Just as EMTs have their check list for addressing key physical needs during an emergency, care teams at the hospital manage the physical aspects of illnesses before considering the emotional challenges you or your child may be facing. Although this has been changing for the better, the focus of hospital care still remains the body. This means that you are your best advocate when it comes to emotional health for you or your family.
How can you and your loved ones take control of your emotional health in the face of a stressful health challenge? Here are some ideas:
Patients, parents, friends and family dealing with chronic illness say that uncertainty is one of the most stressful aspects of their experience. What will happen? What will the future look like? What procedures, timeframes, limitations and life changes should everyone expect?
Good communication can help minimize the impact of this uncertainty. How? When you have information, share it (in an age-appropriate way.) When there truly is uncertainty, expressing how difficult this is ensures, at least, that no one feels alone in his or her uncertainty. For people of all ages, direct communication can be difficult. If you need help communicating your needs, hopes, and fears, consider expressing your emotions in a journal as a way to practice sharing these feelings with people you trust.
- Commitment, Control and Challenge
Perhaps you can apply the same mental attitudes that psychologists determined were key emotional strengths following the massive downsizing at Illinois Bell Telephone in 1981:
Commitment, meaning staying with the process rather than walling yourself off from it:
In the case of health challenge, commitment means sticking with what you are feeling or experiencing and then working through it, rather than trying to distance yourself from it.
Control, meaning continuing to try to influence outcomes:
We may not be able to control the ultimate physical outcome of the health challenge we are faced with, but there are plenty of aspects we can control along the way: how we respond, how we take care of ourselves, what treatment options we choose, what attitude we adopt.
Challenge, meaning viewing the situation as an opportunity for learning:
Admittedly, this is very difficult when the road is the roughest, but training our attention to notice blessings in the midst of a storm can do wonders for our emotional health.
- Get Help
Let’s reconsider the EMT analogy. Most people wouldn’t close their own stitches and, likewise, there may be parts of your emotional health that you can’t handle on your own. Just like you use a medical doctor to support your physical health, it may be worth looking into working with a psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional to support your or your loved one’s emotional health. You probably have enough on your plate right now without making yourself solely responsible for the emotional wellbeing of yourself and everyone around you. If you find yourself struggling or you’re watching your loved one struggle, understand that feeling overwhelmed is normal, given the challenges of the situation you are facing. There are people who can help you. Consider working with a professional who is trained to support your emotional health.
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.