Becoming ill can be very stressful, especially when it interferes with our daily life. Managing other responsibilities such as work, school, travel, taking care of ourselves and our families can add a lot of pressure on our lives, and if we lose the energy for any of it – sounds like a recipe for disaster. Now combine that with isolation, separation from friends or loved ones, not really knowing how to take care of yourself, and suddenly living in a world that has gone half digital, half not. Cue COVID-19.
It is fair to say that most of us are pretty familiar with the virus at this point. Either we have had it ourselves, or know someone who has. It feels like it has been around so long. But that’s not all… now there’s “long COVID” (also called “long haul COVID”) to remind us of it.
What is long COVID? If you have ever had COVID, you may have experienced ongoing symptoms that just don’t seem to be going away, even when the virus may no longer be detected in the body. Informally, many individuals have coined this symptomatology as “long COVID”, explaining a condition where a person might have ongoing shortness of breath, fatigue, and “brain fog” even after the virus itself has seemingly left your body.
So it may be frustrating to think you’re totally at its mercy. Well, medically, the goal is to get past it. But there are things you can do, right now, that can help you. Here are ten tips to help you adjust to the current situation.
1. Take breaks from the media
It can feel very important to stay up to date regarding all things COVID-19 by watching, reading, or listening to news stories. Maybe you are trying to make sense of the “post-COVID-19” syndrome your body is in, and you keep turning to the Internet to try and make sense of it. However, constantly hearing about the pandemic can be upsetting as well if you overload yourself with information and negative news.
If you spend too much time scrolling – even mindlessly – through social media sites or news pages, it is probably a sign you need to put your phone away for a bit. Turn off your notifications and set time limits on apps that you may have become accustomed to using a little too often. Your phone or the news should not be the last thing you see before falling asleep at night.
2. Continue connecting with others
Whether it be your friends, family, or any others – it can be really important to not feel isolated when experiencing such new emotions. It’s important that you be able to draw strength from this sort of system during this time, as it can bring you comfort during uncertainty.
Many individuals complain that even making a phone call can feel exhausting, let alone going to try and actually meet up with others. But it can be imperative you stay in touch with a support system at this time, to keep your mood light when everything else might be feeling too heavy.
Although meeting up virtually might not be the same as meeting in person, it is still better than nothing at all. If the weather permits, you might want to go hang out in parks or at the beach – somewhere outdoors where you can properly social distance and still see your friends and loved ones.
Everyone talks about how exercise can be a great way to release energy that builds up from stress and worry since it also works towards keeping our bodies healthy and protected. Research has also shown that while exercising, our body releases endorphins that help us feel better. If you don’t want to go to the gym, there are plenty of home workouts available online too.
However, when dealing with long COVID, shortness of breath might be a problem. In this case, you might want to replace more strenuous exercise with simple short walks around the house, or outdoors if you feel up to it. It may sound counterintuitive, but being active can help you feel more awake, rather than lethargic or groggy. Try something simple to keep yourself from falling into the habit of staying in bed and only draining more energy. (If you have any questions about exercising, given your condition, absolutely consult with your physician).
4. Eat a healthy diet
You may want to limit your alcohol and caffeine intake during this time. Both can work to disrupt your sleep and adversely affect your immune system, where long COVID has already been shown to do both. The food you put into your body at this time can really make or break how you’re already feeling.
Aim to eat a balanced, nutritious diet with your favorite fruits and vegetables. If you feel too tired or too nauseous to eat much, make sure you are still eating little amounts more often throughout the day instead. (But be sure to check with your physician or nutritionist to get the best advice about eating a balanced, nutritious meal.)
5. Find things to look forward to
Rather than obsessing over what may or may not go wrong in the future, it is important to remember the small events you might have to look forward to. This could be from going on a walk with a friend, watching a new TV series, or learning a new recipe. Take it a step further and create a virtual party out of it! You may want to make a list of all the things you might look forward to. Then, you can refer to the list any time you need a reminder to do something you enjoy.
Laughter has been proven to induce physical changes within the body, such as stimulating organs, activating and relieving your stress response, and soothing physical tension. When your body is feeling more relaxed, you may be able to feel the mental benefits as well.
Maybe you can spend some time watching your favorite comedian, a feel-good television show, or calling a friend or loved one who is usually able to lighten the mood. If you’re having a hard time laughing, even start with a smile. Although smiling is certainly not the same as laughing, it can be a step in the right direction to get you feeling more positive.
7. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is always essential. It can be important to stick to your typical sleep-wake schedule, even if you plan on staying home the whole day for the sake of your body. When you get enough sleep, you get sick less often, reduce stress, improve your mood… and the list goes on.
Sleeping with physical symptoms may definitely be harder though, so take the steps that you can to make your room as comfortable, dark, and quiet as possible. To help you unwind before bed, you may want to adopt a relaxing bedtime ritual. Taking a warm bath, trying out some meditation, or engaging in light yoga might help your body feel more calm and ready to fall asleep.
8. Get into meditation
If you’ve never heard of deep breathing or meditation, this might be the time to look into it. By practicing being in the moment and focusing on present situations, you might be able to feel more relaxed instead of putting yourself through unnecessary misery by worrying about the future. Meditation might also help to clear your mind and give you a break from thinking about how overwhelmed you feel in the moment.
9. Help others, but pace yourself
Staying home more often has led to a lot of people feeling less helpful, useful, or productive. Find something that you might be able to do for a friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member. This could be as simple as sending a text or email to check in, or dropping off a care basket or groceries to someone you think might need them. Finding purpose in helping people around you could alleviate a lot of the self-doubts that arise.
But – and there always seems to be a but – take caution in pacing yourself. Split your tasks into smaller, more manageable ones so that you might be able to take rests instead of feeling exhausted too quickly. Find purpose in planning out whatever you may have the energy to do.
10. Ask for help
If you’re worried, scared, nervous, or just need some extra support – ask for help. It can feel very easy to feel alone during this time, as many others might not even understand why your symptoms are persisting, or how it may feel for you.
You may want to reach out to a local mental health hotline, join local support groups or even find a counselor in your area. Whatever it may be, there is always more help available.
Yes, long COVID can be scary. But it makes sense to focus on what you can do to help yourself, and not just depend on when all of your symptoms go away.