Can Your Feelings Make You Physically Ill?

The science is clear: listen to your emotions.

Sophie Lucido Johnson
11 min readDec 23, 2022


Illustrations by the author, unless otherwise noted.

Here’s a real question for you: how do you decide you’re sick enough to stay home from work? And if you’re someone whose job IS staying home and taking care of the infinity of things there are to take care of when you’re a parent or a home-maker, how do you decide you’re sick enough to ask for help?

For me, it’s always been a fever. Well, it’s a fever or throwing up, but I am not a big thrower-upper, so: fever. But a lot of times I feel awful and I don’t HAVE a fever. In those cases, I reluctantly decide that I’ll have to have a fake fever. (As in, tell everyone that I’ve had a fever.) With a fake fever comes a whole slew of side effects — mostly, guilt; and checking my temperature religiously every twenty minutes just in case I DEVELOP a fever and can therefore PROVE with SCIENCE that I am actually sick.

I say this with a dire metric ton of caveats*, but a positive effect of the COVID-19 epidemic is that some people (not all people, not even necessarily most people) have taken more seriously the importance of staying home from work. Of course, when you have a family who is also sick, staying home from work is not the same as staying home from work. But every once in a while, a person who would have gone to work feeling like crap in 2019 will take a COVID test, see that it is positive, and not go to work in 2022. As in this SNL sketch from a few weeks ago:

What’s underneath this sketch is this: people need more breaks, and it’s hard to know when it’s OK to take them. A COVID test makes it easier. But even that is changing. When I got COVID a few months ago, I was told to go back to work five days after first testing positive, regardless of whether I was still testing positive (I was). I also had a fever (not a fake fever; a fever), so I didn’t go back to work five days after. But I did go seven days after, even as I was still in a terrible fog. This was probably not the responsible thing to do, but it was hard not to feel pressured to do…