Emotions have a profound impact on our health if we let them control us, versus managing them so we don’t get lost in them. This has been especially true with long COVID. Anger: brutal, long-lasting pain that nothing seems to relieve. Fear and anxiety: even worse than anger. Worry, frustration, sometimes even mild annoyances can interrupt whatever peace I’ve managed to find. I’m not sure why, although I suspect COVID sends our immune systems are in a hyperactive state fighting our diseased bodies. Healing requires vast amounts of energy, in my personal experience of this awful disease. Emotions do too. It almost feels like my body is sending signals to stop robbing my body of critical energy it needs to devote to COVID.
Learning to manage my emotions was essential to life in the early days of long COVID. I’m fortunate that I started a healing journey before my first COVID infection. I’d already made a non-negotiable conviction that I would find a way to heal myself from a lifetime of trauma. I learned to meditate and even astonished myself with learning it easily. I’d already tried countless times and failed. My strong conviction to learn was partially responsible for my success, but I believe grave illness played an even greater role by causing me to be more receptive and open to basically anything that brought relief. Meditation helps to ground me when emotions do take over, which happens a lot less after three years of regular practice abating them.
Learning to interrupt strong emotions is a daunting task, but it’s a simple process. Recognize the emotion. Do whatever it takes to quickly regain control after realizing I’ve lost it. My strategy in the early learning process was to pace, hands in front of me in prayer position, pressing against each other for resistance and pressing the sternum upward into its natural position. I’d pace and breathe until I was calm again. Then I meditate to explore what sparked the emotion, which was often anger in those days. I was angry at the world for “giving” me this illness and had been angry at life since early childhood. But I’d always been able to shake off anger once I calmed down. Forgive and move on, I believed. That’s not what I was doing. I was stuffing the anger inward, into my psyche and into the cells of my body.
With long COVID, I quickly learned that manner of coping is not sustainable. Rather, I wasn’t sustainable unless I learned to get control early in the process, before I found myself on my knees in the floor, sobbing uncontrollably and wanting to die. Uncontrolled emotions and long COVID are not compatible. One exacerbates the other.
You can’t just turn off emotions. They’ll eat you alive if you try. Physical pain was all the motivation I needed to find ways of interrupting and processing strong emotions immediately, rather than letting them take up residence in my mind and body. I’ll talk about anger, since it was the most bothersome emotion, possibly because it induces the most gruesome pain, or perhaps because I spent too many years practicing it. I already realized I had to be careful not to ignore and cram it in. That’s my natural tendency, to scoop myself up, pretend nothing ever happened, and resume life as normal.
The only other option is to examine it until it becomes the mirror reflecting back a life lesson I need. We can huff and puff and blame other people all we want, but when you get right down to it, no one can be responsible for my emotions except me. Someone mean to me? I can choose anger, which will harm me and only me. I made a hard rule for myself early in this disease: I will never again self-harm. I’ve done it my whole life. No more. Anger is self-harm; it causes or intensifies pain. Ergo, I refuse to tolerate it. That’s how simple it is. In concept. In practice, it’s a real doozie. Practice makes perfect though. I pause to “find a lesson” in the harmful emotions, even minor annoyances, exercising that not-angry muscle of accepting what happens, learning something from it, integrating those lessons into my coping skills, then letting the emotion go before it starts growing roots in my body and mind. Over and over, every time I find an opportunity, I spend focused time on turning the emotion around. I falter, of course. I’m human, after all. But now I can reset without disrupting a whole day or worse, and improve my disposition on life in the process. Win-win.
As bad as the harmful emotions are for my COVID symptoms, positive emotions can lift me out of pain completely. I practice gratitude twice a day as a matter of habit and whenever I need a boost throughout my day. The first thing I do every morning is a morning meditation, which always includes gratitude. It is perhaps the most fulfilling emotion I’ve experienced. It’s cleansing and refreshing, and it can lift me from practically any funk. After months of practicing gratitude regularly, I started finding gratitude even in this illness. Not gratitude for the illness; I don’t think that’s possible. I’m grateful for lessons I couldn’t have discovered otherwise, like how to manage anger, for instance. I actively seek joy, reasons to laugh. When I find them, I soak them up, renewing myself. Actively seeking out and engaging with uplifting emotions is an incredibly healing experience.
A crisp morning breeze. A warm cup of tea. Birdsong. A child’s laughter. Simple pleasures within most everyone’s reach. We just have to notice them. It won’t cure me, but being open to joy makes all my moments easier.
May you find joy, gratitude, and peace in your journey.