It’s not at all unusual for those who have had Covid – even mild-to-moderate cases – to experience fatigue and exhaustion for a few weeks after the illness passes.
For some of us, though, the fatigue and exhaustion can last for months. And, even when we begin to have good days and good weeks again, there are still days when we experience fatigue and “post exertional malaise”.
In my case, I had Covid in early Spring 2021, before I was eligible for a vaccine. I was absolutely exhausted for a few weeks after my illness, which I didn’t question. I thought it was normal for what my body had been through. But weeks went on and I still had nowhere near my old level of energy. Finally, I started having good days and even good weeks, but I still have days when I have to take a nap. Rarely, I still have severe “post exertional malaise”. This occurs after I’ve pushed myself – I took an active vacation, or felt really energetic so I cleaned the house, or experienced a lot of work stress. This requires more bed rest than just a nap and with post exertional malaise I often get chills.
So what can we do about fatigue?
See Your Doctor
If you haven’t had a recent physical, see your doctor. Fatigue is a symptom of many different diseases and disorders, including diabetes, heart problems, thyroid disease, digestive disorders, kidney disease, cancer, lupus, and different forms of arthritis. Make sure what you’re dealing with is actually Covid long haul. And that there’s not another medical condition compounding your situation.
Will Supplements Help?
Maybe, if you are deficient. I recommend everyone, even non-vegans, be tested for Vitamin D (see Vitamin D for You and Me!) and B12 (many people, especially older people, have trouble absorbing this). If you are a menstruating woman, I would also suggest having your iron levels checked.
You might also consider taking a multivitamin, especially if you aren’t eating as regularly or healthfully as you used to! (It can be hard to eat when your sense of smell and taste is whacked!)
The Internet is advising long lists of supplements to fight Covid and long hauler symptoms, but I’d be hesitant to take these without first discussing with a doctor or a RD. Some supplements can be dangerous – for example, taking extra iron if you are not a menstruating woman. And even “harmless” vitamins like Vitamin C should not be taken in excess, as large doses can cause diarrhea, leading to dehydration.
Be aware that in supplements you want non-heme iron and either D2 – ergocalciferol – or D3 that is derived from lichen. My favorite vitamin brands include MyKind and Deva, both of which are vegan.
Limit Caffeine, Alcohol, and Sweets
Caffeine, alcohol, and sweets can all play games with your blood sugar levels – even if your levels test well within the normal range.
Even mild dehydration can make you feel more fatigued. For many of us, water is harder to drink than it used to be – it can have a weird metallic taste. Just do whatever you can to take in fluids. Add some lemon, lime, or fruit juice to your water; drink herbal teas.
Give Yourself Permission To Take Naps
This was hard for me. I felt lazy taking a nap (or naps!) during the day. Especially when there were so many things I “should” be doing! But I learned that I always felt much better after a short, 15-30 minute nap. And when I tried to “push through” instead of listening to my body screaming at me to REST, I just set myself up for a much bigger energy crash.
This was also hard for me to learn. If you are reading this, you probably know that having Covid and being a long hauler has made us feel “behind” in life. Being sick, recovering, and dealing with long hauler symptoms only left time and energy for the things that were absolutely necessary – such as working a 50+ hour a week job to pay the bills and doing only the most basic housework and self care.
So when I had a “good day” or a “good week” I often tried to make up for lost time! In one day I’d try to deep clean the kitchen and organize the pantry, review my finances and budget, study, post on Instagram, do some exercise, color my hair, run errands, work on my planner and goals (most of which I did not meet last year) … If this sounds familiar to you, I’m sure you know what happens next – a severe energy crash a day or two later.
I had to learn to pace myself. I’ll spend an hour cleaning; then sit quietly and read a chapter in a book. Run errands; then watch an episode of Cobra Kai. Of course I felt guilty about this (“Is watching Daniel and Johnny and their decades-long feud REALLY more important than cleaning the bathroom?!!!”).
It doesn’t help to be around people who have never had Covid and don’t understand why you are not as energetic and productive as you used to be. They don’t comprehend that you are using every ounce of energy to just accomplish the basics and keep things from falling apart. They may call you lazy and slothful, not realizing that you are expending twenty times the energy to get through your daily life than they are expending.
It’s vitally important to take rest breaks. And it makes a huge difference to alternate physical activities with non-physical ones, odious activities with pleasant ones, mentally stimulating activities with brainless ones. I often felt I was “wasting time,” but I actually gained time since I had far fewer severe energy crashes, which always set me back several days.
Prepare For Energy Crashes
Not meaning to be negative here – just realistic. I know there are days when I’ll still need naps and I know having had several severe energy crashes, I’ll probably have more.
Since I know I’ll often have to take a daytime nap, I make sure my bed is always made (no more stripping the sheets off in the morning to wash, letting the mattress “air,” and making up the bed again in the evening). And since my severe energy crashes usually start like the flu, with chills that last a few hours, I keep several layers of blankets on my bed, a small space heater nearby, and a few bottles of water on the bedside table. Because once a chill starts, I don’t want to get out of bed for ANYTHING.
Your crashes may be quite different than mine, but you still may want to make a few contingency plans.
For example, you may need to teach the others in your household how to fend for themselves more – cook their own meals, do their own laundry.
If you can afford it, you might consider hiring someone to do the more physical chores. Someone to do your yardwork, maybe, or come in once or twice a month to do the deep cleaning.
If you have pets, consider automatic feeders and waterers so their food will never be late. (Prince Harry gets quite upset if his food is ever even ONE MINUTE late! He usually starts reminding me one hour before, and every 15 minutes after that!)
Is There Hope?
Yes, I think there is! Whatever challenges I’m facing, I can see I’ve come a long way.
Although Covid seems like something completely out of our control, we can make a world of difference by taking care of our overall health in general and developing coping strategies.
Things WILL get better. And you are NOT alone in this – even though it may feel that way at times.
Please Note: I am not a medical professional. I am just sharing my own experiences and what has worked for me, as well as first-hand experiences from others. The advice is mostly geared towards those who became moderately to severely ill from Covid, but not ill enough to require hospitalization.