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Long COVID or mental burnout? Life beyond the pandemic

COVID-19 will continue to impact public health in the future, even when the risk of the pandemic is reduced.

The first vaccines have been administered throughout the world, hopefully spelling the beginning of the end for the pandemic. While it is expected that social distancing and other coronavirus-related regulations will continue well into 2021, there is optimism about an eventual return to normality. However, the historic effects of the pandemic will continue for those who have contracted the virus, as well as for those who have served as carers, parents, and essential workers.

After the pressure of the pandemic is eased, many people will begin to feel the effects of mental burnout and ‘Long Covid’. Understanding the long-term symptoms of the coronavirus, it is clear that the virus will continue to impact public health in the future, even when the risk of the pandemic is reduced. Here, we look at the people suffering from the consequences of COVID-19, and how these effects can be relieved.


Since the initial peak of the coronavirus pandemic, reports of continuing symptoms of COVID-19 after the infectious period have raised concerns as to the long-term effects of the illness. Appropriately, this was coined as ‘Long Covid’.

Lasting symptoms of the coronavirus can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

A recent study by King’s College London showed that one in twenty people will experience symptoms of the coronavirus lasting longer than eight weeks. This would suggest that over 87,000 people had suffered the effects of Long Covid by mid-December.

However, there are suggestions that the effects of Long Covid can be alleviated by natural supplementary support. With symptoms similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, some medical professionals are advocating, for example, the use of Coenzyme Q10 as a vitamin for recovering from Long Covid. Dr Chris Steele addressed Long Covid symptoms on national television, suggesting that “quality counts” when it comes choosing the Q10 supplement. Studies have shown significant benefits with supplementation of Q10 effecting their fatigue status – one of the demobilising effects of post-virus life.

The deficiency of lockdown

There was a dramatic shift in the habitual experience during lockdowns. With an emphasis on staying home as much as possible, it is unsurprising that both physical and mental health was affected.

For example, reduced sunlight exposure from remaining indoors may have contributed to a deficiency of vitamin D. According to the NHS, vitamin D helps “keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy.”

As joint and muscle pain are common with Long Covid, there is evidence to suggest that the effects of the virus and Long Covid are worse among those with this deficiency. In fact, recent studies are exploring the links between respiratory viral infections and vitamin D. Both Scottish and English authorities are now providing the most vulnerable in society with free vitamin D3 supplements to alleviate the potential damage of the virus. The NHS continues to advocate supplementary use of the vitamin year-round for everyone.

However, there has been more than a chemical deficiency during the lockdown. Restrictions on physical exercise and social interaction may have contributed to a reduction in mental health. As well as guidance to protecting our physical health against the virus, the Government and various NHS foundations have published guidance on protecting our mental health – especially after the coronavirus.

Communication and exercise are key to recovering mental health, according to one NHS Foundation Trust. Recognising that anxiety is high during the pandemic, talking to someone is the best way to avoid mental burnout. Talking through your problems with another person is essential for avoiding unnecessary stress. This can be done virtually or in-person while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Additionally, the Government recommends adding exercise to your daily routine. Meaningful activities are suggested to help with mental health. Physical movement can also help reduce anxiety and depression.

A future of work

The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, but arguably more so for our frontline workers. The conditions of working under increased scrutiny, regulation, and demand have created a mental burnout among many sectors of work.

For NHS staff, anxiety has hit a peak level. A YouGov poll in April 2020 of 750 NHS workers found that 69 per cent of respondents would rate their anxiety as a five or above. Deaths from coronavirus have nearly trebled since then, no doubt continuing to contribute to this feeling. The pandemic has forced some NHS staff to rethink their working position, with seven per cent of workers saying they were unlikely to stay in the healthcare sector after the pandemic ends.

The education sector was also a key victim of the pandemic. However, research points out that the lockdown helped improved feelings of anxiety amongst teachers. Before the lockdown was announced, one in eight teachers reported high anxiety as a consequence of the coronavirus. After the lockdown announced, this number was reduced to only one in twenty.

However, where schools closed, home classrooms were opened. The pressure of education was passed on to parents. Parents now had the added pressure of multiple decisions to maintain a working life, family health, and the education of their children.

While the burnout is fatiguing, one psychologist suggests that there is an optimistic angle to take away from the pandemic. Janna Koretz believes that: “This is going to make everybody’s ability to manage, cope and be flexible much better.” She ascertains that life after COVID-19 will be perceived as easier because we have been challenged by the pandemic.

While the physical effects of the coronavirus may contribute to a diminished vitality for those who have been infected, mental burnout should hopefully be a temporary measure. With the end of the pandemic closing in, thanks to the administering of the vaccine, normality is an approaching concept. However, the public still needs to ensure they are safe in the meantime – from both the virus and the mental health implications of increased pressure during this adverse period.

References available on request.

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