alt=a person sitting inside looks worried and nervous as people walk and talk together outside a window

Long COVID: Mental Health Edition

There has been a lot of talk about long Covid and the lasting physical effects of the virus. I really feel for anyone out there experiencing long Covid and it got me wondering if this pandemic has created a "mental long Covid" as well. Has the mental exhaustion from the last few years instilled lasting fears, anxieties, and behavioral changes in us? Even for those who have been lucky enough to swerve the virus?

It’s been particularly hard for those of us with chronic conditions, who have been disproportionately affected by these hard times. Being immunocompromised means the risk of the virus is ridiculously high for us. This has led to many of us having to hide away from society, take extreme measures for our own safety and miss out on many aspects of "normal" life.

I, for one, am definitely experiencing a bout of mental long COVID and thought I would break down some aspects of this.

Being around others

This is a big one for me. I spent a year and a half without any human contact at all. I was instructed by the UK government to stay inside to keep myself safe. It was an exceptionally difficult period for me. I think I did a great job at avoiding a total mental breakdown by keeping myself as busy as I possibly could, but it still took a great toll on me.

One of the ways  I tried to keep myself sane was by reminding myself that this was all for my own safety and that being outside was dangerous for me. This was great while I was inside as it helped me not miss the outside world too much, but it led to problems when it came to integrating back into society.

The first time I was in close proximity to another person was when I had my first jab. Afterwards, I went back into hiding for 3 more months until it was time to get my second dose. I remember being incredibly nervous waiting in line to get my shot. Being with other humans felt alien and uncomfortable and I was extremely anxious in their presence. I viewed everyone as a potential health risk and nervously tried to keep my distance.

It took me a good while to bring myself to be around friends and family again. It helped a great deal when they were willing to take a lateral flow test before seeing me.

Change in behavior

The pandemic has had a huge impact on my behavior in social situations. I used to be able to strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone. On nights out, my mates would often find me chatting away like old friends with a bunch of people I’d just met.

Nowadays I find myself actively avoiding any contact with people. Even when I need to run to the store for something, I try to get in and out as soon as possible. There is no time for a chit chat with the shopkeeper like I used to do. All I’m thinking about is getting out and back home as soon as possible, where I know I am safe from contracting anything.

I really hope I can become the confident social butterfly that I was before, but the mental scarring from the last few years has prevented this happening just yet.

Going out

I spent the time I was locked away daydreaming of all the things I was going to be able to do once I was fully vaccinated. I couldn’t wait to get back out into the real world again and thought my normal life would resume the minute that nurse emptied that second syringe into my veins.

However, things didn’t pan out quite like this. The long checklist of things I made in anticipation of my release remains uncompleted. It isn’t that I’m not desperate to do them, but I struggle to find the mental strength to drag myself out of the house and get them done.

The fear of catching COVID is still deep rooted inside me. Now all protective measures have been scrapped here in the UK, I am concerned.

I also think that I’m so used to staying inside that it’s often hard for me to leave.

That being said I did go out for dinner at a restaurant last week with some friends, which was my first time mask off in an inside venue for over 2 years. I was a bit on edge while I was there, but I guess being there in the first place shows that I am making some progress.

Fear of becoming ill

If course I always knew my immune system was suppressed, but if I am being completely honest, I never really thought about it too much. It was something that I was reminded of when I caught a bug or infection as I would take much longer to recover than most people. But the pandemic has been a constant reminder of my immunosuppressed state.

On the few occasions that I have left the house, any noise that sounds anything like a sneeze or a cough has set off alarm bells in my head. I have switched carriages in trains because of this and even got off at stations before my destination to catch the next one just in case.

Whenever I find myself sneezing or coughing, I end up working myself up in a panic and rushing to take a lateral flow test. Luckily I am yet to receive the dreaded double line from any of the test, but I do worry a lot about if or when that time will come.

I now have a habit of checking in with people that I plan to meet to ensure they are feeling well. They probably think I’m strange for asking, but it’s the only way to put my mind at ease and commit to meeting up. I suppose it isn’t the worst thing in the world to be prioritizing my own health but the constant anxiety can’t be doing me any good.

Final thoughts

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way we can cure this mental long Covid is with kindness.

If you find yourself in a similar situation - be kind to yourself. Just because sections of society are moving on with life like nothing ever happened, it doesn’t mean that you have to rush things. Go at your own pace and don’t feel forced into doing anything you aren’t ready for.

And to those people who are comfortable with moving forward, be kind to those who maybe aren’t quite there yet. Be patient with others and support them as they try to recover from the mental hangover from the last couple years. We have all suffered during this pandemic, but some of us have much deeper wounds that take longer to heal.

This pandemic certainly isn’t over, but I do hope that the end is in sight. I hope to return to the person I was before this nightmare, but I know it’s going to take some time and I’m OK with that. All I can do is try to make progress at a pace that I am comfortable with and look after my mental health as much as the physical side.

Have you experienced anything similar? Let me know in the comments.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.