Managing health anxiety through Covid-19 - and how we helped Mike
Mike is a young UK-based surveyor who has suffered with anxiety on and off for as long as he can remember. Mike had recently qualified as a chartered surveyor, was in a settled relationship and looking forward to the future when his partner became seriously ill.
Their world became full of hospital visits, tests and procedures as Mike cared for him at home.
Mike noticed he was getting more and more anxious with each visit and every letter or phone call from the hospital, but tried to put his feelings to one side so he didn’t affect his partner or show how worried he was.
Over several months, Mike’s partner slowly deteriorated and sadly they were told he didn’t have long to live. With a growing succession of carers and health professionals coming and going from the house, and a fear of the future, Mike’s anxiety escalated even further.
When his partner sadly passed away, Mike struggled with his sense of loss but didn’t know where to begin to get his own life back on track, and he decided to seek counselling through LionHeart.
We began by exploring his feelings around the loss of his partner and his grief. Mike explained he hadn’t felt able to be honest about just how frightened he was of losing him as he didn’t want to upset him and, in a way, speaking about death felt like he was ‘giving up’ too soon.
Mike said his anxiety had become more noticeable during his partner’s illness, but that this had escalated to quite a debilitating level since their death. We began to understand that the trigger for this anxiety was his own health: having developed a sense of heightened awareness when his partner was ill, Mike himself became acutely aware of anything happening within his body that felt out of the ordinary.
We needed to try and address some of the immediate impact of Mike’s anxiety, which sometimes left him feeling unable to work or function properly. He started to use some mindfulness activities. He enjoyed painting, and these activities together with some meditation techniques started to help him reduce the stress and anxiety he was feeling.
Using CBT techniques we also started to look at the beliefs and feelings that were are the core of Mike’s anxiety, and Mike found using a thought record helpful for doing this.
There was a setback when, part way through our counselling sessions, news coverage of coronavirus started to escalate and the country went into lockdown mode. This meant that Mike’s health related anxiety started to spiral again and a large part of his coping mechanisms had also been removed.
We talked through how he might adapt his coping strategies for lockdown. As physical exercise was proving to be a big release for him, he decided to buy some exercise equipment to use at home. Meditation and relaxation exercises were also beneficial, while we talked about resilience and what Mike could try and do if things didn’t go according to plan.
In his final few sessions Mike began to get more insight into his anxiety and ways he could help control it with the strategies we put in place. While in some ways he is still at the beginning of his journey, he has found counselling has helped him to process some of his feelings of loss and better control the feelings of anxiety that were taking over his life.
Mark Hodson MBACP is one of the LionHeart staff counsellors.