Arkansas woman faces mental health struggles after near-deadly bout of COVID-19

Nancy Eason says she still wakes up in the middle of the night gasping for air, remembering her breathing struggles and the hospital machines.

SALINE COUNTY, Ark. — Mental health experts say they see a spike in Arkansans seeking emotional help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Saline County woman can attest.

Nancy Eason is struggling with her mental health after an almost-deadly bout with the COVID-19 virus.

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“I wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, thinking I can’t catch my breath,” said Eason. “With the machine being on me, forcing oxygen into my lungs, the breathing treatments, people in your personal space, it affects you.”

Eason said this is her PTSD experience from several days in an ICU fighting off the virus.

She’s nearing six months of recovery, but the lingering emotional effects are all but over.

“Every minute of it, I haven’t forgotten a single thing,” said Eason.

Eason has experienced other emotional side effects like anxiety, the fear of catching the virus again, and not making it out alive.

She’s become claustrophobic while wearing a mask.

It reminds her of the times she struggled for a single breath, so she simply isolates herself.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get past this point,” said Eason.

Seth Howerton is a clinical mental health counselor who’s worked with patients like Eason struggling to overcome COVID-19 related fears.

“It’s common to have these thoughts and feelings,” said Howerton. “We are seeing people who are needing help and healing with this in all ages.”

He said it’s important for people to become mindful, and there’s an at-home ‘senses’ technique that can help.

“Ask yourself, ‘What do I feel? What can I touch? What do I see and smell?’ That can take those scary thoughts and can really get someone in the present moment and help them feel more comfortable,” said Howerton.

Eason wants others to know you’re not alone and the one thing that’s helped her is simply talking about her fears.

RELATED: Arkansas healthcare worker with no known underlying issues dies from COVID-19

“Join a support group. Call me on the phone. Reach out. Ask for help,” said Eason. “Find that person who will be a shoulder to cry on and someone who will let you vent.”

Experts also say to help shake off anxiety, it’s good to stick to a schedule even if you are stuck at home, and it’s important to exercise, get rest, and eat healthy meals.