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Supporting family from a distance during COVID_19 crisis: Looking at the things I can control

Supporting family from a distance during COVID_19 crisis: Looking at the things I can control

By Shaunna Impey, MIACP 6th of April 2020

I was delighted to have the opportunity to present an online webinar last week to an international company with over 60 nationalities. The topic Supporting Family Members and Loved Ones Abroad is a very important one that has impacted so many lives across the world during this COVID_19 pandemic.

In my own situation, I have a brother living in Australia and with the evolving COVID_19 story here in Ireland and Australia, I hear my family expressing their worries “I hope he is OK; I wish he was home, What if he gets sick?”. I had to remind myself that part of the human condition is to feel worry and fear about our loved ones especially when there is such uncertainty and things are changing day to day. However, we also know that constantly thinking this way is emotionally draining and stressful. That is why we must find ways of adapting and functioning inside this level of uncertainty. Keeping ourselves mentally and physically well.

Viktor E. Frankl quote sums this up

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change our lives”.

This is the biggest challenge we have had to face in over 100 years. It is testing our limits, our resilience and capacity as individuals to keep finding meaning and hope for the future. That is why it is so important to take a moment to stop and reflect on what challenges you are experiencing in relation to your family and loved ones. We know taking a step back and tending to your own emotional needs, will help you take care of the other relationships in your life.

As part of the presentation I discussed the idea of “What I can Control v What I Can’t Control”. Let’s look at this a little bit more:

As humans we like to have certainty and control, we like to know when we will see our family member again, when I can get on a plane again, when things will get back to normal. Why? Because it makes us feel safe and eases our mind. What we know is that a lack of control ie “Will my job be ok? When will this pandemic end? When can I see my friends again?” increases our stress levels.

It is hard to escape the uncertainty as we are being reminded about it daily on the news, on social media, fake messages going around on WhatsApp. Thinking about the situation this way can make you feel threatened and naturally make anyone feel worried.

So, it makes sense to spend our time and energy on the things we can control.

Let’s do an experiment: Take a minute and ask yourself What are my worries?

Some people have said

  • Fear and worry about the health of your loved ones
  • Worry about them in isolation, are they lonely?
  • When will I get to see them?
  • Have they got everything the need, food, medication?

Reading this list, do you feel more stressed now? I know I am starting to feel stressed and a sense that things are way out of my control. Imagine constantly living in this mindset. We know when stress takes over it leads to many emotional, mental and physical health problems. So, let’s try and reduce our stress response and re-frame some of the worries on the list above and see what you can control.

What I can control;

  • I have no control over my loved ones getting COVID_19 but I can give them the right information that will help them reduce their chance of getting it.
  • What can I do to help my loved one during isolation?
    • I can arrange to ring them more frequently
    • I can do fun virtual activities that my loved ones would be interested in ie baking, discussing a tv program, talking about hobbies or interests.
  • Keep focused on what contact you do have. Say to yourself “I can’t control when I get to see them right now, so I will keep meaningful contact through things I can control”
  • Exploring what supports are available to your loved one abroad- Are there family, friends, neighbors that can drop in food? Are there community supports available? We can see in Ireland act of kindness and altruism is in abundance.

Take home message:


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Shaunna Impey was trained and worked as a Medical Social Worker for many years in a large acute teaching hospital in Dublin, Ireland. During this time, she delivered stress management program to Cardiac patients who underwent Cardiothoracic surgery. She has many years’ experience working in crisis management. In 2013 she graduated with a Masters in Integrative Psychotherapist from Dublin Business School (School of Psychotherapy). She set up City Therapy in 2014 with her colleague Anne Devlin and is working in private practice since 2013 at City Therapy, Dame Street, Dublin 2 and is accredited member of Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.