How Your Mental Health Plays A Part In Whether Or Not You Develop Long COVID

If you were dealing with mental health challenges prior to the pandemic and now have symptoms of long COVID following a coronavirus infection, you're not alone. According to results of a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, those who were experiencing anxiety, depression, or loneliness before getting COVID are at a higher risk of developing enduring symptoms afterward.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define long COVID a a condition where an individual who was infected experiences symptoms that last several weeks or longer. Long COVID symptoms can include fatigue, fever, cough, issues with concentration (brain fog) and changes in smell or taste, among others.

The new study included approximately 55,000 participants from the United States and Canada who submitted survey responses between April 2020 and November 2021, per NBC News. Over 3,000 participants reported they had COVID-19 and about half as many reported having long COVID. After reviewing their surveys, the research team concluded that those who reported experiencing mental health issues prior to infection were at a 32% to 46% greater risk for long COVID.

While the results point to a connection between mental health and long COVID, Jacqueline Becker, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who was not associated with the study, told NBC News that people should not presume this means that long COVID is psychosomatic. The researchers support this position, stating that the long COVID symptoms were legitimate from a physical standpoint as a result of infection.

Here's how you can manage long COVID symptoms

There are a number of symptoms you could experience if you have long COVID, but Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, one of three doctors who runs the Johns Hopkins Medical Center's COVID clinic, told the American Lung Association (ALA) that some of the common post-infection symptoms may actually be a part of your healing. For instance, since COVID targets the lungs, coughing is a way for the body to clear out dead cells. He said shortness of breath and fatigue may also be part of the healing process, as long as they only last up to a few months following an infection. To help manage COVID symptoms at home, Dr. Galiatsatos suggests exercising because the resulting increased blood flow will transport healing cells to the lungs.

The experts at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) offer additional tips, including being kind to yourself as you recover and maintaining a daily routine to keep your spirits up. For brain fog, write down notes so you don't have to struggle to remember things, eat a Mediterranean diet to support brain health, limit alcohol, and get plenty of sleep. To relieve muscle or joint pain, try tai chi or yoga to help with flexibility. You can also try light strength training, like climbing stairs or exercises that use resistance bands.

Whatever your long COVID symptoms are, even if you do not believe they are serious, if they are reducing your quality of life, Dr. Galiatsatos strongly advises that you contact your healthcare provider, per ALA.