Projections indicate a rise in mental health disorders post-Covid-19. Such projections arise from the potential influence of Long Covid symptoms on mental health. A persisting cough or shortness of breath weeks after recovering from Covid-19 may trigger stress disorder due to hospitalisation trauma. While pain, fatigue and other flu-like symptoms observed in Long Covid will limit employability, causing higher depression and anxiety levels.
The impact of a pandemic on mental health is not new. With more cases of Covid-19 infection in Western countries, Long Covid symptoms and effects on mental health may be more prevalent in such countries. Yet, few countries like Australia have increased the annual budget for Covid-19 induced mental health disorder. The focus on containing the Covid pandemic and current mental health services disruptions may summarise the general response in most countries.
With most countries going into fresh and harsher lockdowns given the detection of a new strain of Covid-19, suggested quality principles against Long Covid syndrome may not be employed nor deployed anytime soon. Such delay will exacerbate mental health disorder in patients who have recovered from Covid-19 and the non-infected, who bear the stress of multiple lockdowns and an uncertain future. This reality is rendered most profound by the possibility and impacts of a mutating Covid-19 virus.
The most prevalent Long Covid symptoms and potential impact on mental health are fatigue, shortness of breath and cough, and widespread pain. Here we consider three self-care scripts that may serve as proactive measures to mitigate or build greater resilience to mental health disorder due to Long Covid symptoms, pending the onboarding of those quality principles within mental health services.
1. Physical exercise: Fatigue caused by mental and physical exertions that arise from early wakes, traffic-laden commute and work-stress should reduce due to ‘home-working’. Ironically, the Long Covid’s fatigue may be off the lack of exercise unconsciously undertaken during the everyday routine to work. Exercises are good for fatigue as they elicit Serotonin and Endorphin — mood stabiliser and pain killer hormone, respectively. While gyms are closed during lockdowns, low intensity and rhythmic exercises such as sit-ups, planking, press-ups, and squats are comparably practical and beneficial. The positive effects of exercise to fatigue may explain why sports athletes who tested positive to Covid-19 have continued to perform in their profession. Engaging in exercise also provides an alternative to time spent on social media. This will promote self-regulation of information overload as seen in social media fatigue.
2. Sleep: This physiological process in human is vital to relieving chronic pain of the joints, chest, and muscle. With ‘home-working’, the lockdown also offers an opportunity for quality sleep that relieves the Long Covid symptoms. A useful tip to quality night sleep begins with an optical absorption of natural morning sunlight. The view of the external environment for about 45mins without the interference of a glass screen is sufficient. Where opportune, a sit out on the balcony or patio while absorbing natural light not only helps improve sleep but increases levels of Vitamin D — a pain reliever — in the body. Avoiding or turning on filters of screens that emit artificial blue lights enables the surging melatonin in the evening to affect sleep induction. With quality sleep raising the body’s pain and inflammation threshold, the motivation for exercise is presented. The benefits of physical exercise, as discussed above, also improves the quality of sleep.
3. Modulation: Modulations are practices that can potentially alter the brains’ function and structure, such as exercise and sleep. Other practices such as breathing therapy and meditation can help manage shortness of breath and cough of Long Covid symptoms. Meditation can alter the brain’s sensitivity and response to respiratory unrest by calming the airway, especially during dry cough fits. The ‘mastering’ of the airways or respiratory system reflexes can be improved with breathing therapy. Breathing therapy has been useful for asthmatics, who also present with traditional shortness of breath and cough symptoms. One such effective breathing exercise includes inhaling for six seconds and exhaling for six seconds for a few moments during meditation — cardia coherence. These modulation practices may be taught to promote the control of the body’s response to respiratory unrest by moving it from an almost unconscious reflex to the conscious.
These three self-care scripts are daily complementary therapies that may be lifelong. While the focus on effective treatments for mental health disorders due to Long Covid symptoms are limited, complementary therapies are a current thread given the partial efficacy and nocebo effects of medicines on similar symptoms. By proactively addressing the symptoms of Long Covid, such complementary therapies may mitigate the onset, severity and treatment course of mental health disorders. For instance, antidepressants may cause insomnia, and such disturbance to sleep increases fatigue and widespread chronic pain. With more studies on the benefits of these three self-care scripts, mainstream health systems can utilise complementary therapies in addition to those suggested quality principles to improve the experiences of Long Covid symptoms on mental health.