Effective methods to help a loved one through crisis, and not lose yourself in the process.
Your family member, friend, or loved one is in crisis. Something has happened to them, a life-altering accident, illness or medical condition, or some tragic loss has befallen them, and you want to be there for them. My intention behind this Blog Post is to demonstrate how to show up effectively, when your loved one has suffered a tragedy, or is in physical or emotional crisis.
When I lived with my Dad in 2006, he was diagnosed with a very challenging respiratory condition. That quickly transformed into a back problem. After two back surgeries in early 2007, he was diagnosed with blood cancer. I already had an excellent support system, and a host of effective tools to help me help my Dad in his battle with cancer. But on one bright, beautiful August day, I came home from work to find my Dad’s body. In that moment, my whole world shattered, and I became a person unable to function and in desperate need of support.
What follows are the tools I used to walk with my Dad through his battle with cancer, and the tools used by those closest to me, to walk me through the enormity of my grief, and helped me find my way back to some quality of normalcy.
Self-Care is ALWAYS Priority #1.
“Take rest. A field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.” ~ Ovid
Always attend to your own needs first.
Are you rested? Have you eaten? Are you hydrated? Have you exercised? Have you connected with your own Support Network recently? Basic self-care is the first step to being in your best ‘self.’
Be in your best self, to help your loved one find their way back to their best self.
Accept and take ownership of what belongs to you.
Time, Attention, and Emotion.
When caring for a loved one going through a life-challenge, time and attention are the two resources you will be using most. And you will be having your own emotional process about your loved one’s predicament, and how it is affecting your relationship.
Be clear with yourself, and accept what you are able and willing to do with your time and attention, and what you are not. Work within your abilities and your limitations to show up in the best way you can, whatever your best is, on that day, in that moment.
Practice Acceptance, and take ownership of your Inner-Space.
Accept that your situation is changing, as well as your priorities. Accept that you are having your own emotional process about what is happening to your loved one. Depending on the severity of their situation, the relationship dynamics may be changing.
If your loved one is part of your Support Network, where they may once have been a ‘rock,’ solid and stable, they may now be vulnerable, scared, or uncertain. Where before you could depend on them to be there for you, they may now be depending on you. Accept the situation and accept whatever feelings you have about the situation.
When your loved one is in crisis, they will probably be unable to account for your needs, and they shouldn’t have to. Right now, their job is to get through their crisis. Your job is to show up, in the most resourceful way possible.
“Compassion-Fatigue” is very real. Caring for someone in crisis can itself be taxing, especially over a period of days, weeks, or months. Take time away from the situation to attend to your own personal physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.
Be clear about and communicate your boundaries.
Be clear with yourself and others about how you intend to use your time, and other resources. “I can drive you to the doctor on this day, at this time, but then I have to go to work.” “I can watch your kids on this day, but not that day.” Always be clear with yourself and others about what you are available for and not.
Have your own Support Network in place.
When caring for a loved one in crisis, you will have your own mental-emotional process, about their situation, and about the changes in your relationship. Your loved one is in a Compromised State, and it is not appropriate for you to look to them to caretake your needs or your feelings. Have other people in place who you can call upon for support to help you process your own feelings. They will help you find clarity and comfort as you support your loved one in crisis.
Don’t project your own model of reality.
“What it means to be a ‘safe-space’ is: You don’t have an agenda that they should be anywhere but where they are.” ~ Ram Dass
Meet them right where they are, not where you think they ‘should’ be.
Don’t project onto them how you think they ‘should’ be working through their situation, or their feelings. If your loved one is crying, let them cry. If they aren’t crying, don’t project that they ‘should’ be crying. Give your loved one space to have their process, whatever it is.
Temper your expectations.
Don’t expect them to function the same way that they used to function. Depending on the nature of their situation, your loved-one’s physical, mental, and/or emotional state is compromised.
Don’t expect them to know what they need, what they want, what they are feeling, or what they are doing right now. And if they do know what they need, trust that they are telling you the truth.
My father died on a Tuesday. Wednesday morning, six people were buzzing my door, checking up on me. One friend aimed me toward my kitchen and said, “I know you don’t feel like eating, but you’ve got to eat something. Pick something. It doesn’t matter what it is. Eat.” It’s what I needed, but I didn’t know I needed it.
A few days after my Dad died, I had a date with a friend for a carwash party, at his mother’s house. She asked me where I was staying. I told her I was staying at the Condo (Where I lived with my father). She said, “No. You are staying here now. Stay in the guest room for as long as you need.” That was exactly what I needed, but I didn’t know that I needed it.
At that time, I worked for a close friend. She offered me time off from work. I said, “Oh, no. Everything in my life is extraordinary right now, and I need something normal. Work is normal. I’ll be in to work tomorrow.” I knew that was what I needed and wasn’t afraid to communicate that. She trusted me enough to know what my abilities and limitations were and met me right where I was.
A couple weeks after my Dad died, I was visiting a couple friends over dinner. When I sat down, the lady of the house asked me how I was doing. In that moment, I was tired. I was tired of thinking about and talking about my Dad’s death, and I was tired of feeling about it. I told her, “I’m tired of talking about death and grieving. Distract me.” And she did. She spent the next several minutes talking about challenges at work, her boss, something her best friend did that she didn’t like... I honestly don’t know what she talked about, but for that evening, I didn’t have to think about or feel about death or grieving. And I was very grateful for that.
Don’t take things personally.
Your loved one is in crisis. They are in a Compromised State. They may be feeling vulnerable and frightened about their predicament. Their words and actions are coming from a compromised state and may not be kind or tolerant. Do not take this personally.
Even after his cancer diagnosis, and until a couple weeks before his passing, my Dad chose to work. One day, he came home and got very angry to find his bedroom window was closed. The window-washers came by for some annual maintenance, and the windows needed to be shut. This window was lodged in pretty tightly, and because of the cancer, his muscles were too weak to pull the window open. He yelled and cursed at me out of frustration. Very softly and evenly I told him, “I know you had a long day and that you’re in a lot of pain. Please don’t take it out on me.” And I left the room.
Five minutes later, he knocked on my door and apologized for his outburst. I felt such love and compassion for him in that moment. I smiled at him and said, “I know it’s tough. We’ll get through it. We’ll get through it together.”
If your loved one is angry, or frustrated, don’t take their words or actions personally, but do maintain healthy boundaries about how you will be treated in the relationship.
What to say.
There is no one right thing or wrong thing to say to a loved one in crisis. In any crisis, we need to know two basic things: That we aren’t alone, and that we’ll be ‘okay.’
When my father was battling cancer, I frequently told him, “We’ll get through this, and we’ll get through it together.” I wanted to reassure him that he wasn’t alone.
When I’m with a loved one in crisis, I start at the very beginning, with basic self-care. “Have you eaten? Hydrated? Taken your supplements? Will you be able to sleep tonight? Would you feel more comfortable if I slept over tonight? Would you feel more comfortable sleeping at my place tonight?” Attending to basic self-care is a movement from ‘not okay’ to being ‘okay.’
Don’t just ask; do.
If they are in a crisis, look around your loved one’s immediate environment, and see what needs attending to. Are there dishes stacked in the sink. Tell your loved one, “I’m going to do your dishes. Let me know if you need anything.” Then do the dishes. If they don’t want you to do their dishes, that’s okay too. If my loved one is a coffee drinker, I start making a fresh pot of coffee, and let them know, “I’m going to make coffee. Let me know if you need anything.”
A loved one in a crisis just went from having a normal plate to a plate that is suddenly too full. Attending to things in the immediate environment frees up your loved one’s mental-emotional space for them to attend to the things that are REALLY important. If you’re going to help out around the home, communicate that: “I’m going to _ _ _ . Let me know if you need anything.”
Help them get help.
Don’t be your loved one’s only support. Your resources may not be enough, on their own. Depending on the nature of the crisis, additional help may be needed. Help your loved one become clear about where they need to go, what they need to do, and who they need help from. Network with other family members or friends about how to collectively help your loved one in crisis. Help your loved one gain additional resources to get them through whatever challenges they are facing.
Master the fine art of being there, and leaving them alone.
Effectively showing up for a loved one in a crisis is the fine art of being with them, and at the same time, letting them be where they are. On one hand, you are letting them know that they are not alone, and on the other hand, giving them space to have their process, whatever their process is, on that day, in that moment.
I value your input, and I’d love to hear from you. What are some of your effective strategies for helping your loved ones, when they are in crisis or coping with change?
If what you’ve read helps you in any way, please “Like,” “Favorite,” “Share,” and “Subscribe.”
One of the greatest life-lessons I learned while caring for my father was this: Love people right where they are, not where you think they ‘should’ be.
~ Daniel W. Finney, CHt
My intention in writing this Blog is to present some of the most basic, practical tools to help someone through their Anxiety States and the situations that are triggering them. I thought to myself, “If someone was in Day 1, Hour 1, Minute 1, of their very first Anxiety Attack, what would I tell them?” What follows is the result.
Healthy Mindsets to work through and move beyond Anxiety States...
Why is your Mindset important?
First, a note about the Conscious Mind, vs. the Unconscious Mind. To put it in the simplest terms I can, the Conscious Mind is a doer. It is an actor. It takes action. It is the Unconscious Mind that sets the parameters for that action. Your Conscious Mind is responsible for your actions; your Unconscious Mind is responsible for how and why you are taking that action.
You could think of your Mindset as being composed of your Values, Beliefs, Intentions, and Attitudes. Your Mindset resides in your Unconscious Mind. It is the ‘frame’ for every emotional state, every thought and action that happens throughout your day. Every thought, feeling, action and behavior is born from your Mindset. Consciously adjusting your Mindset will affect every feeling state and behavior that comes out of it.
What follows are tools to help shift your Mindset from Undesired States (Fear, Anxiety, Stress) into more Resourceful States. Try these on for yourself and you will have additional inner resources to address whatever challenges you face today. Read them. Take them in as best you can. Then let them go and move on to the Daily Regimen List. You can always come back to these later.
Self-Care is ALWAYS Priority #1.
This is the very first thing I teach anyone I work with, personally or professionally. If you aren’t at your best, whatever your best is in that moment, your ability to respond to everything in your life, is compromised. Making self-care your first priority puts you into a more resourceful state to respond, rather than react, to whatever you are facing.
In a Wilderness Survival situation, you need five things: Food, water, shelter, fire, and first aid. If you have these five things right now, you WILL survive whatever it is that you are going through.
The most basic self-care needs to attend to are: Are you rested, fed, hydrated, and sheltered, in this moment? If not, go attend to that NOW. You are your most precious resource.
An Anxiety State is the activation of the natural, “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” mechanism, and it inherently includes a false sense of urgency. This is an illusion. Unless you are in an immediate, emergent situation, you have time. Slow down and use that time now, to address to your basic self-care needs.
“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
Take Ownership of your space(s).
First, take ownership of your Inner-Space. Whatever mental-emotional state you find yourself in, accept it. Then take ownership of your Outer-Spaces, your living & work spaces. Are there things that need attending to? Accept ‘what is’ and take ownership of it. You don’t have to do anything about any of it yet, simply accept it.
Start with “Acceptance.”
Acceptance does not mean Condoning, or Approving of a situation. Acceptance is acknowledging that what is happening, IS happening, in the present moment. Accept what is happening to you. Accept how you feel about what is happening to you. Acceptance allows you to move through the situations that are causing you distress. Acceptance of how you feel allows you to move with your inner-state, rather than against it.
I frequently tell myself, and others: “Start right where you are, not where you think you ‘should’ be.”
Be gentle with yourself.
Your anxiety feelings are involuntary. That is, you didn’t ‘choose’ to feel this way. It’s normal to feel embarrassed or ashamed of having anxiety. Don’t compound your anxiety feelings by projecting, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” And don’t put a timetable on when you ‘should’ be feeling differently. You didn’t ‘choose’ these feelings, but you can choose how to respond to these feelings.
Lean into it.
Whatever the task ahead of you, accept that you are in a Compromised State. Temper your expectations. Don’t demand perfection, from yourself or others. Give yourself permission to be right where you are. Give yourself permission to ‘get things wrong’ today.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Take it “One Day at a Time.”
Our lives unfold in patterns & cycles. A lifetime is made up of years. Years are made up of seasons. The smallest regular cycle we have to work with is one single day. Get up, go about the business of your day, go to sleep. And then the cycle repeats. The things you do every day turn into your unconscious habits. Develop daily regimens, rituals, and routines, to build Agency & states of resourcefulness.
In an Anxiety State, the mind often reaches into a far or distant and uncertain future. In a compromised, anxious state, that timescale is absolutely unmanageable. Narrow your life down to this one day and notice how it becomes more manageable.
Know that there is hope.
Yes, you are a unique individual, but you are NOT the first person, or the only person to go through these challenges, or have these feelings. There are others who have found working solutions to the same life challenges you currently face, and relief from the emotions that you are currently experiencing. What is possible for others, is possible for you as well.
Know that you have choices.
One feeling associated with Anxiety is the feeling of being trapped, or of not having choices. You may not have control over the outer circumstances of your life, and your feelings may be overwhelming, but you DO have choices.
If it helps, make a list. What do I want to see happen? What are your choices about this, right now? One N.L.P. Presupposition is:
"There are always more choices."
You WILL survive this.
Remember those five things needed in a Wilderness Survival Situation? Here they are again: Food, Water, Shelter, Fire, and First Aid. If you have those five things, you WILL survive what you are going through.
“As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you, whatever you think is wrong.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn (From ‘Full Catastrophe Living’)
Know that there is help.
If you or someone you know are suffering from frequent or persistent feelings of fear, anxiety, or stress, help IS available, and relief IS possible.
Always consult with your Medical Doctor or Physician regarding your Mental-Emotional, as well as Physical Health.
Adopting these attitudes can help you move more gracefully through your current life challenges and any anxious feelings surrounding them.
I’d love to hear from you. What are some of the Values, Beliefs, Intentions, and Attitudes that help you move through feelings of fear, anxiety or stress?
If what you’ve read helps you in any way, please “Like,” “Favorite,” “Follow,” "Share," and “Subscribe.”
And if you take any one thing away from this Blog, I want it to be this:
Remember: Self-Care is ALWAYS Priority #1!
~ Daniel W. Finney, CHt
A Daily Regimen to help you manage, when anxiety attacks.
A Brief Anxiety Story
Last Sunday night, I got into the car and turned the key. The engine cranked, but wouldn’t get ignition. Instantly, I felt that all-too-familiar feeling of anxiety rush through my pectorals, up into my shoulders, and down my upper-arms. My abdomen got tight, and I felt a pit in my Solar-Plexus.
Turn the key a second time, and this time, press the gas-pedal all the way to the floor. Engine cranks. No ignition. A third time. No go. And each failed attempt only increases the feelings of anxiety in the body.
Now, I have two cars for just such an occasion. I took my immediate belongings out of the broken-down car, got into my back-up car and continued on my journey. At the time, I was listening to an audio-book in the car, on Mindfulness, of all things. After five minutes of driving, I realized that I hadn’t heard a single word that had been said.
I dearly wanted to listen to the audio book. I desperately wanted to be mindful, present, feeling okay, feeling at ease in that present moment. But the truth was, I wasn’t feeling any of that. The truth was, I was thinking about my car. And car problems cost money, so I was thinking about how car repairs would affect my bank account balance. I turned off the audio-book and continued to my destination, in that all-too-familiar, escalating, anxiety-driven haze.
The following morning, I woke as I frequently do. When my comfort zone has been affected by something outside of my control, when something or someone I love and am emotionally attached to is threatened, I feel fear. Anxiety. Tension. Dread. Overwhelm.
If you’re a linear-thinker like me, you enjoy lists. Lists take the uncertainly of life’s circumstances and makes them more manageable. If you’re also like me, when you find yourself in an Anxiety State, it becomes difficult to think clearly. Even the simplest tasks can seem overwhelming.
Waking up in an immediate and intrusive Anxiety State on Monday morning, in that moment what I wanted was a list. I wanted a check-list to go down, one by one, to get me through this situation that had triggered an unmanageable state of anxiety. I’ve had a number of daily self-care rituals over the years, but ironically, I never wrote them down, even though that’s exactly what I needed in that moment. What better time to craft one?
What follows is a Beginner’s Guide to Coping with an Anxiety State. My intention is to keep things in very simple, bite sized pieces. In later Blog Posts, I’ll discuss preventative measures, and therapeutic interventions. The intention to this Blog Post is Immediate Damage Control.
What is Anxiety?
Here’s a simple description of the anxiety reaction: Anxiety is what you feel when the Survival Mechanism of “Fight, flight or freeze” is activated, whether there’s a legitimate threat or not. It’s an entirely healthy, natural survival mechanism, devoted to the safety & protection of the organism. The feeling of Anxiety is involuntary and it is compulsory; it is an unconscious reaction to a perceived threat. Anxiety becomes a problem when the reaction is out of proportion to the perceived threat.
What follows is the Daily Regimen List. Start with the first task. Do the best you can with it. Then move on to the next one. Remember: You don’t need to do anything perfectly. Do what you can. Let go of what you can’t. Move on to the next one.
Beginning your day
This is what I do every day, whether I'm in an Anxiety State, or not. If what you’ve read helps you in any way, please “Like,” “Favorite,” “Follow,” and “Subscribe.”
I'd love to hear from you. What do you do daily, to help move you out of Undesired States, and into Resource States?
If you remember nothing else from this Post, remember this:
Self-Care is ALWAYS Priority #1.
~ Daniel W. Finney, CHt