Are you mentally prepared to have someone go into lockdown? Something on a lot of our minds these days is how to handle not having access to those we care about. Whether it’s because of self-isolation or quarantine, lockdown in a facility, or geographical distance that keeps us apart, this space between can lead to worry and additional stress.
I completely understand what it’s like to be feeling isolated. Like you, I get stressed about the fact that at some point I may have unwittingly hugged my mom for the last time. These are stressful times, and things can feel like they’re spinning out of control.
As a change specialist, I know there are things we can do to become more resilient to the unexpected little adventures life throws at us. If we view these twists and turns as puzzles to solve as opposed to challenges we must overcome, the journey through the change may be a little less arduous. To that end, here are some tips for dealing with a situation full of uncontrollable change, including a pandemic.
- Focus on what you have control over
- Have a communication plan
- Devise quality time & conversation
- Document advance care and end of life plans
- Be kind to yourself
Begin by articulating what you’re actually afraid of and proceed from there. As with any change, we all fear the unknown.
TIP #1 Focus on what you have control over
To make the unknown known, and to determine what you can control, you need information. Knowledge is power.
- Research: Find out how hospitals are handling ICU cases. Find out about visitation, safety protocols, what’s available, permitted, and your rights to access.
- Learn: Get familiar with how the facility providing care is keeping your loved one safe. Find out who is advocating for you and yours and how best to interact with them.
- Be helpful: Once you know how the system works, figure out how you can help. Ask them what you can do to make their lives easier and do what you can. That’s where you have control. You always have control over your attitude and your behaviour.
Some of us fear isolation itself. We are social creatures. When we’re feeling poorly, most people want a hug. We want to be close to those we love and care for when they’re suffering. But with the pandemic, physical closeness is not an option. We need creative solutions.
TIP #2 Have a communication plan
- Use technology: Phone, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, whatever you have access to.
- Be patient: If those you wish to stay in touch with are not technically savvy, think about what they might be comfortable using. Don’t force them too far outside their comfort zone. Ensure they have access to devices they can manage and get them instruction on how to use it.
- Low tech is cool, too: If technology outside of the telephone is not for them, consider snail mail. Everyone loves receiving things in the mail. Dust off photo albums, scrapbooks, and anything else that provides connection.
- Schedule it: Consider implementing a communication schedule. It adds an element of routine and control.
- Get creative: Keeping in mind if they become critically ill, end up in isolation and intubated, they may not be able to speak. They may be able to hear you, write, or read. Build that into your plan. Make a card, draw a picture, send them a notebook with personal messages. If physical touch is important, add a small token they can hold. They will appreciate you are there in spirit, even if you cannot physically be present.
Many of us fear death. Whether it’s the fear of short-term isolation turning into something more permanent like death, or our personal fear of what may happen to those we love if we die, we are all biologically predisposed to fear our inevitable demise.
The reality is we never know when we leave someone if it will be the last time we see them. Usually we ignore this fact. Now it’s staring us in the face every moment of every day, and that’s stressful. So as much as we can, we want to seize the day!
TIP #3 Devise quality time & conversation
- Show them you care: Find ways for those you care about to carry that warm fuzzy with them. Whatever their love language is, find a way to give them the words, acts, gifts, time, or touch they need to feel with you even when they’re not with you.
- Share simple pleasures: Figure out what brings you both joy and make it happen. For many it’s moments of laughter, music, or a shared pastime. Laughter is a great stress reliever, plus it boosts the immune system. Guilt and regret are not helpful, so be proactive, and maybe a bit silly every once in a while.
- Have meaningful conversation: Tell them you care. Say it now, say it often. Never assume they know how you feel about them. Find time to talk about important things.
Which brings us to the next tip. Talk about how each of you would like to be cared for if ill, injured, or dying. Don’t wait for an emergency.
TIP #4 Discuss advance care and end of life plans
You need to be clear on the wishes of those you care about. As well they should know your wishes for your own care. Having those discussions together provides great clarity and relief.
- Ponder: Consider what makes your life meaningful, your values, and what your wishes might be related to short and long-term health care & quality of life, as well as dying and death. Dying With Dignity Canada
- Decide: Choose who you would like to speak on your behalf. You’ll want to choose a Health Proxy and an Executor.
- Discuss your wishes: Have conversations with those who need to know. Be clear on the topic and intention of the conversation before you begin. Plan out what you want to say and keep an open mind. The Conversation Project
- Document the plans: Having advance care and end of life plans spells out what we DO and DO NOT want. It is important to put it in writing. It also helps us feel more confident our wishes will be respected and makes health care workers’ jobs easier. An end of life plan eases the burden for those we leave behind.
Many of us also have a fear of dying alone, either for those we care about or for ourselves. But consider this: dying alone is not the same as dying lonely. If you care for someone and are thinking about them, even if you are physically apart, they are not truly alone. Remind them, and remind yourself, that you are thinking of them even when you’re not together. It can provide both of you peace of mind.
TIP #5 Be kind to yourself
In times of change, self-care is an important part of health care. The stress from change reduces the body’s immunity, so it’s important to mindful.
- Forgive yourself: You cannot always physically be with those you care about. This is something you will not have control over, so don’t waste precious energy feeling guilty about it.
- Trust: If your loved one is in a care facility someone will be with them if at all possible. You cannot be responsible for everyone all the time, seek and accept help from others.
- Seek mental health care: Sudden loss (through isolation or death) is traumatic. Get the help you need, because bottling it up is destructive, and that helps no one. The best thing you can do for others is to take care of yourself first. Canadian Mental Health Association
REMEMBER: We may not have a choice about what’s happening, but we always have a choice about what to do about it!