How to Cope After Learning Someone You Care About Tested Positive for COVID-19

If you are reading this page, it is likely that you know someone that has tested positive for COVID-19 or is suspected to have it. Prior to this moment, along with feeling shocked and fearful as you saw the number of COVID-19 cases increase throughout the country and the world, there may have also been some comfort and security knowing that those you cared most about were safe.

But now that someone close to you has tested positive or is demonstrating symptoms of COVID-19, that sense of safety, comfort, and security may be shattered in a way you never imagined it could be. Regardless of whether it was a family member, friend, mentor, roommate, or romantic partner—learning that someone you know tested positive or is showing symptoms of COVID-19 can bring up a range of emotions, some of which may include:

  • Relief about finally knowing what is underlying their symptoms
  • Fear for what this could mean for their health
  • Constant worrying about whether they will recover, need to be hospitalized, or make it through this
  • Guilt for wondering if you have been exposed and what this means for your health
  • Anger or frustration if they didn’t take this seriously or were declined testing

We at CAPS wish we could provide surefire ways to get through this moment and reassure you that everything will be okay (whatever that means), but the truth is there is a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability around what the future may hold. But we believe in your resilience, and want to remind you that you do not have to figure things out on your own. We also know there are a lot of different strategies that can help dampen the intensity of the various emotions you may be feeling or help temporarily subdue them until you have enough energy and internal resources to acknowledge and sit with your emotions.

Here are CAPS strategies and suggestions for when you know someone diagnosed with COVID-19:

Limit consumption of news and/or information about COVID-19:

Although it is important to stay up-to-date with what is happening around us and the latest developments pertaining to COVID-19, set aside a few hours a day (or maybe even several days) to disconnect from the news and/or information related to COVID-19. It is tempting when we are faced with a novel situation, to gather all the information we can about it, but oftentimes that does more harm than good. There is still so much that is unknown about COVID-19 and the reporting about COVID-19 is oftentimes unbalanced. For example, it is usually a lot easier to find information about the scary aspects of this virus, such as how it is overwhelming our healthcare systems and the number of deaths, then hopeful information about recovery rates, etc.


If you are not convinced that disconnecting from the news and information related to COVID-19 may be beneficial for your mental health, then try a little experiment:
1. Write down how you feel before you read the news or information about COVID-19
2. Reflect and jot down how you feel while reading the news
3. Lastly, reflect and jot down how you feel after reading the news/information about COVID-19. If you notice an undesired increased intensity in your emotions, then that may be an indicator that you need to disconnect from the news for some time.

For more information about viewing coverage related to COVID-19, please go HERE.

Use mindfulness to help you manage difficult emotions:

When experiencing intense distressing emotions, it is important to remember that our emotions are temporary and they come in waves. Once we ride out the emotional wave, there is usually a feeling of relief. It is important to remember that there are no good or bad emotions and that our emotions give us important data about how we are feeling and what is important to us. Although it can be incredibly tempting to try to avoid, dismiss, minimize, or numb the emotional pain, it is important to allow yourself to acknowledge and feel the different emotions that are coming up for you, by observing your emotions with curiosity and without judging them or yourself. Try THIS 10 minute mindfulness exercise (near the middle of the page), to help you learn how to sit with your difficult emotions. Remember, it is important to practice mindfully acknowledging and sitting with your emotions several times a day/week.

Distract yourself with acts of self-care:

Distraction can be a helpful short-term coping strategy (the emphasis is on short-term), as it allows us to build up our internal resources, so that we can identify other ways to cope with the situation at hand. Sometimes when we are feeling upset, sad, scared, worried, or anxious, the best thing to do is to distract yourself with an act of self-care. Self-care looks different for all of us and some examples include: calling a friend, journaling, movement, cooking, playing or making music, and the possibilities are endless. After engaging in the activity for 30 minutes, check-in with yourself to see how you are feeling and what you are needing. Remember, the goal of distraction and self-care is not to take away the pain, but to care for yourself so you are able to sit with and tolerate your emotions more effectively. More self-care strategies can be found HERE.

Be selective about what you watch and listen:

It can be helpful to be intentional when selecting what media (e.g., songs, movies, TV shows, Instagram posts, Reddit threads, etc.) you consume. Oftentimes, we find ourselves selecting media that is mood congruent (e.g., if we are sad we listen to sad music). Sometimes that can be helpful, as it allows us to deeply feel our emotion, which may help us feel better. However, sometimes this causes us to get stuck in our emotions and makes us feel worse. In situations like this, it can be helpful to select media that is mood incongruent and will help elicit the emotion you want to feel. For example, if you are feeling anxious about COVID-19, instead of watching the Netflix show, Containment, (since that will likely increase your anxiety), maybe try watching a favorite TV show or movie that you enjoyed watching when you were younger. Another option may be watching something like John Krasinki’s Some Good News.

Get back to the basics:

When we are feeling anxious, worried, and stressed it can be easy to forget to eat, move, or sleep. Eating nutritious meals throughout the day, moving for 30 minutes, and sleeping 7-9 hours a night and maintaining a regular sleep schedule, can help improve our mood, better manage stress, and helps us more effectively regulate our emotions.

Practice self-soothing:

Self-soothing is another strategy that can help us regulate our emotions, when we are feeling stressed, anxious, or scared. To practice self-soothing, think about sights, sounds, smells, touch, or tastes that you find comforting and associate with feeling safe and happy. Examples can include eating comfort foods or warm beverages, listening to the sounds of nature, looking at or creating collages with your favorite pictures, wearing clothes that are comfortable and soft, or smelling a scent that reminds you of a positive memory.

Reach out for support:

During these times of physical distancing, it is easier to feel socially isolated, which can be further compounded with the possible stigma that may be associated with knowing someone that tested positive for COVID-19. This stigma and/or worrying about burdening others, may make it difficult to reach out for support. However, opening up to friends, family, mentors, or partners you trust (virtually, of course) can help reduce social isolation and help you feel better. When choosing who to open up to, it may be helpful to:


1. Take some time to reflect on why you are selecting a specific person and what you are needing from them
2. Remember that you get to choose how much information you share and with whom and it is perfectly alright to set boundaries about how much or how little you want to share
3. Sometimes it might be difficult for loved ones to know how to support you and they will likely appreciate some guidance from you (e.g., “I need someone to listen to me right now, without trying to solve my problem or trying to make me feel better.”)


How to care for someone who tested positive for COVID-19, while also taking care of your health:

Depending on your relationship and proximity to the person who tested positive for COVID-19, you may be wondering how to keep yourself safe and/or take care of them. THIS website has some really helpful tips.

Practice self-compassion:

You may feel like you are not doing enough to help, feel guilty for worrying about your health, or even be experiencing some self-blame. If you find yourself being critical and unkind to yourself, it can be helpful to remind yourself to be more compassionate towards yourself. There are numerous ways to do this. One strategy is to talk to yourself how you would talk to a close friend. Another strategy is to change your self-talk to be more understanding, kind, and recognizing your common humanity. Some examples of how to transform critical thoughts to be self-compassionate are below.

Critical Thought
- “I’m selfish for worrying about my health.”
- “I should be doing more.”
- “I made them sick.”

Self-Compassionate Thought
- “We are in the midst of a global pandemic and it is okay to be worried about my health.”
- “I’m trying my best and trying to help as much as I can, while also taking care of my mental and physical health.”
- “I could have made them sick, but they could have also gotten sick due to community spread—I’ll never know.”