By Havannah Cascos
Our everyday lives were cast into the void of uncertainty. Conceivably, it is an advantageous moment to reflect on our lives and comportment as individuals, our role within our family system, who we are within organizations, and as members of society. Individuals of all ages may be feeling increasing levels of stress and isolation as they remain home during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It is critical for counselors and educators to advocate for wellness check-ins on ourselves and those around us, regardless of face-to-face interaction being accessible.
As a counselor in training (with overabundance of deadlines and duties), a rapid transition to Telehealth counseling for my clients, overwhelmingly amounts of anxiety and paranoia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and losing my father within a span of a month has altered my life in ways I had not imagined. The constant contemplation of what decisions to make (being my father’s medical power of attorney) when he was initially hospitalized to being responsible for determining the disconnection of his life support indeed took a toll on me. Utilizing clinical experience from my counseling profession, I was able to perceive this significant loss as a source of motivation and use positive coping methods to cope with the passing of my father. My intent is to share my experience and advocate for those who are facing any significant loss (grief) and additional adversities along with those of COVID-19. As a helping professional, I have committed my life to helping others but learned that would not be possible without taking care of myself. The cause of the coronavirus outbreak and unexpectedly losing my father due to multi-organ system failure during the pandemic rose awareness towards the value of self-care.
As you are reading this, you may already be thinking that you do not have time, and I understand; we all do. Responsibilities may appear like they have multiplied and/or are more overwhelming than usual. You may be angry that you cannot go to work to continue to support your loved ones; you may feel anxious working from home because you have not been told when the “shelter in-place” restrictions will be lifted, or maybe work was the only getaway you had. You may be attending your children full-time and still trying to regulate from confinement in small spaces, while racing thoughts about our previous state of normalcy linger on the idea that we possibly took it for granted; when will it all go back to how it was? Although a majority of us fall victim to some of these experiences to a certain degree, what is that you do to alleviate some of this anxiety? What is it that you are doing to maintain sanity and the flow of your family’s dynamics? It’s crucial to be aware of how to manage such an overwhelming degree as well as keeping prospects as the situation continues to unravel.
Here is a self-checklist to assist with being able to better recognize symptoms of distress:
-Excessive worry, fear, and/or feelings of being “stressed”/overwhelmed
-Persistent sadness and/or loss of interest in pleasurable activities
-Feelings of hopelessness and/or dread about the future.
-Unexplained physical symptoms, i.e., upset stomach, increased heart rate, nausea, fatigue, etc.
-Increased anger, irritability, and agitation
-Impulsive, reckless or risky behaviors (substance abuse, self-injury, etc.)
-Inability to concentrate
-Significant changes in sleep, appetite and/or self-care
-Fear/avoidance of public spaces
-Suicidal ideations (thoughts of dying/death/suicide)
It is absolutely appropriate (and expected) to experience fear during unexpected situations, i.e., the universal mandated quarantine placement. If we continue to stretch ourselves towards burnout, we neglect our well-being and ability to help others in need. There is a plethora of self-care activities one can partake in to cope during these stressful times. Some can be done with family members, serving double duty as self-care and quality time with family, others, revel in quiet reflection time, does not necessarily require much time at all in order to be beneficent.
Needs and values are in fact exceedingly interconnected, having a linkage to what we care about. However, they are differentiated amongst each other: a need tends to be universally similar for all people, whereas values tend to be highly individualized. However, needs tend to have a degree of hierarchy for which when our survival is at stake; more so abandon our values. This may seem what most individuals have to contemplate during high demands of COVID-related restrictions. After all, needs are predominantly assigned to us by our natural environment (ie., breathing, eating, drinking ) for the sake of our survival. On the contrary, values are determined by the individual Needs and values are presented in a variety of ways. Each have characteristic patterns feasible to recognize one from the other, more so in critical circumstances like the Coronavirus pandemic. Given the level of concentration required to get through each individual day, we often lose sight of the bigger picture.
Surely, the majority of us already endure some methods of self-care. However, because of how quickly our lives altered, some changes or replacements are typically made. I have recognized that the most vital key to self-care for helping professionals isn’t having the most innovative or unique mechanisms of caring for yourself, but rather feeling that you have the permission to make use of strategies you’ve hand-picked, for yourself and those around you.
A significant ingredient of self-care is embracing sources of support within arm-reach, to friends, family, colleagues, peers and/or counseling services via Telehealth. This serves as a reminder that we are not alone and that we have the ability to create new energy for each other. Be exactly the encouragement or inspiration that you would have needed for yourself. Acknowledge and accept your emotional responses. Allow yourself time to become mindful and consider how you might be coping with your feelings. Connect with others. Maintain healthy relationships. Permit yourself to share your concerns and how you feel with a loved one and/or counselor. Last but definitely not the least; maintain a sense of hope and positive mindset as your motive of survival. This has served as an opportunity for proactive leadership styles and behaviors to unfold at diverse levels varying from the microcosm and macrocosm, to consolidating into one. Incontestable, this year’s COVID-19 pandemic influenced introspection across all sectors and cultures, and will persist as part of our lives for eternity.
Editor’s note: Havana Cascos is a counselor-in-training in the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley’s Masters in Guidance and Counseling Program. Cascos plans to pursue a career in neuropsychology.