The COVID-19 pandemic impacts all of us and puts pressure on relationships, especially for families with cancer.
The roles we play
We have a role when we go to work, whether it’s as a team leader, a professional or the calm face of an organisation. Then when we come home, we have a different role, like a caregiver or partner. As someone caring for a child who has cancer, roles can change and become more stressful. Parents often need to switch between all the roles they play.
You may be jumping between being your work self, to being a parent, a nurse and a school teacher, all in the space of a few minutes. Right now, many people’s roles and how we’re supposed to play them has changed and grown. It’s a lot to be juggling at once in the best of times. It would make sense if all this bouncing around means you’re carrying more stress than usual.
We know many families have extra stress right now, whether they’ve had their hours reduced, or have lost their work entirely. When stress builds up, so can tension at home.
Children can be pretty good at sensing when the dynamics and mood change. When there’s a lot of stress and tension, you might be able to see a change in their behaviour. They might withdraw, struggle to sleep, or it might feel like they’re acting out. You may have been in a situation where you feel like you can’t handle anymore, only to have your child have an outburst.
Often children act in this way because they’re still learning how to manage ‘big feelings’. Whether you cry with them or laugh when it’s all over, it’s okay. In these moments, it might be a good time to take a step back. Your child might be giving you a sign to tell you, “things are tense!”
Not all kids like sitting down to talk about what’s going on. You might like to regularly spend some time with them doing something they enjoy. When it feels right, you can use this time to talk with them about what’s going on, your own feelings and stress, and let them know it’s okay to talk about these difficult topics with you too.
Mindfulness and Micro-practices
When we carry stress and tension, it can show itself in a lot of different ways. Sometimes these things can build slowly and before you know it, it’s having a big impact on you. This can make it hard to recognise when things aren’t going well.
Lots of people under stress often wake up and start the day already feeling that tension, and if it’s tension that has grown slowly, you might not even notice. That is why it can be helpful to know what to look out for in yourself and others which might mean someone is experiencing a lot of stress.
As well as feeling overwhelmed or irritable, you may have trouble with your sleep or not be able to relax because of worries and anxiety. For some people, they don’t like doing the things that they usually like to do, and they can disconnect from their friends and family. You can even feel it in your body, with a pounding chest, upset stomach, or feeling tired.
Knowing when you’re feeling these things isn’t always easy, but mindfulness can help to notice them. Mindfulness could be using a mindfulness app or could be writing in a journal, practising gratitude, or talking with someone like a friend or one of our social workers.
Taking the time to do these things though can sometimes be easier said than done, especially when you’re looking after a child with cancer while juggling everything else going on. This is where ‘micro-practices’ might be helpful.
Micro-practices are simply taking tiny moments throughout the day to notice your feelings in the moment. It could be taking a breath and checking in when you’re washing your hands or taking 2 minutes when you have it to sit quietly with yourself. Even these little things can be helpful.
Getting to know yourself better through these micro-practices can help you figure out what stress and tension look like for you, and then help you recognise and take steps to manage feelings of stress earlier.
This is where we’d usually give you some strategies to manage stress, but you probably already have lots of useful strategies. You might not even realise you’re using them. So it might be more helpful to reflect.
What do you already do to manage difficult moments? What makes it hard to use these strategies when you’re stressed. What makes it easy? If you’re unsure of the strategies you do have or want to explore more options, Redkite can help.