‘Take it slowly, and you get there.’
This page contains our advice for living well despite the difficulties of having a long-term health condition during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s based on the experiences of people with long-term health conditions and our knowledge about wellbeing.
Living with a long-term health condition, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be stressful. Some patients have described feeling:
· Anxious or worried
· Frustrated or angry
· Lonely, isolated or disconnected
· Loss or grief
· Hopeless or tired
TIP: SET MANAGEABLE GOALS
Returning to activities that you did before the pandemic can feel overwhelming. You might feel out-of-practice, lacking confidence, or weaker. It may also feel that you are still restricted and that your choices are limited by your health condition. But, there are things you can do to make things safer and easier. Setting goals that are realistic or
focusing on things that you can change is helpful. This is because knowing that you have something to aim for can provide you with motivation, enjoyment and purpose.
WHAT IS ANXIETY AND WORRY?
Anxiety is a normal response to danger. It is our body’s natural alarm and is designed to prepare us for action, either by fighting danger or escaping.
Whilst anxiety is a normal response, it is not always helpful. It can be uncomfortable or distressing. It can also make you think that your health condition is getting worse even though it is not. Many of the signs of anxiety can be similar to the symptoms of a health condition. For example, we may feel dizzy, have chest pain, shortness of breath, feel that our heart is speeding up, or feel weak. People often mistake these feelings as a symptom of their condition when they’re actually a normal sign of anxiety and are not harmful.
Some people may therefore start to avoid situations that make them anxious, believing that it is not safe for them. For example, they may avoid exercising or leaving the house. The problem with this is that the more we avoid doing something, the more anxious we become about facing the situation in the future. This is why it is important to learn to recognise the difference between feeling anxious and the symptoms related to your health condition.
TIP: LEARN TO SPOT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANXIETY AND SYMPTOMS OF YOUR HEALTH CONDITION
Paying attention to when you get anxious can help you to recognise the difference between feeling anxious and the symptoms related to your health condition.
· What was I doing before I felt like this?
· What was going through my head?
· Could this feeling be anxiety or a symptom of my health condition?
TIP: FACE YOUR FEARS
Lockdowns and the shielding programme have meant that we have had to stay inside more than normal. This kept us safe before we had COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments.
Most people with health conditions can now safely go out and visit loved ones (depending on the latest government advice, of course). However, you might have lost a lot of your confidence about coping with the symptoms of your health condition when away from home.
The best way to regain this confidence is by gradually doing more things outside. As you do this, you’ll learn more about what you can do.
TIP: STEP INTO YOUR LEARNING ZONE
Living with a health condition is like a balancing act. You constantly need to work out realistic limits of what you can and can’t do. For most people, it will still be important to move around and get outside. This may be uncomfortable: your heart may beat faster, and you may start to breathe heavier, and this can feel scary.
However, pushing yourself a little bit beyond your comfort zone will help you get stronger and gain confidence. This is called the learning zone. It’s important to find a balance, of course, since pushing yourself too much may be overwhelming and put you off. This is where you go beyond the learning zone and into the danger zone.
TIP: TALK TO OTHERS
Talking with others can help us feel less alone. This might be difficult, as some people worry that they’ll be burdening others with their problems.
However, when people do open up about problems, they realise that others might have the same, or very similar, issues or feelings. It’s usually a relief to learn that you’re not the only person who felt scared, alone or hopeless. You might also learn about things that others found helpful or be able to advise them on things that you’ve learnt.
If it’s not possible for you to talk to family or friends, then let your clinician know. They might be able to direct you to professional support to help you manage difficult thoughts and feelings.
TIP: REWARD YOURSELF
Living with a long-term condition takes courage, acceptance and effort. It’s therefore important to set yourself realistic goals by breaking things down into achievable steps.
To help sustain this, you might need to reward yourself for achieving your goals and doing things you find fun or enjoyable. Without these things, you might lose your motivation, asking ‘what’s the point?’ and feeling burnt-out.
It can be helpful to write down what you achieved that day or what you’re grateful for, however small. This might seem strange if you’re frustrated by the limits of your condition, but it can help you learn to let go of what you can’t do and focus on what is still possible. Most people find this gives them more motivation.
King’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
This is a service that offers support, information and assistance to patients, relatives and visitors. They can also provide help and advice if you have a concern or complaint that staff have not been able to resolve for you.
The PALS office is located on the ground floor of the Hambleden Wing, Kings College Hospital. Staff will be happy to direct you.
Tel: 020 3299 3601 Fax: 020 3299 3626 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This information was produced by psychologists and psychiatrists within the Integrated Psychosocial Team for Cardiorespiratory (IPTC) at King’s College Hospital. Illustrations by Saffie Patel.