COVID has been lingering on our shores for more than 2 years now and when it finally caught up with me about a month ago, it hit me like a truck. My symptoms were anything but mild. It took a physical toll on my body and affected my energy levels long after I tested negative. It was a trying time and as my physical health declined, I noticed my mood dipping and my mental well-being wavering. That served as an alarm bell for me and I focused all my efforts intentionally on holistic recovery. As we move into a largely mask-free Singapore, some of us might find ourselves contracting COVID after dodging it for all this time or even contracting it for the second or third time. Others might find some underlying health conditions emerge. In this blog post, I want to share with you the key points that helped me through that challenging period.
Be compassionate towards yourself
Cut yourself some slack. You’re going to function at a different level (perhaps more compromised) than before, and that’s okay. Regardless of what health condition you’re struggling with, the reality is that the virus does have a negative impact on the body and it can manifest in different ways. For me, it meant drastically reduced stamina and energy, shortness of breath which meant that engaging in my normal activities was doubly hard. Each of us has a certain energy reserve and when our body is trying to fight a virus, large bouts of that energy goes into those efforts, naturally leaving us weaker. Fighting against yourself is creating needless tension, increasing your stress hormones and ultimately working against your recovery.
So instead, I want to encourage you to be kind to yourself, ‘It’s okay to rest. it’s okay to feel like I’m not in tip top condition.’ Sometimes, it’s easier to be compassionate when it comes to aspects that are visible for example actual injuries, fever, flu, sore throat etc. But when its aspects like energy levels, which is not as visible, we might wonder whether we are just being lazy, whether we are making a big deal out of nothing. Don’t doubt yourself, there is absolutely no need to justify why you don’t feel as well yet when you’re coping with an illness. You have been inhabiting your body for such a long time, trust yourself. Your body is communicating with you, listen to its cues and be compassionate towards yourself.
Be mindful of your thoughts
Even though the illness impacts us physically, we function as holistic beings and more often that not, our psychological state also gets impacted. Pay attention to your thoughts and you might notice that when the body is tired or feeling unwell, mood-congruent thoughts are common, thoughts that are tinged with negativity might creep in. Loneliness might intensify, thoughts like ‘nobody cares about me’ or ‘I’m useless’ might come in. Thoughts that might be easy to fend off on normal days might come in like a wrecking ball when you’re vulnerable. It’s tough but take a deep breath, put some distance between you and those thoughts, recognise that they may not be true, and hold off on making any important decisions till you feel better. It is tempting to accept the thoughts as facts when they feel so true but be mindful of them and don’t let them go unfiltered.
Be willing to express your needs openly to others
Realistically, when you’re unwell, there are things you just cannot do for yourself. In addition to practical tasks, there is also the yearning for emotional support, for someone to be around. It is not embarrassing to ask someone for help. Reach out and connect to friends, loved ones, let them care for you. Make life easier for them by telling them exactly what you need, don’t expect the other person to know what you need. That could potentially open up misunderstandings or resentment – experiences you don’t need when you are already feeling unwell.
Cultivate a sense of gratitude
Negative feelings abound when we are physically or psychologically vulnerable. When I was recovering from COVID, I found myself yearning for some positive feelings, some joy, some light that could cut through the heaviness. I accessed it when I started looking around and acknowledging things I was grateful for (friends and loved ones that care, a quiet and peaceful house I could recover in, affordable and accessible medical help). Days went by easier and I felt happier when I made an effort to be grateful and appreciate the little things that I might otherwise take for granted (the ability to taste the wonderful flavours of food, the ability to move around without panting or aching). Whenever we take the time to focus on things that we are grateful for, we are actively generating positive ‘buzzes’ for ourselves in our brain. Basking in positive feelings has been shown to contribute to the maintenance of good physical health. By focusing on cultivating a sense of gratitude, we are focusing on our psychological and physical health. Take note that being grateful does not mean invalidating our suffering or our negative experiences, it is an additional intentional effort to acknowledging our reality.
Hold on to hope
Holding on to the hope that this challenging period would eventually pass helped me push through days that seemed impossible.
‘This is just temporary’
‘This will be over soon’
These were the mantras I held onto. Even as some of you might be struggling with COVID or other chronic conditions, I encourage you to hold onto hope that the worst days would be over soon.