Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as HIV, can have a significant emotional impact. A person may feel shocked, anxiety, anger or depression – all normal emotions in that situation. Here are 10 tips to help you deal with some of the stresses of being diagnosed with HIV.

  1. Take care of yourself

Try not to think about yourself negatively and don’t judge or blame yourself. Read our article about why mental health is important (link to Why mental health is important). This is an excellent time to reinvest in your spirituality whether it’s religion, self-care audiobooks, finding positive content on YouTube or taking up yoga. Find what works for you.

  1. Stay connected

Feeling isolated can make you feel sad and stressed, or it can make these feelings worse. Try to keep in regular contact with people who are important to you. Hang out with people that will nourish and not drain your energy. Talking about your experiences and feelings with a loved one, or another person living with HIV can be very helpful.\

  1. Get support

You don’t have to deal with your problems by yourself. Sometimes it’s best to ask for some help. This isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength that you recognise that you need some help. If you’re finding your thoughts and feelings difficult to understand or deal with, there are groups like Positively Alive that offer excellent support. If you are in Johannesburg, you can also contact EMH for telephonic, online or in-person counselling (details below).

  1. Be careful when using alcohol and drugs

For many people, having a drink or occasionally using recreational drugs is an enjoyable part of life. But try not to use alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with difficult feelings. This might offer short-term relief, but in the long term, it’s likely to make your feelings harder to deal with.

It’s important to condition yourself and to be disciplined in taking your ARVs every day and at the same time so that it becomes a habit (link to adherence article). Heavy drinking and drug-taking might mean you find it harder to remember to take your anti-HIV medication. If you are worried about your alcohol consumption or drug use, you can read about what you can do about it (link to “How do I know I have a problem”).

  1. Reduce stress

Try to balance the various aspects of your life like family time, work, you-time and getting enough sleep. Try to deal with work, relationships, family, money or domestic problems as soon as you notice them. Avoiding them can increase your levels of stress.

  1. Do things you enjoy

It’s important to do things you enjoy when you’re going through a difficult time. This could include making time for a hobby you already have, walking your dog, listening to music or setting yourself a goal to try something new.

  1. Eat well

It can be hard to eat well if you’re feeling sad, stressed or worried, but try to make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet. Using ready meals and pre-prepared foods can be helpful if you’re finding it hard to shop and cook. Sitting down and eating a meal, especially with someone else, can help you cope with stress and improve your wellbeing.

  1. Get some exercise

Regular physical exercise can help you manage stress and help you sleep. It can also help with the symptoms of anxiety and mild depression. You don’t have to join a gym. Find an activity that you enjoy such as walking around a local park, doing some gardening, or riding a bike. Exercising with someone else, or in a group, may make it more enjoyable and help you feel connected to other people.

  1. Practise mindfulness

Many people find practising mindfulness helps them with their day-to-day well-being. It’s a technique you can learn that involves paying attention to the present moment. It helps you to focus on your thoughts and feelings and the world around you. Some people also find that prayer, meditation, or quiet reflection can help reduce stress.

  1. Get informed

Our deep fear of the unknown not only scares us, but it can scramble our brains. The less you know about HIV, the bigger you are going to build it up in your head. That’s why it is important to read as much as you can about HIV and ARV treatment. Getting informed not only empowers you but it also helps with unnecessary worrying and puts you on the road to accepting your HIV status. Be careful what you read and where you get your information from. Only invest in the latest HIV information from trustworthy and reputable sources or organisations.

EMH offers free telephonic, online, or in-person counseling sessions in Johannesburg for gay and other men who have sex with men.  You get three sessions and these are free of charge. Sessions are available Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:00 till 15:00. To make an appointment for free mental health support, please WhatsApp message/call our mental health support team on 063 649 5107.

EMH also offers free HIV and other STI testing and/or treatment to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). We have services in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. WhatsApp message/call us on 082 607 1686 for more information or to book an appointment.