Mesothelioma Caregivers: Managing Emotions in a Crisis

Bad weather situations are relatively common this time of year. Before winter storm Jonas dropped more than two feet of snow on New York and Washington, D.C., in January, it had an appointment in our rural community in southeast Kentucky.

We had a minimal amount of snowfall compared to areas in the eastern states, but the 18 inches of snow and half an inch of ice we received crippled our community. My kids worried about the loss of power.

My son who has asthma was my biggest concern.

If he needed a breathing treatment, I couldn’t give him one. My personal worries turned to concern for others who might be facing a more serious illness such as mesothelioma during an emergency. What should a caregiver do when a crisis hits?

If you’re a mesothelioma caregiver, having a go-to plan to handle an unexpected crisis is important. Controlling you emotions during difficult times is also a useful skill. The path to overcoming a crisis starts with how you first react to it.

Reacting to a Crisis

As a mother, I’m supposed to have all the answers, but I was unsure of what to do during the storm. My family had the luxury of a backup wood heating system, but for those who didn’t, life was miserable. Impassable roads and downed power lines trapped people in their homes for days without power while temperatures dropped below freezing.

Providing care means fulfilling the needs of your loved ones, even in the midst of a full-on crisis. Be it bad weather, a health scare or another type of crisis, the situation is defined by how we respond to it.

As caregivers, others look to us to define how they react to a situation. If you’re aware of a serious predicament, properly managing your emotions can diffuse the situation and stop the spread of panic.

Caregivers of mesothelioma patients might add medication, respiratory needs, doctor contact information and other important needs to their list of concerns in a crisis situation. Meeting the needs of your loved one is top priority, regardless of what type of crisis might present itself.

Managing Your Emotions

Understanding how to manage your emotions may be the first step in diffusing a crisis situation.

I learned some helpful emotion management techniques from the work of Dr. Arlie Hochschild, professor emerita of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a famous sociologist and a respected research giant in the psychological community.

Hochschild coined the term emotion work, which she defines as “consciously intending to alter a feeling or emotion.” A flight attendant, for example, does emotion work to calm passengers after rough turbulence, even if he or she may also be worried.

Regardless of how flight attendants truly feel, it is their job to attend to passengers and make them feel safe. Similarly, an important part of a mesothelioma caregiver’s role is staying positive and offering emotional support, even when the prognosis is poor or a treatment isn’t working.

During storm Jonas, my family looked to me for cues on how to respond to the situation. Showing them my fear would have ignited their own fears and made the situation much worse.

Hochschild describes two types of emotion work:

Instead of expressing my worries, I gave calming cues. My family responded by remaining calm as well. Rather than wondering how we might keep warm or find food to eat, my kids were playing cards, coloring and planning to build a snow man. My husband and I sat by the fire chatting.

Useful Techniques for Emotion Management

Doctors and nurses often have to manage their emotions in a work setting, just as a mesothelioma caregiver needs to manage emotions at home. According to Hochschild, there are three ways in which people can manage their emotions:

Caregivers have more than just physical care placed on their shoulders. Maintaining the emotional well-being of your loved one also falls into your hands.

As a caregiver, the emotions begin with you. If you present a sense of calm, your loved ones can remain calm as well.

Knowing how to control emotions is a useful asset in any caretaker’s toolbox, and emotion work techniques can help. Handling emotions first frees caretakers to do their most important work — taking care of those they love.

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