April 7, 2020
April 7, 2020 - 3 p.m. EST
One of the most difficult parts about the COVID-19 pandemic are the unknowns — from exact symptoms experienced by different people to the availability of hospital staff and equipment. But one true unknown that is difficult to face is how to emotionally support someone with COVID-19. From friends to close family members, you want to make sure you’re doing all you can to be there for someone who has been diagnosed, but from a safe distance.
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To help answer this question, DoctorOz.com spoke with Anita Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist who focuses on supporting familial relationships. She breaks down how people can be emotionally supportive to their friends and loved ones who may be suffering from COVID-19.
If Someone You Live With Has COVID-19
If you live with a loved one who has been diagnosed, make sure you’re staying positive and focused on the things you can control, like the meals you’re cooking or even what you can control within your personal schedule throughout the day. It’s important to take care of yourself and the rest of the family in the house if one person has to be isolated.
It can be tricky to make someone feel loved and included when they have to remain isolated in another room or part of the house. Try to lift someone’s spirits who has COVID-19 by preparing their favorite meals for them (leaving them at the door) or blasting their favorite music. Sharing music throughout the house can make the isolated person feel like they’re part of something larger, socially. It can also serve as a nice reminder that things won’t be like this forever.
If A Friend or Distant Relative Has COVID-19
First off, she says, let them know that you’re available — even if you’re not there in person. “Tell them that you are available to talk, be a distraction, and help in any way that they need,” Chlipala says. “You can also give them something to look forward to by scheduling a meetup after the quarantine is over. Some people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are saying that even after quarantine, loved ones are worried they will get infected.”
Chlipala has noticed that some people are facing social hurdles after recovery — either because people are afraid they’re going to catch the virus themselves, or that they’ll be exposed to it. Make sure you let them know that, no matter what, after this is over, you’ll be there to celebrate their recovery.
Try to think of their favorite things and offer them up as distractions when you’re able. Don’t let your fear of being a nuisance keep you from checking in with calls and texts — let the person know that you’re thinking of them. “People have a range in severity of symptoms, so there may be days when you text or call and the person may not want to answer because they feel so sick,” says Chlipala. "If you are not living with a person who has COVID-19, tell them that you want to check in but you don’t want to be a nuisance, and ask what works for them.”
Chlipala suggests contacting other friends in the group and considering scheduling days where each of you can provide meals to the person or their family in order to lessen the burden.
“Ask if they need other essential items like soap or toilet paper,” says Chlipala. “Some of these items may have been out of stock by the time this person contracted COVID-19, so they may not be stocked up for the 14 days that they are in quarantine.”
If they’re set on essentials, there are other ways to help. In addition to bringing over necessities, you can offer up your time with video chats, phone calls, or texts. I’ve also started sending meaningful quotes or moments from the week between groups of friends via email. While these things may sound small, I’m honestly so excited to open up my email and see that I have a note from a friend — and I can imagine that these moments could act as heartwarming distractions for someone who is actually sick.
“If the person who has COVID-19 also has a family, you can also ask their partner how you can be of help,” says Chlipala. “You can offer to make a pharmacy run. You can also drop off books, magazines, and puzzles to help them pass the time in quarantine.”
In addition to checking in with their partner to see how you can help, make sure you check in on the rest of the family as well. The person who is sick may not need help, but their partner or children might be excited to receive meals, games, or even phone calls for themselves.
Most importantly, Chlipala cautions caregivers to take time for themselves — as that’s the only way they’ll truly be able to offer themselves up to others.
"It’s normal to feel guilty or want to hover, especially if you live with this person, so you can be available should they need you,” says Chlipala. “Take care of yourself — make sure you are taking the time for exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and engaging in relaxing activities.”
“If you yourself are prone to anxiety or catastrophic thinking, it is very important to stay grounded in the facts and not allow your thinking to get the best of you,” says Chlipala. Make sure you take time to care for your own mental health, whether that means contacting your therapist or taking time to meditate.