In recent weeks, I’ve had a young family member become pretty sick. Sounds awful right? Well, the absolute worst part is that every test undergone has shown that there is nothing wrong. How can that be when the symptoms are alarmingly prevalent, enough to have brought us to the ER three separate times?
It slowly became apparent that this could be long-haul covid. Yes, after getting the virus in April and being vaccinated, 4 months later a healthy, secure and vibrant person became bedridden with chest pains + palpitations, shortness of breath, blurred vision, cold sweats, hand tremors, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea and brain fog- to name a few.
What did the doctors in the ER’s have to say? “There’s nothing wrong with you, go home.” What did the primary doctor say? Maybe it’s vertigo (no) maybe it’s anxiety? Huh, maybe?
Anxiety came up in most of the visits and it just didn’t feel right that a solid and even-tempered person could suddenly become buried under anxiety issues. If you Google “Long Haul Covid,” we dealt with just about every symptom mentioned.
In my quest to learn more about how anxiety is one of the top long haul covid side effects, I reached out to Lucie Dickenson, who has written many articles on this topic and is the author of the Anxious Hippie, The Anxious Hippie Handbook and co-author of “Worry-free ABC’s” with her daughter Colleen.
Here is our conversation:
1- Anxiety from being isolated- before our experience, I had heard that the shutdown and the inability to be around other people caused anxiety to rise. What has your experience been with the isolation aspect?
Thank you, Tracey, for reaching out. As a certified Functional Nutrition coach and anxiety expert, I believe we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of those silently suffering with mental health and physical health issues due to the pandemic.
When you reached out, I advised I had already had many calls about this “mysterious” anxiety happening post-COVID recovery. This is not surprising to me because anxiety is all about when our level of stress becomes too high and unmanageable. When our stress comes to this point, we begin to experience symptoms, and those symptoms can be labeled as anxiety.
So, to answer your question about isolation and its impact on our mental health, I want to shout out with a resounding YES! We are social beings; families, jobs, schools, communities are all part of who we are and how we identify our place in this world. I believe when we are isolated, the very fabric of who we believe ourselves to be, and what we valued, was ripped out from under us. We were left to figure out a new way of “being” without any guidelines or directions. This overwhelming and immense change to our daily lives was not a gradual stressor, but a sudden shift that caused incredible external and internal stress. And if you remember from above, anxiety is stress gone wild. The lockdown was a unanimous happening that we all felt, and was the beginning of an isolated way of living. We have learned to adapt, as best we can. For some that means continuing to isolate, for others, it is fear when being around others, and still for others it evokes emotion; like anger, sadness or rage. Then there are those that seemingly are floating around, able to adjust to the twists and turns of the forever changing rules and regulations. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, everyone has been touched by the stress of this pandemic.
My personal experience has been one of observation and acceptance. Because I have delt with anxiety in the past, my coping skills are quite strong. However, I am human, and there have been a number of times that I have cried in my pillow trying to sort the emotions of how isolation has transmuted my life and the lives of the people I love. I believe this to be healthy. To allow all the emotions that are inside to come out and give yourself the opportunity and the permission to feel exactly as you are. When you allow your emotions to come out, and you accept and love yourself exactly as you are, you release the stress that has built up inside.
This is how I am choosing to help others with isolation; by letting them know it is okay not to be okay. To feel what needs to be felt. To let go of what they are keeping within to be seemingly strong. This pandemic has forced us to pivot in ways we may not have ever imagined such as not seeing family members, working from home and endless news loops. By allowing yourself to feel it, you release it.
And remember, if you are feeling like you are alone and/or feeling anxious or sad, please reach out for help. Therapists and doctors can be a light in the darkness!
2- Long haul covid- in my own experience, I have a family member who 5 months after having covid presented with almost crippling anxiety. This is happening to someone who never had anxiety before. Are you seeing that as well?
These are the exact people that are reaching out to me. People who were always able to keep their stress levels in check. People, in the past, who looked at me puzzled when I spoke about anxiety and said they have never felt that way or just couldn’t understand. Of course, they couldn’t, they were unknowingly amazing at balancing their stress.
Unfortunately, these are the people that are most surprised by post-COVID anxiety, because they never experienced anything even close to these symptoms in their bodies before.
Remember, anxiety is elevated stress. And stress is not just mental. It can be physical stress. When your body is dealing with being sick; that takes a toll physically. This physical toll can create stress. And repeated stressors can eventually create an “overflow” to your life’s barrel.
Well, I am going to say that COVID was a big splash in your barrel and filled it up rather quickly.
And to continue with this analogy, when you are overflowing, you begin to get symptoms.
And the symptoms can become anxiety. And anxiety can seem debilitating because you are trying to rid yourself of the anxiety, but that just creates more anxiety. And before long, it seems like the anxiety is taking over your life.
My advice is to accept the anxiety and instead work on taking the water out of your overflowing barrel. You can’t undo the fact that you had COVID, but there are other stressors that you can remove. For example, getting a good night’s sleep, eating nutritionally dense food, exercising and turning off excessive news. All of these examples will bring the water level down in your life barrel, and in time you will notice the anxiety seemingly melts away.
3- We mentioned long-haul covid to the ER doctors and the primary doctor- none were ready to even consider this could be the case. It was incredibly frustrating! Why are doctors not adding this to their possible diagnosis procedures?
I cannot answer this for sure, but I do know that this is new to us all, even the medical community, and we are learning every day. When we know more, we can do more. It is super frustrating. I get it. Anxiety is frustrating enough. and to not see the symptoms of anxiety being linked to the result of having COVID can seem baffling. But, until that happens, my thoughts are to concentrate on where we do have power, and that is in lowering our own stress. By doing that we hold the power of getting well.
4- In your own experience, have you seen that anxiety is a long-haul covid symptom?
I have definitely witnessed people dealing with anxiety after having COVID. I cannot say if it is a direct result of the COVID virus, and a long-haul symptom, because I am not a doctor. I do know anxiety though. Anxiety, we know by now, is elevated stress; be it physical, emotional or spiritual. Whatever gets thrown into your stress barrel causes your barrel to rise, so my thoughts are that COVID creates such an overflow in some people’s barrels, that they are unable to deal with the barrage of symptoms that begin once they are over the virus.
When we are in the midst of fighting COVID, we are physically and emotionally vested in getting well. Then, when we are feeling better, our bodies and mind have some time to process what has just happened, and this is when stressors begin to pop up. Can start with something as simple as stomach aches or can be as scary as heart flips, dizziness or panic attacks.
Anxiety is like nailing Jell-O to a wall. Why? The symptoms of are endless, so no one’s constellation of symptoms are ever the same. That in and of itself can cause even more fear, because you are scared that maybe something is seriously wrong with you. It is important to go to a doctor and get checked out (and even get a second opinion to be sure) and if they say it is anxiety, know it is. And know you can overcome it. Here is a list of symptoms just to show the vastness of how anxiety can express itself. www.luciedickenson.com/symptoms
5- In your experience, what advice would you give someone suffering from post covid anxiety?
Well before COVID, I was shuffled around from doctor to doctor trying to find out what was “wrong” with me. So, the advice I would give is to first know, there is nothing wrong with you. You are perfect and amazing. What is going on is elevated stress. It can be scary and almost unbelievable. And unless you are or have experienced this, it seems like I may be exaggerating. But for those suffering, they know what anxiety can do to their mind and body and how incredibly alarming it can be.
I can only imagine what having debilitating anxiety feels like in the middle of a pandemic!
My advice is to go within and take control of what you can and let go of the idea of trying to fix yourself. Because you are not broken.
First, your diet. If you are trying to “lessen your load’ of stress, it is important to know that food can be nourishing or your greatest stressor. When dealing with anxiety, I recommend first taking caffeine, sugar and white flour out of your diet. It takes so much for your body to process foods filled with these substances that anxiety can get exacerbated, Also, you may find that you may have food sensitivities. Actually, you may have always had them, it was that this trauma of COVID triggered the underlying sensitivity. To know if you have sensitivities or low tolerance for foods, begin a food journal and see if there is a connection between what you eat and your symptoms. For me, I had to let go of gluten, dairy and caffeine. But we are all unique so see what works for you.
Second, there is no better helper for anxiety than exercise. It sounds so simple and obvious, that sometimes it is overlooked. Get outside. Get in nature. Bike. Walk. Run. Swim. Whatever works for you. There are no right or wrong answers here. It is about getting your body moving.
Third, meditate. There are a couple of fabulous apps; a few to mention are Calm and Headspace.
If you don’t like working with an app, try a class or meditate on your own. I like to go to the lake by my house and be still. If you can’t get outside, meditate in the morning before you get out of bed, or before bed. There are no rules. Just time to sit with your thoughts and accept them all. As you train your brain to accept, the anxiety does not seem as scary.
And lastly, find what works for you. There is not one single way to lessen your stress level and overcome the symptoms of anxiety. See what you are drawn to; and what you repel form. If it does not feel right, don’t do it. If it feels good, do more of it. Trusting yourself and your decisions are part of healing. You are amazing. You are powerful. You got this!!
I have three best-selling books that help adults and children with anxiety. You can find them on my website www.luciedickenson.com . I also can do one-on-one sessions with you if you want help with anxiety, just complete the contact form on my website.
Wishing you health and happiness. Remember, we are here to help one another.