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Long Covid: How Psychologists can help

It’s completely normal to experience feelings of worry, fear, or uncertainty during a stressful event such as a global pandemic. During the past 2 years, many people have suffered from job loss, significant changes to work (eg., working or studying from home), financial stress, social isolation, and worries about their physical health. Add to that the physical symptoms of the COVID-19 virus and it’s no wonder lots of people are feeling stressed!

What is long COVID?

Most people who test positive for COVID-19 experience short-term symptoms and recover within a few days or weeks. However, about 5% of patients have been found to experience longer-lasting symptoms that persist for many weeks or months. These symptoms can be physical (e.g., headaches, persistent cough, dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia), psychological (e.g., fear, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, low mood), or neurological (e.g., brain fog, poor memory).

“Long COVID” is a term that was coined by patients in the early months of the pandemic to describe their experience with these persistent symptoms. In 2022, the term long COVID is colloquially used to describe both (1) any symptoms that persist for more than 4 weeks after the onset of COVID-19, as well as (2) the longer-term post COVID-19 syndrome, which is diagnosed if symptoms remain after 12 weeks. Experts estimate that up to 500,000 people in Australia are currently suffering from symptoms of long COVID.

Psychological management of long COVID

The symptoms of long COVID can interfere with our ability to attend school or work, interact with friends and family, and participate in sports or other hobbies. As anyone with a chronic illness or chronic pain condition will tell you, it’s not surprising that this can get you down.

Fortunately, psychologists can help with the management of many of these symptoms. Psychologists are perfectly placed to treat symptoms of anxiety, depressed mood, and post-traumatic stress using cognitive behavioural therapies. What might not be as obvious, is that cognitive behavioural therapies can also be used to improve chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and insomnia!

People experiencing chronic pain and chronic fatigue often get into a pattern we refer to as the “boom and bust cycle”. This means that on days when you feel “good”, you push yourself to do as much as possible because you never know when another good day will come around. Unfortunately, it then takes you a few days to recover, and during that time your pain, fatigue, and other symptoms are even worse than before.

Over time, this pattern unfortunately leads to reduced capacity and increased pain – the opposite of what you are trying to achieve! The answer is something called Activity Pacing, whereby we work together to establish a manageable baseline level of activity that you can complete without symptom flare-up, and gradually increase your activity over time by very small increments. Ultimately, this results in increased capacity, reduced pain, and improved quality of life.

This is just one example of how we can help you to change your behaviour to better manage your symptoms and improve your overall wellbeing. If you’re interested in making an appointment with one of our psychologists, please contact our admin team on 8373 565



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