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Research suggests that COVID infection may have devastating and long-term effects on the brain.  The pandemic mindset and restrictions have been undeniably detrimental to the country's mental health, as well. Cognitive therapy is emerging as a possible treatment for the short- and long-term effects of the damage caused by the virus and its impact on society.

COVID and the Brain

In severe cases, COVID can directly damage the brain, causing encephalitis or inflammation. Studies also show that COVID can cause strokes and that people over the age of 70 are more at risk.

COVID infections also affect oxygenation, increasing the risk of a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen. People who experience these brain injuries and survive their infection face many challenges during recovery, and cognitive therapy is an effective way to help them cope.

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Major Cognitive Effects of COVID

Of patients who spent time in the ICU due to a COVID infection, a third have cognitive impairments comparable to those who have experienced a moderate traumatic brain injury.

ICU patients are likely to experience profound psychological effects, like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, regardless of their diagnosis. Cognitive therapy is a necessary part of recovery.

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Other Cognitive Effects of COVID

Even a less severe COVID infection can affect the brain. Although milder infections do not typically cause devastating brain injuries, one study shows that some people develop attention problems and are unable to focus on tasks for extended periods. Cognitive therapy could help people deal with this issue and learn to adjust.

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Mental Filtering

The pandemic affects everyone, even people who have had a mild case or have never had COVID.

People faced with this type of stress often do mental filtering or focus on the negative. Cognitive therapy focuses on helping patients develop coping mechanisms, teaching people how to feel more comfortable doing things they have been avoiding out of fear, like grocery shopping or sending their children back to school for in-person learning.

woman sitting and thinking with a mask on her hand Boris Jovanovic / Getty Images

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Catastrophizing

Another way people cope with the stress of the pandemic is catastrophizing. Catastrophizing or being sure that something bad is going to happen is a common anxiety reaction when something is unfamiliar or scary.

For example, someone may insist that they will have adverse reactions from the vaccine, even though the research indicates this risk is very small. Cognitive therapy can help find new ways of handling these fears and dealing with the risks of the pandemic safely and healthily.

Doctor giving nervous young girl an injection Jelena Stanojkovic / Getty Images

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All or Nothing

Another negative pattern that relates to COVID is all-or-nothing thinking. Someone might argue that they will get COVID and end up very sick if they leave the house and stay inside. Or, someone who is vaccinated might act like COVID is gone and head out to a crowded club.

Cognitive therapy can help determine how to live in the middle ground, staying safe while participating in activities one feels comfortable doing.

Cropped shot of a man having a therapeutic session with a psychologist PeopleImages / Getty Images

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COVID Anxiety Syndrome

Most people have experienced anxiety about COVID, but some researchers believe that COVID anxiety syndrome is an emerging problem. People with this condition have higher anxiety at this point in the pandemic than they did at the beginning, primarily because they relied on poor coping mechanisms over the past years and months.

Cognitive therapy may prove invaluable in helping people with COVID anxiety syndrome adjust to the new normal.

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Healthcare Workers

The COVID pandemic has been extremely difficult on healthcare workers, who according to some studies, have substantially higher rates of sleep disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder than they did pre-pandemic.

Studies also show that online cognitive therapy is beneficial to people in these fields, preventing stress-related disorders and helping them cope with the stress of these unprecedented times.

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Effects of CBT

Studies show that cognitive therapy — particularly online therapy — has been hugely beneficial during the pandemic in helping people cope with depression, anxiety, and stress. Researchers highly recommend cognitive therapy as an affordable, effective way to cope with the effects of COVID.

It can also help people come to terms with the effects of severe COVID infection and should be considered a part of long-term recovery.

Man having online therapy session with psychotherapist Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

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What Cognitive Therapy Cannot Do

Although cognitive therapy helps people cope with the stress and anxiety of life after a severe COVID infection, it does have limits. Cognitive therapy is not the right treatment approach for severe cognitive issues and other physical deficits. It may help with the brain fog associated with long COVID, but cognitive therapy's main purpose is to help people in recovery learn how to manage stress and anxiety and think positively but realistically about the future.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.