I participated in the “Grief and Self Care During a Pandemic” webinar hosted by NARA, and I took some notes and decided to write up my version of the highlights for our therapists and friends. I also wanted the opportunity to add a bit of commentary to the main points that hosts Linda Riccio, OT/L and VP of Therapy Services for Transitional Care Management and Grief Counselor and Melissa Tilton, OTA, BS, COTA, ROH and Clinical Operations Area Director for GRS and Adjunct faculty for NSCC shared. The concepts and ideas in this webinar were directed toward professional caregivers, but I found them to be applicable not only to that audience, but to anyone facing stress lately. The bolded statements were mentioned in the webinar, and the italicized text is my personal commentary.
Takeaway 1. We (as an industry) spent time prepping for what we knew was coming in 2020 with changes in our industry. Then BAM, a pandemic happened. When the hosts mentioned this, my mind went right to a Biblical phrase that the Lord has reminded me of over and over again - “lean not on your own understanding.” It’s okay to plan and prepare, to be organized and efficient and ready for what’s next. In fact, it’s probably necessary in order to be good stewards of our resources, time, finances. However, we have to remember as Christians that our understanding of this world, of what’s happening and what’s not, is very, very limited. I think this pandemic has proven that to us all more times than we can count. It’s good to prepare, but we have to admit the limitations of our understanding. We cannot see or predict the future, and no matter what we face now or in time, we as Christians can have peace knowing that Christ is already there. He is sovereign over what we planned, what will happen, what will never be, and what we have yet to even imagine.
Takeaway 2. We have to acknowledge our grief or stress. We can’t bury it, or it will just come out elsewhere in our lives. Have you wondered why you’ve been eating more than normal? Maybe you’re shopping more? Are you more irritable than usual, fighting with loved ones more often than normal? Are you exhausted? It could be that the stress or grief you’re carrying is affecting you in that way, or many ways. Personally, I feel the effects of under-the-radar, chronic stress at night. Sometimes my heart will be racing for no reason - it only happens if I am stressed or upset about something. The best ways I know how to release grief or stress are through prayer, singing, art, or rest. Those are what I use, but I know there are many ways to healthfully self-soothe and relax. We all know that there is no end in sight when it comes to COVID-19, which is why I encourage all of us including myself to do a better job of addressing stress and grief. The long term effects are serious, and we are in this together, for the long haul.
Takeaway 3. There’s a pressure to be normal as the caretaker. It’s unrealistic. Y’all know I am not a therapist. I’ve never had a patient in my life. However, I carry a lot of emotional weight and baggage in my personal life, like I am confident many of you do, too. I am the go to person for many friends, cousins, and family members. To them, I am, in a way, caretaker. I know so many of you are caretakers not only at work, but at home, too. We all know that, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” but I think my takeaway from this point is that it is okay to show your not okay side from time to time. This isn’t an excuse to do anything crazy, but it is definitely a reminder of the grace God extends to us. Remember to pardon yourself from perfection when you need it.
Takeaway 4. PTSD, anxiety disorders, and trauma are ALL real. My fiance lost a family member suddenly and unexpectedly due to COVID. I am not going to lie to y’all and say it has not affected me. Every time I cough, feel a chill, or hear that I’ve been exposed to COVID (which seems like every day), my anxious heart defaults to, “You’ll probably get it again and die this time.” Or, “You’ll give it to someone you love, and they’ll die from this.” Yikes! You may say I’ve been traumatized by the media, or you may think I’m right to think that way. Maybe a little of both is more true than either side would like to admit. I don’t know how you’d clinically diagnose thoughts like that, but I do know this - the Enemy speaks. He feeds your fear. He robs you of your sanity, peace, and joy. He uses fear with me a lot, so it’s not surprising that during a global pandemic I would have anxiety and fear issues. They come and go. They come when I give the Enemy too much space, too much time and too many thoughts in my brain. I thank God that I know how to make them go. One call out to Jesus, and I am heard. One prayer, and He’s there with me. I can say back to the Enemy, “I have peace, and it is well with me.” I can say to the Enemy, “My God has conquered you and this stupid virus.” I can say to the Enemy, “Nothing will happen to me or my loved ones that is outside of God’s sovereignty.” I say to the Enemy just about every day, “I don’t understand why things happen more often than not, but I trust in Jesus above all else.” If you have thoughts like mine, anxiety, PTSD, or issues from trauma, what I do to cope might help you. Don’t worry if it doesn’t help. Some people need medication. Some people need counseling. Some people need to talk to Jesus. All of that is okay.
Takeaway 5. We carry so much stress in small things. We put additional pressure on ourselves in a time where we need pressure relief. I am the queen of this. Even before COVID and all of the stress, fear, and annoyances that it created, I still was terrible about doing this. Sometimes I am stressed over the most preposterous things. I am stressed right now about the fact that I need to clean my room. Y’all know I am messy, and it’s worse when I have a lot on my plate. I can clean it at any time, probably in less time than my favorite show or podcast. But, for some reason, it stresses me out. If you have wonderful people who can help you with these small, stupidly stressful tasks, take them up on their help. If you don’t, no worries. Accomplish one small stressful task, and watch as the rest get easier and easier to do. I have to remind myself sometimes to chill, and in a time as serious and stressful as we are in now, it’s all the more important. I believe in giving yourself a little grace, given all that we are facing. But, I also believe in being tough and getting stuff done. Finding a balance here has really helped me.
Takeaway 6. If you’re a well, some days it feels like you’ve used every drop you’ve got.Your well is deeper than you think. Dig deeper. Jesus comes in big here for me, guys. On my own, I don’t have much patience, much courage, much to give. With Him, I can face anything. You can, too.