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The big read: ‘It turns out there’s no other side to push through to when it comes to long Covid’

When Irish freediver Claire Walsh developed Covid, then long Covid, it literally took her breath away. Now she’s using the strategies learned through her sport to help others to live better on land. Kathy Donaghy takes a deep breath and dives right in...

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Claire Walsh prepares Kathy Donaghy for an underwater breath hold at Bray Beach, Co Wicklow. Picture: Niall Meehan

Claire Walsh prepares Kathy Donaghy for an underwater breath hold at Bray Beach, Co Wicklow. Picture: Niall Meehan

Kathy Donaghy. Picture: Niall Meehan

Kathy Donaghy. Picture: Niall Meehan

Kathy practises her breathing on the beach under Claire's guidance. Picture: Niall Meehan

Kathy practises her breathing on the beach under Claire's guidance. Picture: Niall Meehan

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Claire Walsh prepares Kathy Donaghy for an underwater breath hold at Bray Beach, Co Wicklow. Picture: Niall Meehan

Just take a breath. We tell ourselves this so often — at times of stress; at times when we’re about to lose the cool. As a year-round sea swimmer, I’m conscious of how much being in control of my breath helps when it comes to entering cold water. By focusing on it, you can train your body to stay calm when it goes into fight-or-flight mode caused by the body’s response to temperature change. I know that, by standing on the beach and breathing deeply for a few minutes before I go into the cold ocean waters, I can prepare my body for what is to come. It can steady me and fortify me. But what about when I’m on dry land? There, where I spend the majority of my time, I don’t give it a second’s thought.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve noticed my breathing has become shallower. The yoga classes I used to attend, where I might have focused a bit on breathing, have all gone the way of best-laid Covid plans. The phrase ‘having your ears touch your shoulders’ is pretty much how I feel all the time. A digest of doom and gloom, an inability to make plans, and societal fears have preyed on all of us, mincing our nerves and leaving us frazzled and often feeling like we’re out of breath.


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