We are developing a Long-COVID module in the Feeling Good app to help you recover from Long-COVID, and also to help you live with any persistent symptoms. If you are not sure if you have Long-COVID, you should seek advice from a clinic or doctor. There are some treatments that may also help, some medications and rehabilitation programmes, and you should follow the advice as suggested by your health practitioner, GP, or specialist. This module is not a replacement for medical treatment: it is an aid to recovery.
So, what is Long-COVID? COVID-19 is a new viral illness that comes from a family of viruses that include the common cold, but because it is new humans have little resistance to it, so the effects can be severe and even fatal, although many people, particularly the young, seem more able to fight it off, and may not even know they have it. Long-COVID is a prolonged recovery phase that sometimes comes after COVID-19 infection and is an increasing problem. It is clear that vaccination greatly reduces the risk of infection, but also halves the risk of Long-COVID if you have an infection. No-one yet knows the exact cause of these persistent symptoms, it may be damage inflicted at the time of the infection on organs such as the lungs and kidneys, but there is also evidence that it may be due to persistent infection lying dormant in some parts of the body (see here and here) that may flare up from time to time, as happens in cold sore or herpes simplex viruses.
Evolutionary pressures over millions of years have shaped human immune responses to infections. Our stone age ancestors lived as small, isolated, nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers and the danger of infection came from injury either by outsiders of your social group, or by the hunting of wild animals. These injuries would often involve open wounds which are very prone to bacterial infection. Viral infections were rare due to lack of exposure to humans outside your group. As a result, if you were stressed it was because there was a physical risk of injury so the response to stress was to strengthen bacterial defences. In evolutionary terms, it is only very recently that the risk of injury from these sources have changed, for only 10,000 years out of 3 million years of human history have we lived in large, settled groups; this increased bacterial defence is still our dominant response. And it seems you cannot have a good response to both viruses and bacteria, it’s either or, and if you are stressed it’s bacterial protection that is boosted, at the expense of viral protection.
So, modern society puts us into social contact with very large numbers of people compared to our ancestors and this creates all sorts of stresses, for which our inbuilt evolutionary response is to increase our anti-bacterial defences. This reduces our ability to mount a response to viral infections, despite increasing exposure to new viruses and variants.
In much recent research it has been shown that increasing access to positive emotions, which is known to reduce negative emotions, increases the effective immune response to viral infections (colds and flu) and to a variety of immunisations. Sleep also improves the effective immune response to viruses. In robust research trials, Positive Mental Training has been shown to increase levels of Positive Emotions and many people also report improvements in sleep using the Feeling Good app.
Another potential avenue for help for Long-COVID is to reduce any recurrent attacks of the virus by using positive imagery of recovery using a representation of white blood cells as friendly dolphins. This has been shown by a team in Imperial College London to significantly reduce recurrent herpes virus (cold sore) infections, while at the same time increasing the numbers of circulating powerful killer T cells, white blood cells which hoover up viruses and remove infected cells in the body. We have created an audio that has incorporated this imagery of the dolphins, as well as incorporating the increasing of positive emotions. We hope you like it, find it helpful and that it brings you some relief and better health when it is launched.