COVID-19 positive – supporting your mental wellbeing

Having a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 might make you feel anxious, concerned or uncertain about your illness, what to expect and the isolation involved.

On this page, you can find the following information:

Need help now? 

You can phone or text 1737 anytime day or night to talk with a trained counsellor. For mental health emergencies or immediate help call your local Crisis Team or 111. 

You can also find a range of mental health phone lines and support services here.

Feeling low or down about having COVID or having to isolate is a normal response. That means it’s more important than ever to know the key steps to managing your mental health. Resilience is the ability to adapt well to any challenges and stress you may face in life. The more resilient you are, the more you will feel able to bounce back from difficult experiences. Here are some videos about how people have recovered after experiencing COVID-19.

Aotearoa e te toa! COVID-19 and your mental health and wellbeing


(Health Navigator NZ, in partnership with Northland DHB & Ministry of Health, 2022)

View transcript.

What should I expect with a COVID-19 diagnosis?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 you must self-isolate for at least 7 days while you recover. Day 0 is the day your symptoms started or when you tested positive, whichever came first. Your Household Contacts are advised to test every day for at least 5 days. 

Read more about what to expect with a COVID-19 infection.

How might having COVID-19 affect my mental wellbeing?

It’s understandable to feel sad, distressed, worried, confused, anxious or angry if you have the COVID-19 virus and are unwell. Everyone reacts differently and some may find this time more challenging than others.

You may notice you are feeling more anxious, your mood is low, or you are feeling or behaving differently from how you usually do. Also, being unwell means that you may not be able to tend to your regular responsibilities, which can be worrying. You may be concerned with changes to your daily situation such as a lack of income or not having support to take care of your tamariki, parents or pets. It's important that you take care of yourself first though – the sooner you are better, the sooner you can be there for others as well.

There is help and financial support available if you are isolating with COVID-19.

How can I take care of my mental wellbeing with COVID-19?

When you have COVID-19, the physical symptoms of the illness may be obvious and are important to monitor, but taking care of your mental health and wellbeing is also important. 

The Māori holistic model of health, Te Whare Tapa Whā, reminds you to take care of all the different aspects of your life to support your wellbeing.

Image credit: NukuOra, NZ

By looking after and strengthening all aspects of Te Whare Tapa Whā, you support your own health and wellbeing, as well as the health and wellbeing of your whānau. Read more about Te Whare Tapa Whā and wellbeing. 

Do the things that boost mental health 

Stay connected

He waka eke noa – we’re all in this together. Even when you're isolating you can still be in touch by text, social media, phone calls and video calls. You can talk to your neighbours over the fence or on the street – just stay 2 metres away from them.

Reach out to your usual supports over the phone – family and whānau, friends and workmates. Be in touch more often with the people you care about. Make sure they’re doing okay and that will help you too.

Get creative: arrange a morning cup of tea time with your elderly parent while you chat on the phone or read a book to your grandchild over a video call. You can also have an end of day social message chat with a friend each night and a video conference get together on Friday night with all your mates.

Breathe and be present

Knowing how to use your breathing to calm your nervous system is a key tool in your wellbeing kit. Taking a long, slow breath in, holding it for a few seconds and then slowly, slowly breathing out really makes a difference. Try the breathing exercises at Hikitia Te Hā All Right?

Being mindful helps you focus on yourself and reduces the build-up of tension, stress and anxiety. The more you practise being mindful, the more you benefit from it.

Check out the resources, including a daily practice, as well as videos and apps to get you started, in our mindfulness section. 

Reach out 

While you are isolating, reach out to your GP if you are feeling unwell and your mental health is getting worse. They will be able to assist you, and there are other mental health support services you can contact. We also have a list of mental health and wellbeing apps. 

Avoid news overload

Try to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed. Even better, try a week without reading the news. You may be surprised how much better you feel not viewing all the negative messages and how much time you save. 

Reduce screen time

The internet can be a lifeline when you are isolating with COVID: many people with mild symptoms, or those isolating with others in the whare can continue to work at home and earn a living. You can find information about the COVID-19 situation and access help or support through it.

And of course, you can entertain yourself with streamed moves, gaming, YouTube videos and much more. But you can have too much of a good thing!

Researchers have found that the amount of screen time can predict the depression level among adults. For children and adolescents, more hours of daily screen time were associated with lower psychological well-being, and teenagers who are high users are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Take regular breaks from the screen and help others in your household do so as well: Try a card game, make something, bake something, fix something, organise something, clean something – anything that gets you moving and gets you off the screen.

Avoid alcohol and drug use

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or don’t drink alcohol at all. Avoid using alcohol and drugs as a way of dealing with fear, anxiety, boredom and loneliness or social isolation. It will make things worse, not better.

There is no evidence of any protective effect of drinking alcohol for viral or other infections. In fact, the opposite is true as the harmful use of alcohol is associated with increased risk of infections and worse treatment outcomes.

Find the lighter moments

No-one’s denying isolation and dealing with COVID (either you or your loved ones) is stressful, but even in times like this there are still moments that can uplift us.

Make a point of doing something that you find enjoyable and heart-lifting:

  • Re-read a favourite book or watch a favourite movie.
  • Korero about your family history. 
  • Chat to a friend.
  • Find something beautiful in nature each day in your garden, or out your window.
  • Bring a flower inside.
  • Listen to music – choose something that will uplift you if you’re feeling a bit low or bored, or pick something calming if you’re starting to feel anxious.
  • Give your other senses some stimulation too – stroke a pet, notice smells on your walk or in your garden. Have variety in your meals, including some that really stimulate your taste buds.

Seek spiritual comfort

Enhance your wairua by turning to your cultural or spiritual practices that connect you to a sense of purpose and meaning. It may be accepting care from the others around you, or pets or the environment you're in. It may be a formal practice, such as meditation or prayer. You may need to find online services to replace your usual community gatherings. And remember, you are showing manaakitanga by taking care of people by staying away from them! 

Accept the situation

If you're COVID-positive, understand that you have a viral infection and your body is fighting it. Everyone will feel different in their recovery – some people may recover in days, some in weeks, while for a few it could be months. Read more about long COVID.

Some things are out of your hands – and in this case, you can’t do much about the existence of COVID-19. But there are things you can do:

  • Stay at home and stay away from others to keep them safe.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve so you don't spread the virus (or other bugs).
  • Wear a face mask when you are around other people.

Knowing what you can control and what you can’t control helps to cope through times like this. Focusing on what you can do in a challenging situation helps to make you stronger.

Your environment and your mental health

Your physical space and how it feels can really help:

  • A shower or bath can make you feel better.
  • Change your bed linen – fresh sheets feel great.
  • Let fresh air and sunlight into rooms.
  • Vapour rubs can help and some people find the smell comforting.
  • A hot drink of water, tea or coffee and your favourite pair of slippers can be comforting.

It's all about doing things that make you feel good and support your body to recover.

Your physical health affects your mental wellbeing

Looking after your body as you recover from COVID-19 is a way to look after your mental health. Make it a priority to get enough sleep, try some gentle exercise and have regular nutritious meals. This is because sleep, exercise and diet are all linked to how you feel emotionally.

Rest and drink plenty of fluid

By resting, your body will be able to devote more energy to fighting the virus. Resting gives your body the opportunity to focus on strengthening your immune system. Keeping hydrated by drinking plenty of water is also important – being dehydrated can add to feelings of tiredness, fatigue, low energy and low mood.   

Get enough sleep

You may not have the routine that going to work or looking after children provides, however, a good routine helps with good sleep. Take naps whenever you need to, as your body recovers. Aim for regular bedtimes and waking times to set your body clock into a rhythm, making it easier to get to sleep each night.

Resist the temptation to stay up late streaming movies and go to bed at about the same time each night. Read more sleep tips. 

Avoid strenuous exercise

If you have a fever, body aches, tiredness, fatigue or other symptoms, such as a stomach ache or cough, it's best to rest for a few days until your symptoms ease.

Even if you have a mild COVID-19 infection, avoid running, strenuous exercise and high-impact activities. As you recover, you can gently ease into exercise with arm raises, sitting and standing or marching. You can also go for a gentle walk or stretch your legs outdoors if you feel up to it. Just remember to stay masked and keep your distance from others. Read more about how to return to exercising after you have had COVID or the winter flu. 

Eat a healthy diet

The link between food and mood is clear – what you eat affects not only your physical health but also your mental health. 

Eating some foods can improve your mood and mental wellbeing, while other foods can have a negative impact on how you feel. 

The key is to choose a diet high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and fish, with smaller portions of lean meat and dairy – and to limit those sugary, salty and processed foods. Read more about food and mood. 

Take medicines to ease your symptoms

Although there is no specific cure for COVID-19, there are treatments that can ease symptoms such as cough, fever, body aches and diarrhoea (runny poo/hamuti). Many people find taking regular paracetamol and/or ibuprofen helps. Your GP or local pharmacist may be able to suggest medicines to ease your symptoms. Helping ease your symptoms may enable you to feel better and have a better night’s sleep. Read more about how to manage your symptoms when you have COVID-19. 

Antivirals can be prescribed to people with COVID-19 who have symptoms, are at risk of severe illness and are more likely to need hospital care due to underlying risks. Get in touch with your GP or healthcare provider early to see if any of the antiviral medicines are right for you. 

Keep taking your regular medicines

If you are taking any regular medicine/s for a health condition, keep taking them. Keeping your long-term conditions under control is important to helping you to recover from COVID-19.

Try to stick to your normal routine

Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. When you are sick, this routine will change but, as you recover, it will make going back to normal easier. 

Here are some other resources to support your mental wellbeing. 

References 

  1. How does anxiety affect sleep?  National Sleep Foundation, US
  2. Madhav KC, Sherchand SP, Sherchan S. Association between screen time and depression among US adults Prev Med Rep. 2017;8:67–71. 
  3. Twenge JM, Campbell WK. Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents – evidence from a population-based study. Prev Med Rep. 2018;12:271–283. 
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Janine Bycroft, GP, Auckland Last reviewed: 13 Jul 2022