COVID Fatigue is Brutal, Here’s How to Live With It
From what I can see, everyone is tired this year.
People are struggling to cope physically and emotionally with the unprecedented changes and chaos that 2020 has ensued.
Although, there appear to be two types of fatigue that are going around at the moment. There is the classic fatigue, the exhaustion that accompanies everyday life and all of its stresses, obviously amplified by our current situation. Then there is COVID fatigue.
As a sufferer of the long-haul version of COVID, I can attest that I have never been so tired in my entire life.
Those who have had a decent dose of our new friend COVID, especially those who have spent months living with this awful virus, likely know exactly what I’m talking about.
There are the lucky ones, who maybe get a little dose, and have to lay in bed for a few days. Then there are the long-haulers, who suffer a myriad of symptoms for months on end, which show no sign of letting up.
You see, one of the most common symptoms of the virus is fatigue.
We’re not just talking about being tired after a long day at work here, we’re talking about waking up after a 9-hour sleep, and not being able to do the dishes before you have to go and lie down again.
COVID fatigue seems to share a lot of similarities with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and is not yet widely understood by the medical community.
However, those who are living with it know exactly how it feels.
I have suffered from COVID since the start of April, and I am just now getting back on my feet. I’m 21 years old.
I have been knocked down by wave after wave of debilitating symptoms. I wrote another piece about the experience in full.
Here I’m just going to talk about the worst symptom for me, and the one which affected my life the deepest, and the only real symptom which is still affecting me to this day. Fatigue.
For me, the fatigue from COVID didn’t develop from the onset of the virus, it came maybe after a month or two, once the active virus appeared to have left my body, and I no longer had a fever or lung infection.
It flattened me. It felt, all of a sudden, like I hadn’t slept in years.
In the first couple of weeks I tried to be sensible with it, getting as much rest as possible and listening to my body. I was eating the healthiest I have ever eaten, drinking absurd amounts of water and green tea, avoiding alcohol and coffee. I was trying to move around a little every day so my brain didn't happen to forget about the existence of my limbs.
Nothing changed, if anything the fatigue just got worse with each passing day.
It was like I had an energy allowance. Each day I woke up with a very small amount of energy which I could spend on maybe one or two small activities, following which I was done for the day.
One day, filled with frustration, I made a big mistake.
I let my good old English stubbornness get the better of me and thought “It’s been weeks, I’m not feeling any better, I need to fight this”.
I went for a run. Only a couple of miles.
During the run I was surprisingly doing very well, I guess it was the endorphins of exercise, which I hadn’t felt in over a month, flooding my body.
I was thinking “yeah, that's it, two world wars, one world cup, now we’ve beaten COVID”
A couple of hours after my run, I was considering turning up at the hospital.
My heart was racing whilst lying down, my lungs were tighter than ever, and I could barely move from the bed.
From that point on, I have been super careful, I have been listening to my body, paying very close attention to what it has been telling me, and I believe that after six long months of fatigue, I have finally turned the corner.
Here are some of the tricks and techniques I used to live with my fatigue, and advice to anyone else who is still suffering from COVID fatigue.
At the start, be extremely patient
When that fatigue hits, you have to expect to be in it for the long-haul.
If you try and force anything early on, you could set yourself back quite a bit, as I found out to my own detriment.
COVID fatigue, for me, seemed to linger around for a couple of months without responding to anything. However, I know there are many who have been suffering from this for a lot longer with no end in sight.
You need to wait out the fatigue at the beginning, that seems to be all you can do.
Try and put yourself into a stress-free environment if possible, ideally not in a city I would say.
If you can have a loved one bear the burden of doing everything for you for a couple of months, then that’s fantastic. Personally, I had to stay in the city during the worst months of my illness, but my girlfriend was kind enough to deal with most of the housework and was able to pay the bills at the same time, for that I am extremely grateful.
So, when you get that first wave of fatigue, just try to relax and let it pass.
Know when you’re tired
Once your energy slowly starts to come back, you may start to notice a pattern as I did.
The fatigue will hit you at certain moments during the day, at which point you should promptly lie down and nap your way through it.
For me, when the fatigue started to wear off a little, I noticed I was still bone-crushingly tired in the morning and early afternoon, but after my afternoon nap I became surprisingly energetic, I was able to start doing short bursts of studying foreign languages, which is something I have loved for a long time.
This pattern seemed to continue for a few months, with irregular ups and downs, and waves of fatigue along with other symptoms.
However, around a month ago, I suddenly realised one morning that I wasn’t tired, that I had actually woken up with energy.
I took it easy for a week or so as this encouraging sign continued.
This brings me to now, where my pattern seems to be simply a normal, but fairly intense hit of fatigue at around three in the afternoon, which lasts a couple of hours at most.
Essentially, those of us suffering from COVID fatigue need to notice when we have energy, when we are tired, and schedule any energy-requiring tasks during our energy peaks, so that we can remain somewhat functional.
Ditch the coffee
One thing that I found didn’t help my energy levels at all was (and still is) coffee.
In order to restore a more natural energy cycle, I had to completely ditch coffee for a while.
I have tried drinking it a couple of times in the last week or so, but it still doesn’t have the effect it used to have.
When I drink coffee, it doesn't get rid of the fatigue, but merely masks it for a moment.
It’s like I can physically feel the fatigue waiting behind the barrier of the coffee in my head, ready to pounce as soon as the artificial effect of the caffeine wears off.
And pounce it does, once the caffeine is used up, I have the hardest crash ever.
A much better, and healthier option, is green tea, which contains a small amount of caffeine, but a whole host of other natural benefits come with that. Green tea contains L-theanine, which can increase the brain’s production of serotonin and dopamine, as well as folate, which can boost your mood.
Basically, just drink lots of water and eat well, and maybe you can break your coffee addiction in the process.
Implement some new healthy habits
When I said that you shouldn’t fight COVID fatigue earlier, I wasn’t entirely telling the truth.
What I meant was that you shouldn’t try to force yourself to work or do anything that requires a significant amount of energy.
There are some things you can do to alleviate fatigue, stress and generally boost your mood, however.
One of my favorites is breathwork.
Breathwork comprises of a number of different breathing techniques with the common goal of flooding the body with oxygen and reaching a state of respiratory alkalosis, essentially alkalizing the blood.
This alkalization of the blood leads to anti-inflammatory benefits due to the release of adrenaline by the nervous system.
I have been practicing breathwork almost daily for a few years because it makes me feel great, and whenever I’m stressed, depressed, or just a bit sleepy, it works like a charm.
If you’re interested in getting started with breathwork, check out Wim Hof.
If you still have lingering lung issues related to long-haul COVID, you might want to go easy on this one or skip it altogether.
Instead, you could try some calmer breathing techniques, or things like meditation.
Don’t lose hope
Possibly the most important thing for those suffering from long COVID is to keep fighting and to not lose hope.
People are getting better.
I have gotten better.
You will get better.
Some cases of long COVID may take six months to clear up like mine, whereas others might take a couple of years.
We need more research done on the topic, to hopefully find treatment and hope for the thousands who are suffering around the world.
But before that we need to keep fighting for recognition from the medical community, who still seemingly enjoy treating us as crazy people.
Things are going in the right direction. I am seeing more and more articles and statements from high ranking medical professionals admitting the existence of long COVID. All we need now is time.
If anyone reading this is still suffering, stay strong and know that things will improve.