In the past few days and presumably in the coming weeks as well, we are facing challenges that are unprecedented in our life. Each year at Bátor Tábor, we assist more than 1000 kids with serious illnesses and their families. Lots of these families have already experienced the difficulties caused by isolation even for long months. The foundation with its therapeutic recreation programs helps and delivers courage for the concerned families so that they can better cope with these difficulties. Hereby, Schumicky Júlia, the psychologist of Bátor Tábor shares her thoughts and pieces of advice.
What happens to us from psychological point of view?
In psychological sense, the current situation is a crisis, which means that we cannot avoid nor solve this situation with our existing coping mechanisms. For this reason, numerous negative emotions are revolving in us, such as anxiety, uncertainty, fear, hopelessness or sadness. This situation evokes the experience of loss on several layers in all of us since temporarily we lose our future plans, the possibility of personal interactions, our recreational opportunities or even our financial security. That is why, we constantly recalculate and we have to accommodate to the actual often daily changing conditions. Besides this, we all have relatives and friends who are at higher risks to infections and whom we are especially worried about. We have to ’manage’ all these psychological challenges under circumstances we have never been in before, often in closure or solitude we have never experienced before. So what can we do to manage it as well as possible and to be able to preserve our mental and psychological balance?
Let’s start with ourselves!
The word ’crisis’ derives from Greek and the Hungarian meaning of it is ’opportunity, decision’. Regarding ourselves, it means that even in the present situation, I have the opportunity to decide how I react to the given situation. I can choose to take the best advantage of the opportunities brought by the maximum time spent at home: I can devote more time for my hobby, I can dive into a good book, I can improve my knowledge of a foreign language, I can improve my cooking expertise, I can try a new form of recreation or I can talk long hours with my friends living abroad. Whatever I decide, I can gain from these things and they can help to give some meaning to this period in the short and long run. By pondering about these things, we can ask questions if later reflecting upon this period of our life how we would be content with ourselves. How can I devote this period of my life to improving myself? What sense of achievement can I reach in the present? In what aspects can I personally improve having all these new experiences? There are thousands of reactions to these assumptions, but whatever answers we find, we can be sure that with the help of awareness, we will be able to overcome the most difficult times of our life.
How to satisfy our basic needs?
Build up a daily routine, a stable and reliable system that can ’hold’ you on more difficult days. We should try to establish a daily rhythm and pay attention to healthy diet and regular exercise. We should separate as much as possible – even with introducing rituals – the time spent with home office working and free time activities. Establish the proper ’place and time’ for all these activities.
Be in contact with others, talk about ourselves, and listen to other views. Even though, we have to give up personal encounters for a while, in the online world we can keep up our usual ’appointments’ that have characterised our everyday life beforehand. As an impact of isolation, our need to connect to others may intensify above the average, thus this is a good opportunity to establish the habit of taking coffee breaks together, evening cookings and long talks with our family members. These activities may help us experience something from the joys of ’normal’ everyday life.
In the present situation, it can happen that new emotional needs intensify that have not been significant before, for example, I need more my family’s reassurance or enthusiastic remembering of the good times with my friends. These are natural reactions that is why it is important to devote some time to observing the waves of my own emotions and to make efforts to keep these emotions in the right channel. For instance, what impacts does it have on my fears if I keep reading articles about the disease all day long? How do I feel after I have offered my assistance to the lady next door? What emotions can I recognise in myself after calling some of my rarely seen older relatives?
Connections within our surroundings
Home isolation imposes different challenges to people who live alone, in a relationship, or to those who live together with several generations.
People living alone
People living on their own may often feel loneliness and they can experience the responsibility of entirely relying on themselves. In this situation, it is crucial to establish a stable and regular form of communication with others and to appoint a dedicated time to online discussions. This situation may offer the opportunity to make our communication with others more frequent and intense. Through online ’face-to-face’ discussions, we can better understand others’ feelings, thoughts, and through this ourselves as well.
People living in a relationship
Couples living together may find themselves in an unprecedented situation as most of us have not spent more than a few days’ time so ’close’ with the other yet. This extreme closeness often entails emotional distancing since we have no choice if we wish to be close to the other or not. That is the reason why, it is important to establish straightforward rules concerning managing our daily living together and managing time. It is also crucial to share every day chores and to assign areas of responsibility. We all need different amount of time spending on our own, thus it is worth proactively discussing the scope and possibilities of it. On the other hand, the wisdom of the saying ’living together is how we get to know each other’ is especially appropriate for this situation as I can get to know some new sides of my partner and get a realistic picture of how my partner handles emotionally tense times. This common experience and all the effort we make together offer an opportunity to deepen our relationship.
Generations living together
When talking about generations living together in this situation, we can observe similar motives as in the case of couples living together. The constantly rising closeness, isolation, growing tensions, and leaving behind our old habits – that meant safety and recreation – can all increase mental frustration that may lead to the deepening of conflicts. Kids follow their parents’ attitude – seeing through their parents’ eyes – and react to the changed situation accordingly, which may enhance the actual anxiety and tension of the whole family. As kids are expressing their fears in different ways, for example, by disobeying or showing concentration difficulties, parents are advised to react with increased comprehension and acceptance. How can we help our kids in this situation?
Safety and acceptance are basic needs for all children because these necessities ensure the development of their personality and skills. It is worthwhile talking about the current situation in a way appropriate for the children’s understanding and taking seriously the questions they may have and also dissolving the fears emerging in their fantasies. In order to establish safety, it is crucial to keep the daily routine, to proportion the timing of activities and to keep time and space for common and individual activities as well. It is vital for the kids as well to keep in touch with their peers, which may require the cooperation of their parents. Because of the new situation, new habits and more flexible frames can be set up and the hidden resources of the family system may emerge. This is an enormous opportunity for the children to take over the adaptive forms of coping with crisis situations from their parents. Moreover, they can acquire new skills and means. The family cooperation, the mutual responsibility taking for each other, and the experience of ’we can struggle with all these difficulties together’ can become such an essential experience they can always remember in the future as well and it can represent resources for them.