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Supporting people as lockdown eases

Kate Wells is Lead for Welfare Services at our hospice. She shares more about the vital work she’s been doing supporting carers, and offers some advice on how we can support ourselves as restrictions continue to ease.

“Through living and working through the pandemic since March, we know that our patients have experienced a range of challenges. We’ve seen people terrified of others bringing the virus into their home, difficulty obtaining care packages (or not wanting them), distress at delay in treatments or investigations of new symptoms, loss of incomes, isolation, distress around the uncertainty of last rites and the fulfillment of their last wishes including being able to see their loved ones again.

For caregivers, I have seen the guilt and the worry that they cannot ease their loved ones distress, the exhaustion and pressure of constant care giving, and not knowing who can and can’t be contacted for help. I’ve seen desperate isolation, suffering, the reduction of services that previously supported them, and concern about being able to attend the funeral of their loved one. All on top of anticipatory grief.

Being a palliative care social worker, I see the whole person, existing within whole families

I can offer patients and their caregivers a wide variety of support including advocacy within the social care system, accessing other services, emotional support and recently what I’ve termed ‘post-lockdown support’. 

Over the last few months, I’ve been supporting several carers. Originally the referral was to support them in a time of extreme stress and exhaustion. Many of them have felt the burden of being the eyes and ears of all professionals, watching their loved one’s symptoms like a hawk in case something changed. All the questions about the person they’re caring for have been aimed at them, and some of them have been asked to do things that they’ve been truly unprepared for – In lockdown there’s simply been no one else. 

Other carers have found it difficult not being able to get out of the house for their usual personal space and alone time. To get the face to face support of friends or colleagues, and to enjoy their hobbies. 

I’ve also worked with carers who are struggling to emerge into the ‘new’ normal as lockdown has eased, and in some cases, have worked alongside them to build their confidence and self-esteem which have taken huge knocks during lockdown. Some people have been terrified to do the usual tasks they used to do – for example, going to the shops, going to the GP, or enjoying time out for social visits, as they’re worried about the vulnerability of the person they care for.  I’ve worked with people on individual plans to negotiate small steps, and accept support that’s been offered to them, but on terms that make them feel comfortable. All the while balancing the risk of coronavirus. The terror of the virus remains but many carers can control the fear now.

It’s natural for all of us to be concerned and anxious at the moment as the new normal begins

We’ve been under threat, and anxiety is a coping mechanism to drive us to avoid what scares us. So now, more than ever, it’s really important we share how we’re feeling, and those nagging thoughts and fears.

Start with small goals and build up your confidence, whilst having a bigger goal in mind. For me it was going to the pub for dinner on Monday last week. It helped that we sat outside and it was also raining, meaning it wasn’t as busy. It was the perfect chance to see how things work in this ‘new normal’. 

I also wanted to share a simple grounding exercise to try if you find your anxiety climbing when you’re out:

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