Often, when asked how we feel, we immediately take stock of our bodies. Do I feel sick? Do I feel tired? Do I feel physical pain?
While these are important measures of how we feel, they're only part of the picture. How we feel emotionally is just as important as how we feel physically. In fact, our emotions impact our entire well-being.
Being diagnosed with HIV brings on many emotions, some difficult to deal with. After testing positive, many women feel afraid of getting sick or are concerned about how their partners, family, or friends will react. Many feel angry, depressed or simply numb.
For most women, these reactions subside over time. Still, it's important to acknowledge and express them. Sometimes that can be challenging, especially if no one knows about your HIV status.
At some stages, lots of women feel HIV is the least of their problems. No matter what the cause, these emotions can affect your physical and mental health. This is especially true when you bottle up or ignore your feelings. Or become paralyzed by them.
It's not uncommon for people to casually say they feel sad or down or depressed. Depression is something that most people experience. It can be a natural response to a situation, or it can be an illness in and of itself.
When depression becomes severe, it's like life stops. You may forget to take care of yourself as you normally would. Sometimes getting up in the morning becomes difficult or you forget to eat. If you have difficulty taking care of yourself, your health can suffer.
Getting a grip on depression usually begins with communicating, like talking to a friend, joining a support group, or talking to a doctor or counselor. It may even start by writing about your thoughts and feelings in a journal.
The way we respond to other emotions like grief or anger can take similar shape. The important thing is to be aware of your emotions and make your emotional health just as much of a priority as your physical health.
Signs of Depression
- Loss of interest in friends or normal activities
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Changes in eating habits
- Unintentional weight loss or abnormal weight gain
- Poor attention to grooming and bathing habits
- Loss of energy
- Frequent thoughts of death
- Loss of interest in being touched or having sex
- Prolonged unhappiness
When women are under stress they develop more infections, common colds, herpes outbreaks, and GYN problems. Sometimes when we get stressed out we also get depressed, don't eat regularly, don't sleep well or find it hard to take care of ourselves. All these things can affect our bodies, weaken our immune systems (our bodies' defense against infection and disease), and make us feel sick.
Finding ways to lessen stress, like those outlined in Emotional Rescue below, can actually help strengthen the immune system and keep you feeling better.
Emotional Rescue: Dealing with Difficult Emotions
- Be with and do things with your friends.
- Talk to other people with HIV; chances are, others have felt the same way.
Or consider a support group.
- Do things that make you happy, like take a bath, read a book, or listen to music.
- Do daily activities. Get up, bathe, get dressed, go out.
- Take a walk. Fresh air and exercise are good for the mind, body and soul.
- Record your thoughts and feelings in a journal.
- Stop or cut down on alcohol and drugs. They can cause depression and get in the way of addressing your emotions.
- Learn about HIV and local resources. This helps you realize you're not alone and can make you feel stronger!
- Talk to a doctor or counselor for help.
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