COLUMN: Making it through uncertain timesMarch 17, 2020
By MARTHA RASCHE
Special to The Herald
High school color guard semi-state and state contests, canceled.
School plays, put on hold.
Hoopin’ It Up in Jasper, canceled.
Spring break trip, canceled.
College classes, canceled, and campuses shut down.
Nursing homes, closed to volunteers.
Dinner with friends planned for Pub ‘n’ Grub last night, canceled.
And that’s just some of what my own family has experienced in the past week.
Through Wednesday, life was pretty much normal for me — and, I’m guessing, for most of you. But then, Thursday happened.
I started that day like this:
On the drive to work, I learned that the NBA season was suspended and that Big 10 tournament games would be played in empty stadiums. (The Big 10 season has since ended. This is not the story to read to get the latest updates on closings and cancellations; they are happening just too quickly.)
When I arrived at work, the first thing I heard was a co-worker talking about Tom Hanks and his wife testing positive for the coronavirus in Australia. “OMG,” she said, “Mr. Rogers has coronavirus!”
Her comments were immediately followed by another co-worker sharing that his wife got a call the day before to say that the nursing home where his mother resides is closed to visitors. “Don’t worry,” he said the caller told his wife, “if your mother-in-law dies, we’d let you in to get her things.”
And that, my friends, was all I could take.
With several radios on in my work area, I immediately started wondering how I would get through the announcement whiplash of the day.
I immediately (sorry, employer, but it was anything but a normal day and, yes, I texted on your time) tried to get an interview with a counselor at Memorial Hospital, so I could share the hospital’s tips in this column. The hospital tried to be accommodating, but in the end, employees there have much more important things to do these days than talk to me. I did get a tip sheet from some friends in mental health, though, and am sharing signs of stress and ways to cope with it here and in a sidebar.
As adults, the most important thing you can do to reduce your stress is take care of yourself.
Experts recommend you limit your exposure to breaking news related to the outbreak. It is important to remain up to date, but that can be done while limiting yourself to one reliable source and/or limiting your updates to a few times a day rather than all day long.
Keeping yourself healthy also is important. That includes eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, exercising and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake.
Especially for those of you with children in your lives, it is important to model resilience and calm, not panic and freakouts, in response to disappointment and uncertainty. Also, maintain structure and routines.
Take time to talk to your children about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer their questions in a way they can understand; keep it simple and age-appropriate.
Review safety plans.
Reassure your children that they are safe. Let them know it is OK to feel scared or upset; share with them how you handle your own stress.
For those of you whose loved ones include college seniors, think about this:
One day during the past week, their school year — their college career, in most cases — just ended. They didn’t have time for closure. They didn’t have those “last days” to say goodbye to friends and to take those last walks on campus.
For those of you who love students of any age who have spent months putting their all into athletic, drama and music activities only to have taken away from them the rewards that come in the form of public performances and local and state championship events, know that many of those students feel robbed and are heartbroken. If those students are seniors, who can’t say “There’s always next year,” they might feel even worse.
Any of these students could be grieving. It is difficult for adults to make sense of what is going on around us right now; it is even more difficult for teens and young adults to do so. Give them an opportunity to talk about their feelings, and let them know you are always available to listen.
I heard someone suggest that we start our days by embracing what we still have, not dwelling on what has been (temporarily) taken from us.
A few different Facebook pages list activities that have not been canceled: going outdoors, listening to music, singing out loud, reading a book, laughing.
Individuals have their own ideas: Take a walk, play in your yard, cook a meal, have a family game night, go for a drive, have a group video chat, stream a favorite show, check on a friend or elderly neighbor.
For nearly a year, my siblings and I have taken turns making Sunday dinner at Mom’s for all of us. Some Sundays the group has grown to 20 people or more. We met this past Sunday, but for the indefinite future, most of us will be no-shows. Our mother is 93, and none of us wants to be the one responsible for sharing any germs with her that she might not be able to handle.
What I did today to start replacing that get-together is send an email to all of my family members with email addresses. That’s three generations. (Mom would make four, but she doesn’t have an email address. Yet.) Just a quick note of love and support (and a copy of this column). I asked each of them to Reply All if and when the spirit moves them in the coming weeks.
These are uncertain times. We will not be together as much physically as we have been in the past, but together we will make it through.
Martha Rasche is a member of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership Mental Health Committee and the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. With funding from the health partnership, she writes about topics related to mental health. Read her blogs at TheseAreOurStories.com. Email her at email@example.com.
Signs of Stress
The outbreak of coronavirus 2019 may be distressing to some individuals. Anxiety and fear may become overwhelming and cause strong emotions for children and adults.
Adults may experience:
• A change in energy level or activities (increase or decrease)
• An increase in emotions, especially irritability, anger, guilt, tearfulness
• Excessive worrying
• Difficulty relaxing
• Changes in appetite (increase or decrease)
• Sweating or cold chills
• Headaches or stomachaches
• Feeling confused, difficulty concentrating or having trouble remembering things
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
Children may experience:
• “Acting out” and/or irritability
• Difficulty concentrating
• Unexplained headaches, body aches or stomachaches
• Returning to behaviors they have outgrown, such as bedwetting or toileting accidents
• Fear that a family member, close friend or pet may die.
Relaxation techniques that could help:
• Practice deep breathing: Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale through your mouth for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4
• Talk about your feelings with loved ones and friends
• Focus on positive parts of your life
• Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking
Note to responders and caregivers
Responding to COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on you. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions.
• Acknowledge that STS can impact anyone. Including you, families and co-workers.
• Learn the symptoms of STS. Physical symptoms include illness, fatigue and forgetfulness. Emotional symptoms include fear, guilt and withdrawal.
• Get support from your team members. Avoid working alone.
• Take breaks. This is necessary and not selfish.
When to get help
If you or someone you know is showing signs of stress for several days or weeks, and it is also interfering with your daily life, reach out for help. Contact your family physician, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, Memorial Hospital’s 24-hour Help Line at 812-827-6222 or the LifeSpring 24-hour crisis line at 812-482-4020.
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