Looking after your mental health when living with Long COVID
Whilst COVID-19 symptoms disappear relatively quickly for most people who make a full recovery, for others they can last for weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 syndrome or "Long COVID".
Professor Carmine Pariante of King’s College London says, “There are more than 1 million people with Long Covid in the UK alone, amounting to a human and medical emergency, with potentially a huge impact on society and the workforce.” (The Guardian 2021)
Being ill for a long time can be extremely stressful and detrimental to a person’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.
This week, as part of the COVID Wellbeing NI Campaign, AWARE will be sharing information on the mental health impact of dealing with Long COVID, and tips for how to manage your wellbeing if you find yourself in this situation.
What are the symptoms of Long COVID?
Whilst everyone’s experience will differ, some common symptoms of long COVID are:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration ("brain fog")
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles
- Joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
How can Long COVID affect my mental health?
A research report published by the British Medical Journal which surveyed people with lived experience of long COVID reported that participants experienced various mental health implications.
The report found that “Patients are struggling to cope with these long-term effects, and also report that there is a lack of appropriately tailored advice on managing physical activity with long COVID. Patients found a range of individual strategies for coping with fatigue and ‘brain fog’ as they attempt to continue daily activities and engage in exercise. Finally, they report how some are finding it hard to accept these symptoms and fear that the impairments could be permanent. The authors note that “greater clarity and tailoring of physical activity-related advice for people with long COVID and improved support to resume activities” are crucial to restoring individual wellbeing.”
If you are just recovering from COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of Long COVID, you may be feeling scared, anxious, low or depressed. You might be frustrated and angry that you are not recovering quickly and that you can’t engage in the same levels of physical activity as before.
What can help me feel better?
Whilst Long COVID can leave you feeling powerless in some respects, there are certain aspects of your wellbeing that you can take control over. Here are some things you can try that might make you feel better:
- Use this time of reduced physical activity to engage your mind and learn something new. Why not read that book you’ve been meaning to get into or sign up for an online course?
- Do some things you love! If you have hobbies such as cooking or gardening that you are well enough to do, make sure you’re taking that time for yourself.
- Set yourself daily plans and goals and celebrate your progress when you hit them. Your journey to recovery might be taking longer than others but you will get there eventually, celebrate the small steps along the way!
- Limit your time online – it might be tempting to read up on symptoms of Long COVID and search the internet for worst-case scenarios but this is likely to lead to increased stress and anxiety.
- Distract yourself if you’re feeling anxious. Take a gentle walk outside or call a friend for a catch-up.
- Try mindfulness for relaxation and easing anxiety. In response to the COVID situation, AWARE Board Member and Life Coach Helen McDonnell offers free online mindfulness sessions. Check them out here: https://www.indigolifecoaching.com/catch-yerself-on-free-mindfulness-sessions/
- AWARE also offers lots of online programmes to help you with your mental health and wellbeing. They are all free. Check them out here: https://aware-ni.org/be-aware
Most importantly, if you are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, you should talk to someone. Your GP is a really good place to start and also someone close who you trust. You are not alone, there are millions of other people experiencing what you are. You will get through this difficult period, but don’t be afraid to let others help you along the way.
To find out how AWARE can support your mental health, visit: https://aware-ni.org/