When you catch a virus like the flu, you typically expect to feel low on energy for a few days until you recover. However, sometimes this exhaustion lingers long after the virus has gone. This condition, known in the medical community as 'post-viral fatigue,' is quite common. Recently, it has gained significant attention due to 'Long Covid,' where coronavirus symptoms, including persistent fatigue, last for more than a month. This blog will explore how effective energy management can help alleviate the symptoms of post-viral fatigue, aiding you in achieving a full recovery. 
 

Symptoms and Causes 

Symptoms of post-viral fatigue can vary from person to person and can fluctuate in severity. Along with the obvious tiredness, individuals with post-viral fatigue may experience a range of symptoms, including headaches, muscle pain, poor sleep, and flu-like symptoms such as dizziness and poor temperature control. For a full list of symptoms, read our leaflets, which you can access here https://bit.ly/3R5cqam 
 
In this way, post-viral fatigue is very similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS); indeed, the two are often confused. However, while there is no consensus on the cause of CFS, it is widely agreed that post-viral fatigue occurs when the immune response to a virus continues in the body after the virus has passed. Chemicals known as cytokines, released to fight off the virus, remain present, causing inflammation and preventing the body from functioning normally. Unlike CFS, it is possible in most cases to make a relatively quick recovery from post-viral fatigue with a carefully managed recovery program. 

Exercise as a Recovery Strategy from Post Viral Fatigue 

As professionals, we typically champion the benefits of exercise: getting the body moving after an injury can expedite recovery, and the positive effects of an endorphin rush on everything from sleep to overall well-being are significant. We often encourage patients to resume activity as soon as possible post-injury to aid their recovery. So, it might seem unusual to hear us advise caution when it comes to exercising to alleviate post-viral fatigue. 
 
The reason for this is that with post-viral fatigue, your body is particularly vulnerable to ‘post-exertional malaise’. Since your energy levels can fluctuate daily, you might feel capable of running your usual 5k one day, only to feel much worse the next. Sometimes even minimal activity can trigger symptoms of post-viral fatigue, and doing too much too soon can hinder your recovery. 
 
This is why it’s crucial to work with a health professional to develop an energy management plan. This plan will help you manage your activities to stay within your energy limits without triggering or worsening your symptoms. 
 
Setting goals can be helpful, but ensure they are achievable and realistic to maintain motivation. The duration it takes to regain your fitness is less important than exercising regularly. For more information on setting realistic exercise expectations, see this helpful document at this link https://bit.ly/3KoOR8G 

Rest 

When dealing with post-viral fatigue, the rest you take is just as crucial as the activities you choose to do. It may seem ironic, but despite feeling constantly tired, the quality of your sleep often suffers the most. Fortunately, there are simple steps to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’. 
 
Establishing a regular bedtime routine with relaxing activities such as a bath or breathing exercises can help ‘train’ your body to sleep. Avoid too much stimulation before bed, and turn off screens (including your phone) at least an hour before going to sleep. 
 
Creating a morning routine is also beneficial. Set an alarm and get up at the same time every day, regardless of how tired you feel. Sleep after hitting the snooze button is rarely restorative and can lead to a groggy feeling in the morning. 
 
Finally, avoid taking naps during the day, no matter how tired you feel. The goal is to establish a solid sleeping pattern, ideally around eight hours, to provide your body with the deep, restorative rest it needs. We’ve covered sleep hygiene in more detail at this link https://bit.ly/3wZm5Za 

Other Considerations 

In this post, we have concentrated on the physical aspects of exercise and rest. However, it's important to recognize that post-viral fatigue is a 'biopsychosocial' condition. This means that, although it may have a biological origin, it also impacts—and is influenced by—our mental state and social conditions. Therefore, it may be beneficial to explore alternative approaches to treating the condition. 

CBT 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that helps you recognize when and how your thoughts might be hindering your desired outcomes. The underlying theory of CBT is that our thought patterns are closely linked to our feelings, behaviors, and physical sensations. This doesn't imply that post-viral fatigue is 'all in the mind'; rather, it acknowledges that mental state can influence recovery from the condition. 
 
When dealing with post-viral fatigue, it's easy to fall into negative thought patterns, which can impact everything from your motivation to exercise to your body's ability to recover. CBT offers a practical, proven method to address these issues. We’ve created a leaflet covering CBT for post-viral fatigue, which you can find here https://bit.ly/4aLo2Gq 

Socialising 

It is also crucial to recognize the impact that social support can have on recovery from post-viral fatigue. The symptoms of PVF can make you feel reluctant to socialize and inclined to withdraw until you feel better. However, maintaining some level of social activity is important, as isolation can exacerbate feelings of fatigue and negatively affect your well-being. If meeting with friends feels overwhelming, consider joining a support group for those with PVF. 

In Summary 

In summary, post-viral fatigue is a real and debilitating condition that affects individuals in various ways. If not managed properly, it can potentially develop into the more serious, long-term Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. However, by proactively managing the condition with techniques such as Graded Exercise Therapy and CBT, symptoms usually improve over time. 
 
For advice on any of the topics covered today, give our clinic a call. We’ll be happy to help design a program that best fits your current condition and goals. 
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