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Three ways to support a friend or colleague with long covid

Aug 31, 2021

Over the last year of lockdown we have learnt that COVID-19 is far more complicated than a simple flu virus, and can have longer lasting effects than the usual two weeks recovery time. It is estimated that about 1 in 10 people are reporting a longer tail of symptoms. These people are months into their recovery from the initial infection of the virus, are no longer infectious or in the main throws of the illness and yet are still fighting off a range of symptoms that flare up and down. Research from the COVID-19 Symptom Study at King’s College London (KCL) has shown that some people continue to experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, coughs, loss of smell, sore throats, delirium, and chest pain even after the initial infection. The study at KCL showed that people with mild cases are more likely than those with a more serious case to have a wide range of symptoms that come and go over an extended period of time.

Living with Long Covid is complicated. The symptoms can come and go, meaning that one day they can feel good, and then be bed bound the next. If a friend or colleague has Long Covid, it is important to ensure that your support doesn’t inadvertently minimise their symptoms. So what is the best way to support them?

Do not talk about it as though it will resolve soon

Ensure you do not accidentally push or encourage the person to move forward or do more when they are not ready to do so. Though this may come from a place of not wanting them to be in pain or feel unwell, it can cause psychological harm to always talk about their illness as though full recovery is imminent. Questions like “Are you feeling better yet?” or statements like “Get lots of rest, you’ll be better in no time,” can make them feel pressured to do too much and act as though they are healthy before their body is ready. This can ultimately push back their recovery further if they are pushing their body too hard.

Adjust your expectations

Your friend or colleague will likely not have the same energy levels as they used to, or the same ability to show up. Furthermore, they will likely have more energy on some days than others. It does not mean you should see them as a person just in the sense of their illness, but being aware that you may have to modify your expectations on any given day will enable you to better support them. Being flexible, and offering to help with specific tasks will help them to feel supported in their recovery and their work without feeling patronised.

Beware of ‘toxic positivity’

Steer clear of telling someone that they could feel better if they had a more positive attitude. As much as psychology can positively affect the body, it by no means eradicates a medical diagnosis. It can be very painful and offensive to be going through an illness and have people tell you that you are not managing it correctly. Telling someone that their lack of positivity is the reason they are not getting better can also make them feel guilty about their own illness.

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