My name is Ellen Alden and four weeks after “recovering” from my first COVID infection I became ill with post viral syndrome (Long COVID) in March of 2022.  For the first twelve months, I desperately sought advice from doctors, specialists, naturopaths, integrative doctors, alternative medicine physicians, acupuncturists and energy healers. But all my tests were turning up “normal” and the alternative treatments were not alleviating the constellation of horrific symptoms I was experiencing. At about the same time, my mental health took a turn for the worse. I was in a state of constant anxiety and the crashes made me spiral into depression. I was emotional, grieving my old life, grieving the countless losses (working, exercising, socializing) and all I wanted was a medical diagnosis and treatment protocol. But there was nothing coming…The uncertainty, the pain and the losses were taking its toll on me.

Fortunately, I had just entered a mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) certification program at Brown University– so I thought I should try implementing mindfulness and meditation into my daily life. Meditation gave me some space between my thoughts, feelings and the painful sensations, and mindfulness kept me in the present moment; not clinging to the past or worrying about the future. I noticed I was suffering less, and that I was beginning to accept my present predicament. This meant that I could make the best and wisest decisions for myself without all the strong emotions like anxiety, fear and anger. 

I realized I was losing my old identity, but I wasn’t scared anymore, because I found I was writing a new narrative, one that was better suited for me; one without perfectionism, or striving, or people pleasing or feeling like I wasn’t enough. Somewhere around the year and a half mark, I decided to create and share some meditations and this gave me a sense of purpose and meaning. I began a gratitude journal and spent time in the sun and in nature, all the things I could do for short periods of time. I started to feel a little better. I was fortunate to have a terrific psychologist to help me manage anxiety and deal with strong emotions as they arose– either from dips or painful sensations. I integrated my feelings, turned towards emotions I usually avoided, and learned the value of a positive mindset.  I don’t think I could have recovered without the weekly support from my psychologist; sharing ups and downs, co-regulating with a trusted ally, and learning additional techniques for emotional balance. 

Slowly and surely I began improving and was able to experiment with more healing practices. I started reading mind/body books, learning emotional regulation, vagal toning and breathing techniques–and interviewing doctors on the science of positive mindset. I also gained hope by watching Long COVID recovery stories on YouTube, and finally I enrolled in a breath training certification program. So would I say I am 100 percent recovered? I don’t know. I am gently re-introducing exercise into my daily life, I am working again, and I am traveling and socializing. I am taking things day by day, moment by moment and I have a new frame for my recovery, not viewing my health from a lens of fear, but from a lens of curiosity and compassion. I may not be completely out of the woods yet, but I now have the tools to regulate my emotions, calm my nervous system and recover from triggers faster. This may not be the whole picture of long COVID, but it has helped me to live a much better quality of life and enjoy each moment as they come. 

Now I am teaching others how to help themselves. There is so much healing we can facilitate within our own bodies if we set up the right conditions for it. This takes practice, patience and consistency. But it is what our bodies have been doing since the beginning of time. So while long haulers are in-between doctor visits or patiently waiting for a cure, I can help jumpstart the recovery using only the body’s natural healing powers

Register for Mind Body Practices for Long COVID workshop here

I’ve created a 6 week Mind Body Practices for Long COVID workshop Here’s what you”ll learn:

  1. Nasal breathing:  Nasal breathing has a host of benefits for Long COVID symptoms including: engaging and improving our diaphragm function, activating the vagus nerve (for increased calm and feelings of safety), increasing oxygen uptake to the muscles, tissues, and cells; improving sleep; increasing lung function and respiration, slowing down breathing for rest and digest, and reducing breathlessness. 
  2.  Breath regulation: By regulating our breathing pattern, and breathing “slow and low” into the lower lungs, we can slow down our heart rate and signals are sent to the brain that we are calm and safe. We feel better because we are spending more time in “rest and digest”; the best place for healing and recovery. 
  3. Vagal toning:  Vagal tone is all about the intensity level of the vagus nerve. A higher tone nerve indicates proper body functioning and a better ability to recover from stress. A less active, lower-tone nerve means that you may have a reduced ability to manage stress and an increased chance of health issues such as depression, chronic stress, anxiety, inflammatory conditions, digestive disorders, fatigue, lowered pain tolerance, autoimmune disease, mood and sleep disorders, and heart health issues. 
  4. Emotional Regulation:  I teach many techniques to calm the nervous system after triggers so we can regain balance mentally, physically and emotionally. This may lead to a decrease in dips (crashes), fewer symptoms, and less dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system. A bonus is that it increases mood and confidence that we can recover.
  5. Mindset: It is important to balance the mind and the body–and doctors have discovered that those with a positive mindset have better health outcomes. To do this, I teach meditation, positive visualization, grounding, cold water therapy, and language swapping.  For example, instead of saying “I have long COVID,” I say,  “I am experiencing symptoms of a temporary post viral syndrome.”  That way, my brain is telling my body that this condition is not permanent, but a temporary, workable state. We can shift our thoughts to positive or neutral thoughts that align with the positive shifts happening in our bodies.
  6.  Belief:  This is the #1 mindset for healing because it tells the body that it can and will heal. The body listens to the brain and the brain’s signals (neural pathways) and can respond by trying to align with the common goal: recovery. This mindset also helps us stay in “rest and digest” for longer periods of time so our bodies can heal. 
  7. Reign in Fear:  Fear keeps us in a Pain-Fear-Symptom Cycle and in “fight or flight.”  Pausing and reassuring our mind and body that we are safe–and visualizing recovery, helps to keep us grounded, calm and emotionally regulated when symptoms or triggers activate our nervous systems. 

Register for Mind Body Practices for Long COVID workshop here

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One response

  1. Hi Ellen, this is a great article. I am in your meditation class and find it very helpful for accepting and coping with long covid symptoms.

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