Putri Juneita Johari
WE often hear people telling us that they’re coping with their situation after finding themselves in a “new normal” life. What does that even mean? This idiom started off as a term in business and economics referring to financial conditions following the financial crisis some years back. Today, it’s being used to describe anything that replaces the expected, usual and typical.
It fits caregiving perfectly well because when your loved one suddenly falls critically ill and has to adjust to a new way of life, your life changes too. Both the care receiver and the caregiver learn to adjust and cope with a new normal life, like emergency hospital admissions and going for treatments such as haemodialysis thrice weekly.
Coping is usually a mechanism where you have to strike a balance in your life while adjusting and tolerating events or realities in your life as you try to maintain your positive self-image and equilibrium. This, in addition to your caregiving duties, can be stressful because you need sheer strength and effort to keep it up.
If this goes on long enough, you can suffer from elevated levels of stress-related hormones that manifest into several different illnesses like chronic pain, flu-like symptoms that never seem to go away, as well as gastric problems and anxiety attacks that mimic a heart attack.
DEALING WITH EMOTIONS
How can you tackle this problem? It’s not easy. Just like everything in life, nothing is created equal; so not all coping skills and abilities are equal. Most of us just deal with it the best way we know how. Some even go through depression and break down. Before your situation escalates to that point, learn to recognise the signs and symptoms. Talk to a trusted friend or see counsellors. There’s no shame in seeking help.
There are many ways of dealing with stress and uncomfortable emotions. It all depends on your personality and strategies. While one may give you quick relief but might snowball into a bigger problem later, the other can actually help you reduce your distress and how you deal with your problems. You need to be able to ask yourself what you can do about it. Do you need to change your situation or do you need to cope with it? Can you say “no” and walk away?
If you need to change your situation, it helps to remove that source of stress from your life - or remove yourself from it. If it’s work, for example, you might want to change jobs. If it is people, you might need to break away, which takes a lot of courage. Unfortunately, it’s not always that straightforward because you need to consider so many things.
While you think over your next steps, do things to clear your mind. Getting good quality sleep helps, but sleep can be elusive when your mind is burdened with worries. Learn to manage expectations and demands. Being able to speak up for yourself despite your fear of disappointing others is the first step towards that.
Turning down people’s requests is never easy especially when you enjoy doing it and would do it if you had the time and energy. But when you know you’ve stretched yourself too thin, just choose and do what’s best for you.
EVERYTHING IN ORDER
If you find yourself weakening to persuasive demands by others, attempt to change the source of stress. If that doesn’t work, distance yourself from it. Find a moment to sit down and work out your own needs. Remember there’s only so much time in a day.
Prioritise the people in your list and what you need to attend to. Remember to put yourself in that list, which should include time for sleep, prayer/meditation, exercise, eating nutritious and well-balanced meals, and taking brief rests during the day.
Somewhere on that list, also plan for vacations away from home, work and duty. It doesn’t have to be grand vacations. Sometimes, just a few nights away to do fun things can help re-energise your body, mind and spirit.
Some of the healthier ways to see if you’re on the right track is to look at what you have. Do you have supportive family and friends? Activities and hobbies outside this circle like community work? Body weight that’s within the range of your ideal weight, plus-minus 5kg? Have moments for yourself and backup plans if you need help?
Some people cope with stress by using crutches like smoking, drinking alcohol, stress eating, medicines or other substances. Over time, these habits can lower your ability to deal with issues in your life. If you catch yourself taking any of these to get by, or if you feel sad or overwhelmed, seek help. Spend time to evaluate your situation. When you can change from “just coping” to “everything’s in order”, you’ll feel like a burden has been lifted.
Putri Juneita Johari volunteers for the Special Children Society of Ampang. She can be reached at [email protected].