“This morning I felt tired, maybe a sore throat, was it a hint of a headache?” tweeted Deputy Editor Shayla Love, who noted her boyfriend had recently tested positive. “I took the test, it was negative, I immediately felt 100% fine.”
“It’s funny how you start to feel better once that covid test comes back negative,” another person tweeted.
For some experts, this experience reflects the connection between body and mind. “We learned that social, emotional and behavioral factors influence health,” said Kaz Nelson, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “This mind-body connection should not be underestimated. It’s real and it’s very powerful.
But before we explore the mind-body connection when it comes to coronavirus testing, Nelson and other experts want us to point out that testing methods aren’t 100% reliable and that rapid home antigen tests are widely used, in particular, can produce false negatives that lead people to mistakenly believe they are not infectious.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that covid symptoms, whether from acute infections or “long covid,” are not “imaginary symptoms that we can just imagine,” Nelson said. “There is a real health problem at hand, a real consequence for the neurological system and other organ systems in the body.”
The key question, she said, is, “How do we understand this powerful mind-body connection” in the context of all the other sources of information we have?
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To have a “nuanced understanding” of the different ways people might react to testing and other realities of living with covid-19, it is essential to recognize the effects of the pandemic on our lives, wrote Lekeisha Sumner, psychologist clinician, in an email.
“The public has had to deal with the effects of considerable uncertainty, mixed public health messaging, stigma and fears associated with infection, changes in our social and economic circumstances, prolonged fears of contagion, changes in daily routines and grief associated with startling changes. sickness and death rates – while supposed to operate at pre-pandemic levels,” Sumner wrote. “We live with extraordinarily high levels of prolonged stress levels with fragmented social networks.”
Worrying about contracting covid, in particular, is often a major source of stress for many people – and the human body can react to certain stressors with physiological responses, said Rosalind Dorlen, a clinical psychologist and member of the department. of Psychiatry at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ
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“The whole climate of covid has activated stress responses,” Dorlen said, due to the ramifications of infection. After all, a positive or negative result could mean the difference between continuing to live or having to self-isolate – and potentially developing more serious consequences of an infection, such as a long covid.
“Whenever our brain anticipates the consequences of something, then assesses the threat, and then deals with or focuses on that threat, it can actually influence the person’s experience. [physical] symptoms,” Nelson said. “When this threat is removed, it actually leads to relief and decreased sensitivity to the body and symptoms.”
Certain regions of the brain are responsible for sensing unpleasant stimuli, such as pain, while other regions are involved in the emotional response to those sensations and how you pay attention to them, Nelson said. This emotional response, she says, can increase or decrease a person’s sensitivity to physical sensations. She added that a negative coronavirus test is a “social-emotional behavioral cue that causes relief” and could alter a person’s emotional response to their symptoms.
For example, Dorlen said, if you take several deep breaths or say to yourself, “Oh, I’m fine,” after receiving a negative result, you may feel your stress and anxiety begin to decrease.
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Another possible explanation for why you might feel better after testing negative could relate to the nature of the symptoms, said Albert Ko, chair of the department of microbial disease epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. Common mild symptoms, such as a sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, or feeling tired, can have a variety of causes, many of which “are very transient,” he said.
“You wake up in the morning, you probably have a stuffy nose from allergies. You get postnasal drip. You have a sore throat,” he said. “Then you get tested and the symptoms would probably go away because most sore throats and postnasal drip get better during the day.”
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Still, Ko said, just because you test negative and you feel better doesn’t mean you can be absolutely sure you don’t have covid. “If you test negative, but you strongly suspect you’ve been exposed, you should get another test” a day or two later, he said.
Of those using rapid antigen tests, “there are a lot of people who show false negatives even when they have covid,” Nelson said. “If your symptoms are decreasing and it’s a false negative test, that of course goes against our goals of infection mitigation and control.”
Actions, she said, should be informed by multiple sources of information other than testing, including physical symptoms, risk of exposure and rates of community spread. “These are all sources of information that you want to consider in how you make choices about your behavior.”
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