Archive January 2021
Caring for others during the COVID-19 pandemic
Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack talks about the difficulties of caring for others during lockdown
In 2019, my mum was diagnosed with Dementia. From the start, I found it both a challenge and a steep learning curve caring for someone with an illness I previously knew little about. Then along came Covid 19 and that challenge has hugely increased in complexity.
I do not share a household with my mum and her primary carer is my dad, but he has a history of mental illness so needs to be well supported himself.
Trying to remotely look after both their needs during lockdown is proving to be very emotionally demanding. Practical support, such as trying to gain a slot for on-line food delivery, making sure mum remembers she can’t go out and ensuring they both take their prescription medication is hard enough. But supporting them to meet their emotional needs without being able to see them face to face, take them out and about, or give them a big hug, is seriously tough.
Whether you are caring for someone in your own household or outside it, and whether that loved one has a physical difficulty, mental health difficulty or substance misuse, the current situation may well be leaving you feeling overwhelmed.
And when we are overwhelmed it becomes harder to offer the care and support to those we look after. So it is really important to take some time for self-care, to be kind to ourselves and to look after our own needs as well as the needs of others.
To stay physically and mentally well, there are emotional needs we must all meet, needs that may be more challenging to tend to in this time of social distancing. Below are some coping tips to help you meet needs, stay well in the current climate and continue to offer support to the people you care for:
- Maintain emotional connection as much as you can with people in your life who are important to you: this includes people who can support you as well as those you support. My brother spent an arduous 2 hours on the phone to my dad setting up Skype for them, but is was well worth it. I can now have regular video chats with mum and dad, with my brother there for additional support, and they get to see the faces of their grandchildren.
- Join a support group to help meet your own need for community; hearing the experiences of other carers and being able to share your own will also help meet the need for status – the need to be recognised for the role you do.
- Pay attention to the good things, notice what has gone well each day and recognise your achievements.
- Look after your physical needs. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep, get your need for movement met to encourage your body’s natural release of endorphins and consume food/drink in a healthy, balanced way.
- Those you care for, particularly if they have cognitive difficulties, may become more distressed/agitated etc during this time, so sharing simple facts about what’s going on and finding ways to help them relax may ease stressful situations.
- We could all find ourselves experiencing higher levels of worry and anxiety during these uncertain times, so we need to find ways to keep calm and to feel in control of our daily lives. Making a plan for each day or keeping to a routine can be really helpful.
- Find ways that you can unwind and do what you can to you meet your own need for privacy; self-care is not selfish, it is needed.
- Being there for someone who needs you gives your life meaning and purpose; therefore allow yourself to recognise what a good job you are doing.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Meeting Our Children’s Need for Sleep During Lockdown
Our Children and Young People’s Facilitator, Louise Harris talks about the importance of sleep and how she has helped her five-year-old to get better sleep during the current pandemic.
Lockdown life and the ‘Corona Coaster’ of the ups and downs of the past few months has affected us all. Our children have also been finding it tricky, but as they don’t always have the words or ability to express this, it has been displaying in other ways.
My daughter has struggled to sleep
Since the schools have been closed, I have noticed a huge increase in the amount of support my five year old needs to be ready for sleep and her ability to stay asleep through the night. I have questioned how much exercise she was having throughout the day compared to pre-lockdown times, but even taking her on bike rides and inventing high-energy trampoline obstacle courses in the garden did not seem to have any effect on her waking up in the night or being able to get to sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
Periods of REM and deep sleep throughout the night allow us to wake feeling motivated, refreshed, fit and rested, feeling happy and healthy and ready to start the day. Different periods of sleep are needed: 20% REM sleep to calm strong emotions and 20% deep sleep to allow the brain to switch off and the body to restore itself. To achieve this level of deep sleep, good sleep routines need to start earlier in the day, not just at bedtime.
Exploring the root cause of the issue
When a child goes to bed with unmet emotional needs, they can struggle to fall asleep. When they do fall asleep, their dreams can be intense and vivid, which means that they are unable to self-soothe back to sleep if they wake. The needs of emotional connection and privacy are particularly key to feeling settled at the moment, as children need to have quality connections with families as well as quiet time to discharge their own thoughts and emotions.
How to meet children’s need for privacy
Encouraging ‘action to relax’ types of activities often throughout the day that can be done independently gives children time to have quiet space to settle their thoughts before bedtime. Activities that allow this to happen include:
- Colouring and drawing
- Building blocks and jigsaw puzzles
- Sewing, loom bands bracelets to weave
- Books set up to look at in a cosy space- We call this a ‘story snuggle’ in our house!
Our sleep experiment – What did we change?
As well as thinking about my daughter’s activities throughout the day, I considered her bedtime routine during lockdown. Not only had she had more screen-time than usual, but our day was more fluid, meaning that we were not sticking to a predictable routine as we usually would.
Making positive associations for bedtime is very important, so I decided to create an environment that she would want to spend time and be relaxed in:
- Making sure her bedroom is relatively clear and uncluttered
- Ensuring her favourite cuddly toys were within reach
- Ensuring screens were left off after dinner time
- Spending time reading , telling stories or doing yoga together and talking about the happy things we can do together in the following days.
- Spraying child-safe pillow mist with soft music to fall asleep to.
But what if my child worries before bed?
If your child has worries at bedtime, try talking about putting their worries down, so they know you are not brushing them aside but you will address them when it is the right time. Telling them that you will talk about them after breakfast the next day gives them time to relax knowing that you have not forgotten, but they also do not need to wake up worrying about them.
Did it work?
We have noticed a huge improvement in the quality of our five year old’s sleep, her ability to stay asleep and her happiness in going to sleep since we started thinking about meeting her emotional needs and improving her sleep hygiene habits. Little changes have made a big difference, and although she still sometimes wakes and needs my reassurance, we are having many more restful bedtimes and happier, more settled days.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Lockdown 3: Helping your children to meet emotional needs over the next six weeks
With the announcement of school closures, our Children and Young People’s Facilitator, Louise Harris has this advice to help you to maintain mental wellbeing in your home.
With the challenges and changes of schools being closed to most pupils for this term, parents are looking for ways to balance home learning again with work, making sure everyone stays well physically and mentally and maintain some sense of normal family life. Our research has given us valuable information on the emotional needs that are not being met and what we can do as a family to meet them. Here are four key ones:
Find time to connect
Connection within your home is important to allow children to feel they have your attention, even for a short while. Find time to give them your attention doing something they enjoy together so that they feel happier to do independent tasks after your time together.
Whilst it may be difficult to stay connected to others outside the home in person, focus attention away from the ways it is difficult to connect by allowing connections in other ways. Send thank you notes, letters, cards connect over video calls, play online games with friends or just phone someone for a chat. We need relationships in our lives to help us to feel well.
Make time to move
Movement affects how we feel and can change our mood. This is especially true if you can get outside. Join in with Suffolk Mind’s 100 miles challenge with your family. Take a mile walk a day around your local area, or extend the challenge to 100 skips, 100 karate katas, 100 dance routines or 100 yoga sequences!
Let go and being in control
Our research shows that one of our key emotional needs is to have control over our lives. This can be difficult to meet when living under restrictions. Think about what you can control and focus on that. Make a list as a family of things you can not control, and let it go. Then make a list of things that you can control. Include silly things as well as sensible ones: Which odd socks will I choose today? How will I arrange the fruit on my breakfast? Can I choose my clothes to look like a character from a book or a film?
A routine to feel secure
Setting a basic daily routine as a family that allows you to feel secure and have a predictable start, middle and end to your day helps everyone to settle. Allow time for learning, time for exercise and time for connection. Also allow time for privacy; time alone doing a calming activity such as drawing, listening to music or keeping up with non-screen hobbies allows thoughts to settle and aids a restful sleep. This may help us to feel more well and able to cope with the challenges of this time.
Author: Kristina Brinkley