"As a sporty 47 year old and former international triathlete, I have taken good health and abundant energy for granted. When illnesses have come, they have soon passed.

So I have been shocked to still be suffering recurrent Covid symptoms of fatigue, body and head aches, mood swings and brain fog after four months.

Vidyamala’s Mindfulness for Health course has helped me to develop patient acceptance of my condition, as well as a new skill of mindful ‘pacing’ that is helping me to steadily return to work and life."
- A.

Covid-19 is a complex, nasty illness. We knew it was deadly, especially for at risk groups, but we now know there is a significant number of ‘long haulers’ – people who have been left with debilitating symptoms weeks and months after contracting the virus. Many of these were young, fit people who are now adjusting to crushing fatigue and an array of other strange symptoms.

Take this fit, healthy NHS physio in her forties who says:

“I became ill with a cough and shortness of breath in March, then fatigue. I didn’t need medical intervention, just GP advice and reassurance.  That was 15 weeks ago! I’m still struggling with fatigue, intermittent cough and muscle aches.  

I went back to work at 4 weeks thinking my health would improve and managed only half time for 5 weeks and am now signed off again.  At that point I realised I had to prioritise my health as it wasn't going away with my normal behaviour”.

Then there’s Professor Paul Gardner who has written blogs about his experience. Here’s one written at 14 weeks. There is a facebook group for ‘Covid UK long haulers’ has 2200 members.

‘Post-viral fatigue’, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and ME are labels for very similar conditions that people have been describing for decades. It’s been an area of medicine that’s been confusing, even neglected, but with the Covid-19 experience it is now hard to deny that a virus can indeed lead to lasting symptoms that require lifestyle change if we are to get our lives back on track. The NHS is launching a new rehab service specifically for people who are suffering long-term effects of coronavirus and this is a wonderful development. 

At Breathworks we have taught mindfulness to many people with CFS and ME and many have found it helpful. Living with fatigue has many similarities to living with chronic pain and all the methods and approaches we teach on our ‘Mindfulness for Health’ Mindfulness-based Pain Management (MBPM) translate well to post-viral challenges.

"Despite lifelong asthma and related health issues, I was unprepared for the long-term debilitating effects of contracting Covid-19.  Ongoing fatigue, neurological issues such as confusion and “brain fog”, head and body aches, as well as mood swings have all contributed to the challenges of life beyond the acute phase of illness.
 
Following the “Mindfulness for Health” course has helped me to develop life-changing new habits in two key areas: firstly, by working with awareness and pacing to begin changing my tendency to override physical exhaustion and discomfort; and secondly, by working with the led meditations to engage more fully, fearlessly and kindly with the anxiety and tension that ongoing ill health can bring."

- V.T.


Ben Grindod
blogs about his experience attending a Mindfulness for Health course to help him manage CFS/ME. Initially a sceptic he found it helped him let go of his negative internal story lines, to calm his nervous system and find a way forward with his condition.

The physio I mentioned at the start of this blog used to co-lead Mindfulness for Health courses with me and is also a Covid ‘long hauler’. This is what she has found has helped her cope, drawing on mindfulness skills as well as her physio training:

“Everything has slowed down and I’m balancing rest, activity, connection, mental stimulation and down time. Pacing is essential – stopping activity before the battery is down to 30%.  This requires awareness to know when I’m feeling the wave of fatigue and also maintaining perspective about the long-term benefit of pacing. Otherwise I fall into the seduction of "I could just do that little bit more" (Paul Gardner’s recent blog also talked about the importance, and challenges, of pacing. At Breathworks we devote three weeks of our eight week programme to developing an individual pacing plan as we recognise it is such a crucial aspect of rehab from chronic pain and illness).

“I celebrate small daily achievements (this also helps brain chemicals) e.g. in the early days I cleaned a 1/4 of my bedroom one day and yesterday I finally got rid of 4 small bags of recycling at the dump.  

I prioritise relaxing such as very gentle yoga, aka lying on the floor and breathing.  Because I have had trouble with my lungs I use blankets and bolsters to give the lungs their best capacity, lying on my side or forward but supported over a bolster.  The quality of this is tangible, it makes me aware of my actual energy levels when they are not whizzed up by screen time or mental chatter.  

I’ve found that reading an easy book or listening to an easy audio book is more relaxing than facebook/Instagram - I notice my shoulders get tense when online. Social media is also great for connection but I need to pace it and avoid the anxious doom stories. Finding stories about recovery from long haul covid gives me hope that I will be well again.  

I spend time walking outdoors. I’m lucky where I live. There are lapwings, curlews and swallows, sheep and horses in the field outside my window. I make sure I notice and take delight in them. When out I leave my phone in my pocket (or at home) and feel into the relaxed movement in my body. I call this "heavy walking". My body might not be functioning in the way that I want but there is still a lot that *is* working well and I make sure I pay attention to that. I find things that make me laugh and smile, there’s great comedy on TV and You tube.  It's good for the brain chemicals which are worn out by life stresses.  

I prioritise small acts of self-care such as clean pyjamas, making my bed and nice smelling soap. Small gifts to myself make me feel better and it’s so easy not to bother when knackered”.

 

To access Breathworks programmes:

Methods for Living Well With Pain and Illness 10-day self-guided Online Course

8-week online Mindfulness for Health Teacher-led Online Course

 


Related blogs

From Depression to Mindfulness (a personal perspective)

Attitudes for Living Well with Illness

Running a Mindfulness for Pain Course (written by a Finnish Pain Specialist)

Mindfulness for Chronic Dizziness (written by a Senior Clinical Scientist and Lecturer in Audiology)

Mindfulness for Fibromyalgia (blog by Vidyamala for Fibromyalgia Awareness Day)

Mindfulness for Fibromyalgia (a patient’s perspective)