The world looks very different than it did just a few months ago as a result of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The need to limit contact by social distancing or self-quarantine has disrupted our routines, our systems, and – for many of us – our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Families and caregivers are facing hard decisions about protecting their health, finances, and loved ones. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reliable sources for up-to-date public health information. Here, we want to provide practical tips for supporting yourself and your loved one through this uncertain, ever-changing time.
Take Care of Yourself
We can’t emphasize this enough: just as if you were in an emergency situation on a plane, put your own oxygen mask on first! Many of us go into autopilot when we are under stress. That might mean making decisions without thinking through what might be different about this particular situation or trying to stick to a routine that is not currently feasible. Often unknowingly, caregivers distract themselves from their own wellbeing by focusing on taking care of others.
Ignoring your own self-care is a recipe for burnout. If you don’t attend to your own needs, over time you will start to feel the symptoms of stress take over. This might include unusual tiredness, feelings of resentment, persistent muscle tension, headaches, digestive problems, unusually high levels of annoyance and frustration, or other manifestations of stress. Take some time to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you need right now to tend to your own self-care? If you’re not sure how to “check in” with yourself, try some guided mindfulness exercises. A mindfulness app, Headspace, is currently offering some free guided meditation, but there also plenty of free exercises on YouTube.
This is not a one-and-done check in! Make time for yourself every day, even if it’s just two minutes.
Check In With Your Loved One
Okay, now that you’ve checked in with your own wellness and needs, it’s time to turn your attention to your loved one(s) to learn how they are managing. You can ask directly, “How has your mental health been with all the information coming out about COVID-19?” You may have a lot of assumptions about their responses based on their diagnosis or your own experiences. To hear what they are saying, make sure you actively listen to how your loved one is feeling.
Base your response on what you hear your loved one say. You can show that you were listening by reflecting back what you heard: “It sounds like you’re really worried about which news sources to trust right now, is that right?” Next, before making suggestions or telling your loved one what you think is best, make an inquiry. For example, ask, “Would it be helpful for me to share some advice or would you prefer just to talk?”
Now comes the hard part. Respect what your loved one says. If they are not in need of advice or help, don’t charge forward with more information. Don’t offer your judgment on their preference. And try not to say or do anything that inhibits future honest conversations.
In fact, it may be helpful for both you and your loved one to decide on your boundaries for how you want to talk about COVID-19 moving forward. Make an agreement about how often you discuss it, what kind of information you share, and when the best times to talk would be.
Offer Specific Ways You Can Provide Support
If your loved one is open to help or advice, be realistic about what you can provide. It may be well-intentioned to make a general offer, such as, “I am happy to help when anything you need,” but you can remove confusion and avoid overextending yourself (and perhaps creating resentment) by suggesting specific tasks you are willing and able to do.
Here are a few suggestions of help you could offer:
- Initiating a daily phone or video call to check in with each other.
- Supporting their keeping or making of a new daily routine.
- Calling your loved one’s insurance to see if tele-health services are covered and how to access them.
- Making a list together of coping skills for stressful or overwhelming moments.
- Playing virtual games, whether by finding existing ones or getting creative and making your own. FFDA tip: Try writing a story together! You can begin with a sentence or paragraph and then ask your loved one to write the next section. If you’re far apart or are practicing social distancing, use an e-mail chain or a Google doc to host the story.
- Dropping a meal or groceries at their front door.
- Practicing a mindfulness exercise together.
Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones by focusing on health and safety. We are in this – and we’ll get through this – together.
- Learning how to cope with stress is essential. Watch our free Coping with Stress and Depression Training—How You Can Fit Mindfulness Into Your Busy Schedule webinar to learn simple ways you can manage stress during your day.
- Visit our Help Someone resources for more tips on supporting your loved ones.
- Worried that your symptoms could be more than stress? Take our free, confidential, and anonymous Depression and Bipolar Test.