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I have health anxiety and I just got my booster shot, here’s how it went

WORDS BY MARY MADIGAN

Boosted, baby.

Having health anxiety during a pandemic isn’t exactly a gorgeous mix. The condition causes healthy people to worry we’re sick, even if we have zero or only mild symptoms, so it’s not fun to experience at the best of times.

Add in new vaccines and health regulations and having to listen to daily numbers of people’s deaths, and it becomes a real mess in my head.


Interested to hear how others navigate the world? Head to our Life section.


Sure, I wanted to be calm and logical about the pandemic, but I often found myself desperately wanting to hide in my house forever. My survival mode is less ‘Bruce Willis in Die Hard’ and more ‘crying civilian in the background’.

Still, I always knew I wanted the vaccine. My health anxiety means I need as much reassurance as possible; much more than the normal person. Before I got my first jab, I pretty much woke up every day convinced I had COVID-19 and had to talk myself out of unnecessarily getting a PCR test – I didn’t want to clog up the system.

I spoke to my therapist extensively during this time. We both agreed the best way to combat my health anxiety was to be proactive and not get stuck just running in circles around my own brain.

So, it wasn’t just about getting vaccinated against the virus, it was also about being able to do something that would soothe my mental health (there’s nothing like daily case numbers to scare someone with anxiety issues).

I also missed pubs, hugging my family, my mates and glitter – I found there was much less glitter in my life while being stuck at home.

My boyfriend is also an essential worker, which means no matter the case numbers or restrictions, he gets up every day and goes to work and interacts with people. This reality has always made me anxious. I could be holed up at home, working from my laptop and only leaving the house to go for a walk or get groceries,but he was always out in the world. I was hyper-aware that we were more likely to catch COVID-19 than most people.

Basically, the odds weren’t in our favour and those odds kept me up at night, tied up in knots of anxiety. (Please don’t ever search Reddit for comfort if you’re feeling nervous.)

So, I got jabbed as soon as I could. Sure, my health anxieties meant I asked the GP about three million questions. What symptoms should I expect? How long will those symptoms last? When will the vaccine be the most effective?

My local doctor answered all these questions kindly and with patience. Then I closed my eyes, sang the catchiest song I could think of in my head, (‘Rumours’ by Lindsay Lohan, obviously), and got my first vaccine. I followed this exact same formula for my second vax.

Third time’s a charm

By the time the opportunity to get my booster came around, I was ready to go and I was keen – particularly because doctors seemed to be agreeing that getting a booster shot really increases your immunity against the Omicron variant. But being ready doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared.

I’m one of those people that suffered side effects from the vaccine after my first two jabs. I got a headache, achy body, a fever, and my lymph nodes swelled. It’s not exactly an experience I looked forward to repeating, but even that didn’t stop me. Maybe I am more like Bruce Willis in Die Hard?

My boyfriend and I booked in early to get our boosters and just like last time, I was sick as a dog afterwards.

True to form, becoming so sick afterwards made me anxious. I’m always worried these side effects mean I actually have COVID-19 and aren’t just a reaction to the vaccine. But I’d been through this experience before, so I was expecting it this time. I drank lots of water, gobbled up plenty of Panadol and in a few days, I was back to normal. I also managed to rewatch the first three seasons of Sex and the City, so it wasn’t all bad.

Focus on what you can control

Health anxiety is tough because it can manifest in really unhealthy ways. I’ve spoken to lots of people who are hesitant to get a booster, or even their first vaccine, because they are irrationally worried about their health. I won’t pretend taking charge of your health during a pandemic while your anxiety rages on is easy, but I did find that taking tangible steps to keep myself as healthy as possible was the only way I was able to feel better.

I tried to clear my brain of anxious thoughts about my health by doing healthy things. Eating well, a bit of exercise, maintaining those boring medical regimes we all might have like Pap smears or getting triple vaxxed – these all gave me something more positive to focus on.

In my case, the proof is also in the pudding. Since our vaccines, my boyfriend has been a close contact various times (including once when he worked alongside someone all day that was positive) and each time he has returned negative results. Getting the vaccine, for now, has kept us safe and I know if we do end up getting the virus, it will still work to keep us as healthy and safe as possible.

The pandemic has been scary. Vaccines can be scary. I’m a worrier. I’m sure I will be the one per cent who dies from some strange reaction to a vaccine. But instead of sitting around worrying, I decided to trust in science and protect myself and those I loved. And it really helped. I actually feel so much better. It was the best thing I could do for my health both physically and mentally, and it has really kept my anxiety at bay.

Find out more about getting your COVID-19 vaccine booster here.

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