Healing After COVID-19
Nov 04, 2022 - Jennifer DeValue
A tutoring student’s folder stuffed with two weeks worth of work. That’s how I knew.
The day wrapped up with hectic good-byes and rushed words of support to my students. Since then, I’ve thought of that day often. I haven’t seen a single one of those students since March 2020’s mandated quarantine, but I still worry about them and their grades. Lately, I’ve been wondering about who each of them has grown into and if they even remember me.
Admittedly, I found the first two weeks of quarantine to be a comfortable retreat from daily anxieties. My family’s meals were more elaborate since none of us had time constraints. Board games were played (albeit online) into the early morning hours. Movies and TV shows were shamelessly binged.
Then the questions kicked in: How was I going to make an income? Which grocery delivery services were worth the price? Who would be allowed around my immune-compromised mother? Though we eventually fell into a pattern, we often have to reevaluate the answers to those questions. We’ve each had career changes, life events, and personal growth. Our core selves have remained the same, but something has shifted.
Things that shift, though, always eventually settle.
Thankfully, our COVID knowledge has increased and our general panic has decreased. Finally, we’ve reached the promised time when the virus will come and go just like other seasonal illnesses. Many of us still struggle with COVID’s long-term symptoms and lasting emotional impact. This leaves with new questions about the best ways for our bodies, minds, and social lives to recover.
To recover does not always mean getting back what we had before. Instead, it could often mean (and in this case it does mean), adapting our lives to a new normal. What’s more, recovery is a process. While our mind and body heal naturally over time, recovering to the fullest extent possible requires active work.
It was in the middle of my personal struggle applying that knowledge that Meghan told me about our November theme of healing. We shot a few possible topics back and forth before landing on our shared interest in how to help each other heal physically, emotionally, and socially in the “exiting phase” of the pandemic.
We’re sure that the following reflections and resources will be helpful for you in your unique journey out of pandemic mode and back into the world at large.
Mental Wellbeing: Emerging from Two Years in Pan(ic)demic Mode
The whole world did shut down. We did heighten our healthcare precautions. Our living spaces did become our work spaces. For some of us, the last two statements are still in effect. While much of that is by choice, our mental health is nevertheless impacted.
Besides the obvious health concerns, common responses to our shared experience include:
- Sensitivity to Environmental Stimuli
- Unpredictable Emotions
- Persistent Headaches or Nausea
- Strained Interpersonal Relationships
Why? Because the pandemic mindset has often been categorized as “constant fight or flight.” While we are in this mode our hormones go into overdrive without us even realizing. These “undercover” fluctuations can lead to reactions such as crying bouts, unintentional anger, and reckless behavior.
Heavy responses to minor occurrences may surprise you, but they are natural. Thankfully, seeking therapy and counseling is has never been easier.
Even while mental health professionals are doing the hard, prolonged work of studies and clinical findings, there are tools we can all use to reinforce our mental well being:
Take breaks from news and social media: Disconnecting from the internet has always been great for our mental health. Now it’s become practically necessary. Finding a balance between your need to stay informed with your need for peacefulness can be difficult but it’s not impossible. Make sure to communicate your new boundaries with the people in your household by requesting they wear headphones while watching news, limit conversations with you about social media, and even suggest that you all tailor your screen time habits together.
Set (then achieve) small goals: We all know simple tasks that will improve our day to day lives. Once we’ve ignored or left them for too long, though, it’s difficult to go back. It’s okay to be proud of doing the small things we think everyone else is doing to thrive: drinking more water, clearing some clutter, getting fresh air.
Balance your personal unwinding time with social excursions: The outside world often seemed untrustworthy during the pandemic. Unfortunately, it taught us a lot about who we want to spend time with, who we need to stay in contact with, and who should have limited access to our personal space. Fortunately, we can once again grow our social network since it’s safer to be indoors and meet new groups of people. We should still, however, respect ours and others’ needs for personal time and space.
Care for your body: In addition to healthy exercise and diet, caring for your body also includes improving your sleep schedule, limiting alcohol and tobacco intake, and attending regular healthcare appointments.
Physical Healing: Recalibrating our Post-COVID Bodies
Your previous fitness routine may seem daunting for those who have recovered from COVID and/or are still experiencing its symptoms. With the virus being so new, it’s normal that we don’t know everything about it.
Other long term and life changing illnesses, however, can give us some insight on how to remain kind to our bodies when they are not fully back to what they were before getting sick.
Recovering after Acute COVID
By now most of us are familiar with the basic steps for healing while having COVID and keeping our household members safe.
The most important part of recovering after an episode of COVID is to fully complete your isolation even when your symptoms have subsided. Be upfront with friends, family, coworkers, and those involved in group activities (like your gym, house of worship, etc.) that you’re recovering. Then, follow their preferences and guidelines on when to return to their company.
Honesty about your physical symptoms and COVID timetable is crucial for you and those around you. It’s okay to admit to challenges. By doing so, your close support system will be better equipped to help you overcome obstacles.
Like any illness, your recovery depends on the intensity of your symptoms. Mild cases are similar to recovering from any other respiratory illness you’ve encountered along your life. Moderate cases require a bit more patience as they can include prolonged shortness of breath, coughing, and even fatigue. Recuperation time and needs during a severe case of COVID will require constant reevaluation of your strength and lung capacity.
Before getting fully active again, start small with breathing exercises, short stretching routines, and walks around your neighborhood.
Living with Long COVID
We may hear “long COVID” and envision simply a persistent cough. Other symptoms include pins-and-needles, fast-beating heart rhythm, and mental cloudiness. Be sure to track anything out of the ordinary before talking to your doctors. This way, they are fully informed while collaborating with you on a symptom management plan.
The good news is: you shouldn’t stop doing things that make you breathless.
Instead, it is recommended to gradually increase the amount of activity you do. Planning your life around new limitations may seem like a drag, but it’s the best way to be kind to yourself. Develop a schedule that optimizes your fluctuations in energy and respects your moments of fatigue. While breaks may be more frequent, they are important to balancing responsibilities with recuperation.
Your body will heal over time. To help it along, professionals recommend light cardio and flexibility exercises. Together, this combination will alleviate pain and strengthen lung capacity. Overall, they’ll make you feel more like yourself.
As for stimulating mental recovery, the best tools are a healthy diet and a clearly structured schedule. Don’t feel ashamed to break down complex processes into their smaller tasks. Following a step-by-step procedure will prevent important aspects from falling through the cracks.
Shaking off General Pandemic Lethargy
Getting your body moving again after an extended break isn’t easy. This has always been true. During the pandemic, however, we even lost the day-to-day physical exertion our bodies were used to. Online shopping cut down our need to walk through the mall. Our commutes were cut down to rooms rather than blocks. Overall, there were less spontaneous moments movement.
To kick-start exercise that’s right for you follow these basic tips:
Start simple: Pick out stretches, hiking routes, or sports that aren’t very strenuous. While many of us are inspired by a challenge, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a short and/or easy workout. The 10 for 10 Challenge is a great way to begin again. Short 10 minutes sessions will help your body begin moving again.
Focus on what makes you feel good: If running isn’t your thing, there are tons of other options that might be. Finding a buddy to just volley a ball or birdie in the yard can be a real mood booster.
Keep a schedule: When you cancel once, you open the door to cancel repeatedly. Stay motivated by prepping your equipment, walking path, and loved ones ahead of time. Plan excursions and sessions with others so if you’re tempted to stay in, you’re not just canceling on yourself.
Social Recovery: It’s Okay to Keep Positive Pandemic Habits
There is a fair amount of pressure to let go and move on.
Travel has resumed. Businesses have reopened. Schools are functioning. Even though our communities have undergone fundamental changes, we’ve regained a pattern of normalcy.
Still, it is important to acknowledge that while many of us are embracing the relative “end” of the COVID-19 pandemic, many others are facing difficulties moving forwards.
Both instincts are completely natural and understandable. Not only have we encountered unimaginable circumstances on a grand scale, we’ve also undergone intimate life changes. Understanding that in ourselves and others will lay the groundwork for rebuilding our post-pandemic social life.
The first step is taking an inventory of which quarantine routines and habits still benefit us. This could be the hobbies that stuck with us or the boundaries we established about our time. It’s okay to keep asking “what is worth my time” and “how much effort does this actually require?” It’s tempting to let loose. Just make sure to keep evaluating whether you are feeling fulfilled or drained while renewing your activities.
The next step is remembering that everyone in our lives is doing the same. Friends that were reachable 24/7 during quarantine are also becoming more active. Family members you haven’t seen may jump on the opportunity to visit. It can be overwhelming both to reach out and be reached out to. It’s okay to let your comfort level still be the guidepost for who you see, how you interact, and when you meet up. It’s important, though, to not take it personally when others are doing the same.
As the saying goes, “there’s a lot of ‘there’ there.” You’ve overcome an array of obstacles to your mental, social, and physical health. Processing the pandemic and creating your post-COVID lifestyle won’t happen overnight.
Allow yourself to feel reinvigorated by:
- Giving yourself permission to start with small, achievable goals.
- Knowing that you are not alone. Everyone is exploring how to be their best selves and live their best post-pandemic lives.
- Respecting your and others’ personal boundaries. Everyone (even those who think and act similar to us) is going to have different responses to what they experienced during the pandemic and diverse opinions on the best way to move forward from it.
- Accepting that certain activities may feel tough (emotionally and/or physically) for a while.
As always, our Mind & Motion community is here to support you in whatever ways we can. If you need some “you time:” take our assessment which will give you a personalized program of where to begin. If you’re in our area and looking to meet new people: come on by for a session.