Feeling Fearful About Long Covid? Why The Key is to Rest

Contracting Long Covid is something that many Kiwis are feeling fearful about right now as the number of Kiwis infected with Covid climbs. So what can we do to protect ourselves? We speak to a Kiwi who is unfortunately now very familiar with Long Covid…

When Powered by Flossie CEO & founder Jenene Crossan came down with Covid-19 in 2020 she was one of the first Kiwis to test positive. Her symptoms quickly escalated, to a point where she needed to be hospitalised. She’d been overseas, and came home before our border shut, before we instigated mass lockdowns (although she did have to isolate when she returned home – staying in a camper outside her family home), before we – or the rest of the world – knew that such a thing as Long Covid exists.

Now, we know that signs and symptoms can continue, or develop after the acute phase of Covid (four weeks from the initial infection). For weeks or months, symptoms can continue to plague sufferers, ranging from mild to severe and are now known as Long Covid, or Long Haulers. Some of the most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, headaches, brain fog, chest pain, joint pain, muscle aches, ongoing changes to smell or taste, fast beating or pounding heart and sleep disturbances.

But in 2020, while other Covid patients seemed to bounce back, it seemed a bit odd that Jenene hadn’t come right – months down the track. Since her diagnosis – and during the process of trying to get one – she’s been very vocal about the condition, which we still don’t know an awful lot about, particularly in NZ. She’s now one of the admins of New Zealand’s Long Covid Support Groups and is on the advisory and Māori Rōpū boards for the Covid Aotearoa study (conducted by Victoria University). It’s an incredibly important study which seeks to understand the experiences of people in Aotearoa New Zealand who have had COVID-19 and the impact that this has had on the health and well-being of individuals, whānau and families. Crucially, information in this study is collected anonymously without recrimination – so if you, or someone you know has had Covid, encourage them to follow that link!

Now, as we experience a level of Covid in the community we have never seen before, it’s not surprising that with the surge in cases in NZ, Jenene has had a lot of people asking her for advice. Which is why she put up a simple Facebook post on her page that has now been shared many times over social media – you may have come across it! She said:

“If you’re Covid positive no matter how well or other you are please DO NOT exercise. Give yourself a good couple of weeks to REST. It’s a crucial aspect to reducing risk of Long Covid. Rest no matter the severity of sickness. Don’t ‘push through’. That’s it, that’s my entire piece of advice for you. REST. REST. REST. REST. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Do not ‘sweat it out’, let your body REST and you’ll have a much higher chance of avoiding Long Covid.”

In New Zealand it’s currently unknown how many people have Long Covid – but it is certainly thousands and this number is expected to grow. Overseas, there are now huge numbers – the ONS report in the UK issued last week stated that 1.5 million people in the UK have Long Covid.

So, how do we lessen our chances? The experts are in unison with Jenene, that rest is crucial.

David Putrino, an Australian neuroscientist who leads several long covid rehabilitation clinics at Mount Sinai Health System in New York says that people shouldn’t try to just “push through” their illness.

“There are emerging studies saying that if you get Covid and you don’t take adequate rest, you try to push through, that is also predictive of people going on to get Long Covid,” he says.

A further study in the UK suggested that there are additional factors that can also increase your likelihood of developing Long Covid. These included being aged between 35 and 69, being female, living in low socio-economic areas, working in health or social care and/or those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.

If you’re reading this and feeling concerned, remember that rest is your friend – and that being triple vaxxed also lessens your chances of contracting Covid in the first place. For a bit more info on what it’s like and what else you can do to be prepared and lessen your chances of developing Long Covid, we had a chat with Jenene:

How long is it now since you contracted Covid-19 and whereabouts are you in your health journey? 

It has been nearly two years since I contracted the original strain of Covid-19, somewhere in London. Given how sick I was with it, it’s likely I got a large viral load from someone I spent some reasonable time with (who didn’t know they were infected too). Today I am better in many ways (fatigue isn’t as bad), but will be impacted for years to come – there are ramifications on my body that will exist forever. I still don’t have my sense of smell back.

You were one of the first in NZ to battle long covid – back then, so very little was known about it (although we certainly still have a long way to go in terms of research & info!). How tough were those early days?

The first few months were brutal – I felt very isolated and very much like an outcast. There was no support at all and it felt like I had an experience that very few people around me could relate to. Had I still been in London I would have had more support from people who understood what I was going through. Meeting the first other Long Covid people in early August was a game changer for me. While the club is no longer exclusive, with so many new Covid infections in these last few weeks, we are a long way from Long Covid being formally recognised and supported in Aotearoa. 

You recently posted a message about the importance of rest while recovering from Covid. Why is rest so crucial?

The studies show that the best way to reduce your risk of Long Covid is resting in the initial infection phase. A simple look at the re-tweets on my original message shows hundreds of people with Long Covid supporting this too.

Essentially, no matter how ‘well’ you feel, there is a lot going on in your body when you have a Covid-19 infection. It needs to be focused on that, not on repairing other things. Same can be said for making sure your kidneys and liver aren’t focused on clearing out toxins at the same time (like alcohol or drugs). We need to give our body the best possible chance to fight for us.

When we talk about rest, are we solely talking about physical rest? Or does this extend to mental exertion too. Like, if your boss is keen for you to get a few jobs sorted from home – maybe a few spreadsheets on your laptop in bed – is this a good thing to push back on?!

That’s a great question. Absolutely, I overloaded myself on stress when I was sick – and I think that had a disastrous affect on me and probably is a major reason why I got so knocked about. Rest means do nothing, watch telly, sleep… not WFH from bed.

Do you have any other suggestions for what people can do to keep themselves/whanau safest during this time?

As tempting as it might be to want to get Covid-19 infection ‘out of the way’ so you can ‘get back to normal’ – this is a fallacy and it’s dangerous. We should all do what is reasonable to avoid getting infected and reducing the impact on others too. Supporting each other is important – a lot of people will find this tougher than they thought. Providing safe spaces to share our worries and anxieties and ensure that whānau get connected with support is something we can all participate in. I’m encouraging people to be active participants in their communities. Add value, be part of helping us get through this safely together. Consider our actions, our commentary and how we show up.

What would you recommend having on hand at home before you get sick, to help you through?

We have a handy list you can peruse! I would suggest you partner up with neighbours to share some of these items and also to help each other through. 

Any final thoughts?

This wave will pass and we’ll be through this difficult time and onto the next challenge. For some people this time won’t be too bad and for others it will be really difficult. I encourage people to remember their lens and how it affects how they see things. Many of us have privilege going into this – be it financial or health stability, or more bandwidth to cope. Some have young families, shift work, no income, disabilities – these will all make getting through much harder. People have short wicks and it’s tough out there. Reach out, pull up, try and connect with others. We can do this together – a full team of 6 million (yes, all of you overseas as well!). 

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