during the coronavirus pandemic
Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that cause you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice.
Stay connected and maintain your social networks. Even in situations of isolations, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines. If health authorities have recommended limiting your physical social contact to contain the outbreak, you can stay connected via e-mail, social media, video conference and telephone.
During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective.
Read the full mental health guidance here.
Have you found a technique that works to reduce your anxiety? Get in touch to share it by emailing [email protected].
To talk about mental health in a private, judgement-free zone, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
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