Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob –

DEBBIE JACOB

YOU MIGHT not be aware that today is Mental Health Day, observed by the World Federation of Mental Health and the World Health Organization (WHO). We recognise more than ever that many people will deal with some mental health issue in their lives. Covid19 has brought a new dimension to that discussion. The financial and social stress of confinement associated with lockdowns and the physical battle of fighting this virus caused depression and anxiety in many people.

Then there’s the issue of brain fog, often a symptom of covid19. This isn’t in itself a mental health issue, but it can contribute to depression and anxiety. It certainly qualifies as a mental challenge.

Researchers at Harvard University – and countless other credible, online resources – say that 22 to 32 per cent of covid19 patients report brain fog as a distinct, long-covid symptom. When I tested positive for the virus in June, I experienced brain fog with extreme fatigue, anxiety, confusion, forgetfulness, depression, difficulty concentrating and speaking.

The Mayo Clinic defines brain fog “as short-term memory loss, confusion and difficulty concentrating…” It’s the feeling that “you’re trying to do something, and it’s taking more effort. It’s harder to do. You don’t feel like you’re picking up all of those details.”

Articles written on the subject stress the importance of sharing your symptoms with your doctor and realising that brain fog is not confined to covid19. It can be a side effect of some medications, other diseases and chronic lack of sleep.

I am no medical expert, but I can say what helped me to deal with these symptoms. Hopefully, my experience will help you to formulate your own plan. I decided not to put any pressure on myself when I had covid19 and couldn’t remember who or where I was or what I was doing.

Before covid19, I did a fair amount of exercise including strength training in the gym and walking up my street with its gentle incline for 30 minutes a day. After covid19, I began walking in my driveway at a slow and comfortable pace. This felt like running a marathon. Breathing proved to be a challenge. For the first two weeks, I couldn’t walk for more than eight minutes a day. Gradually, I added a few more minutes to my walking when it felt comfortable. It took six weeks to get back to a 30-minute walk. Exercise always helps the brain to function better. My mood began to improve.

On YouTube, I found Qigong exercises that require mindful breathing and stretching. This helped to build back stamina and fight anxiety.

Brain fog made me feel frustrated because I couldn’t concentrate on reading. Every year, I read and listen to at least 100 books. After covid19, I couldn’t concentrate on reading at all so I began searching for some activity to improve my concentration. Finally, I settled on putting puzzles together. My concentration and my memory improved. I stuck to 500-piece puzzles and started with a puzzle I had put together already.

When my confidence came creeping back, and I felt a little better physically and mentally, I tried reading again. In the beginning, I had to read one paragraph several times. I bought audio books and electronic versions of the same books. Listening to a chapter and then reading that same chapter showed me how much of the chapter I could recall.

It’s easy to feel like you don’t want to get out of bed for weeks or months after having covid19, and so I felt it was important to have a goal to look forward to in the future. It helps to have a purpose, a mission or a project planned. Ideas for new writing projects began to take shape without any pressure on myself to start. It just felt good to think about something in the future after living in the moment for so many weeks.

Slowly, but surely, I felt measurable improvement. Some days are still better than others. Your journey back from covid19 brain fog or any mental health challenge is both a personal and shared experience. It affects you, but it’s important to know that many other people struggle with some of the same feelings you have. Be kind to yourself, and be patient.

Today, on this internationally-recognised Mental Health Day, I hope we all remember the importance of talking about how we feel. Depression can hit unexpectedly, as we have learned from this pandemic. When we talk about our feelings, we understand we’re not alone in any mental health challenge that we face, and that’s a step towards healing.




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