Observations & meditations on modern life

Sick Days, Health Anxiety and Covid

I don’t do sick days very often, and my belief in the benefit of easily writing off the day is fairly controversial to say the least. 

When being sick or just feeling under the weather can have the benefit of giving us days off, a reason not to answer the phone, a reason to pamper ourselves, and a reason for other people to dote on us, our subconscious can slip into the pattern of belief that this is actually not something that we need to work to get out of. The “perks” of being unwell start to outweigh the perks to being absolutely fine, and then we start slipping into that dangerous zone of subconsciously wanting to be unwell. Sounds ridiculous, but think about it like this: 

A little kid gets sent home from school with a stomach ache. Mum and/or Dad rush home from work. Dinner is presented as comfort food, perhaps in front of the TV. Cuddles and blankets for the afternoon. No homework needs to be done. It’s acceptable to be in pyjamas at 4pm. You think the little kid’s stomach is perfectly fine by the next day? NO WAY! The stomach ache often gets TEN TIMES WORSE because it means another day full of all of those wonderful things.

The same goes for any sort of mental or physical discomfort. When the benefit of that discomfort is sorely needed, our subconscious will hang onto that discomfort as a way of being able to create an environment in which it can reap those benefits for as long as possible. This is why I don’t really like taking sick days or indulging sick days too often in the people closest to me. Not always – of course I recognise that sometimes, we do just need a sick day. Sometimes, a kid’s got to have a day off school. Sometimes, we just can’t go to work. But catch yourself if you start to get quite comfortable. Does your body need a break, or are we finding a reason to have a sofa day? Or is there something pending that we don’t really want to face just yet? All of the above is absolutely fine, but if the latter is the case then that’s what needs to be worked through as opposed to the stomach ache that is the presenting issue. 

So what’s the answer here? The answer is to ensure that we are getting those little comforts without the need to be unwell. Make sure you look after yourself even if you are seemingly OK. Check in on all those little characters inside of you to keep all aspects of yourself happy and cared for and then there will be no subconscious agenda to illness (and, to be perfectly honest, if there’s no subconscious agenda to illness then illness itself comes less often). Do things that make you happy. Practise gratitude. Be mindful of your needs before your body feels the need to cry for those needs to be met. 

Having said all of this, I took a sick day yesterday. And the day before that. And most of today. Sometimes your body tells you to slow down. Listen to it. If you don’t listen to it early on, you’ll end up taking consecutive days off to make up for it. I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and say that sometimes, I don’t spot those early signs and I continue to power through until the point at which I literally cannot. Something to work on, I know… 

However, whilst this may be the case, I realise that I’m pretty lucky to be able to say that my health doesn’t cause me much anxiety. In today’s world, that’s a real gift and I’m grateful for it. The ups and downs with health are natural and part of life is to experience these things rather than just know them to be true. But how has COVID-19 intensified health anxiety for some people?

Well, let’s start at the obvious beginning: scare tactics work. Political views aside, scaring the public into being cautious is going to work better than ‘friendly advice’. So, we’re living in a world where we are being TOLD to base our actions in fear because, sadly, common sense is a commodity that everybody has. This is problem number one: when we’re acting from a place of fear, the fear intensifies.

Second, the virus IS dangerous! It’s not a hoax or a myth that it is killing people. It really is killing people. Fear in the face of this is natural, not abnormal. Asking people NOT to be afraid is like asking someone not to be afraid of a loaded gun. Fear is natural, the challenge is in how we deal with it.

Is the answer to hide from the world and be scared to venture out for an indefinite period of time? Absolutely not. The virus is not going anywhere any time soon, and we can’t live in fear of it forever because that fear will seep into other parts of life and operating from that place of fear is categorically unhealthy.

What do we do about it? We make sustainable, realistic adjustments to our life. Wear a mask. Don’t hug lots of people. Be conscious of travel. Be conscious of those around you who may be more vulnerable to the virus than others. Start to recognise which parts of your life can be done virtually without it massively affecting your mental health.

Things are going to settle into a NEW version of normal. We can make it work. Don’t hanker for something you’ve had to let go, focus on what you would like to manifest into your New Normal rather than trying to recreate something from the past. When we try to recreate from the past, we go round in anxious circles because the truth of the matter is that we can’t recreate. We can only create. 

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2020
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Anjali Singh-Mitter | BA (Hons.), Dip. Hyp., Dip. CBT | GHR & GHSC, CNHC
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