Help with mental recovery from Covid

This year, the focus for National Physiotherapy Week (6-12 September) is on the mental health impact of Covid – and how your physiotherapist can help

There’s a low-hanging smog of anxiety in the air, and it’s been there for about 18 months.

It’s the anxiety that is common in Covid survivors; it’s the anxiety that plagues those who have Long Covid; and it’s the anxiety that the majority of people feel, as they cope with the impact of this virus on our economy, our social life, and the health of those we know, work with and care about.

You may not be aware of anxiety as a Thing. Here are some of the ways it may show up:

  • Feeling fatigued or tiring easily
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Having mental blanks (the classic “Now what did I go to the kitchen for?” moment)
  • Being irritable and easily triggered
  • Being restless, unable to settle, edgy
  • Feeling agitated
  • Muscle aches and pains, tense muscles
  • Problems with sleeping: difficulty falling asleep, restless and disturbed nights, battling to wake, feeling that your sleep has not been refreshing
  • And of course, worrying excessively.

 “One of the things we physiotherapists have always suggested for issues like anxiety or depression is to exercise,” says Rogier van Bever Donker, President of the South African Society of Physiotherapy. “And of course, exercise has a proven ability to help banish mild levels of depression and anxiety. But we would caution anyone who is recovering from Covid, or who has Long Covid, to consult a health care practitioner like a physiotherapist before launching into an exercise programme.”

Pushing yourself to exercise after fighting this virus can be counterproductive, and it’s important that you work with a medical practitioner who understands both how the body works and the aftermath of Covid. “There may be effects on both the heart and the lungs which your physiotherapist can assess,” says van Bever Donker. “The physiotherapist will then be able to guide you back into gentle activity, watching out for any red flags. The golden rule with Covid is to work within your limitations and not push beyond them before you are ready. “At the same time, your physiotherapist can help you cope with the anxiety with other suggestions besides exercise, such as breathing exercises which will help your lungs as well as your mental state.”

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