A Burn Survivors ABC guide to coping with COVID-19

The current and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for all of us but even more so for survivors of trauma.

This global health crisis has brought sweeping changes to our way of living. Some of these have rocked us to the core. Our sense of safety and security has been challenged. Just going out to the shops is risky. Catching up with friends and family is out. Social distancing and living in lockdown is the new normal.

Feeling safe is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. This is especially important for survivors of trauma who have experienced difficult situations in which they were not safe. This can be accompanied by feelings of fear and uncertainty which can lead to a sense of not having any control over one’s life and lack of trust that things will be ok. These experiences and feelings, when repeated, prolonged and not resolved can significantly impact our wellbeing. This can cause anxiety and other mental health problems.

During recovery it is vital that burn survivors regain their sense of safety, develop trust and regain control in their life. COVID has made this more challenging for our burns survivors. All the things we usually encourage burn survivors to promote adjustment and recovery, like engage in social activity, return to work and activities of daily living, are now deemed risky. During a pandemic it is not encouraged to be out in public. It is NOT safe to connect with others face to face. We are told to wash our hands constantly (very challenging with dressings or pressure garments).

After experiencing a traumatic event like a burn injury it is normal to feel scared, uncertain and anxious. During this current pandemic is it even more challenging for our survivors to settle from their trauma and regain a sense of safety. Acknowledging this is normal and being aware of one’s own feelings is important. Reaching out and connecting with self and others is crucial. COVID requires us to do this is different ways… Reach out to friends and family with video chat, calls, texts, and other apps. Zoom, Houseparty or Facetime work well for computer illiterate people like me J

Exercise is super important. There is a strong link between physical and mental wellbeing. Can you go for a walk once a day with a neighbour or friend?

I am reminded that every crisis can be a turning point and opportunity for change. We have the opportunity to grow stronger and more supportive as a community. We have the opportunity to strengthen our partnership between burn survivors and clinicians.

We are all in this together.

An A-B-C guide to helping ourselves and others

I have started an A- B- C guide for helping ourselves and others during the challenging times ahead.

A – Acknowledge this is difficult & be aware of your own feelings  

Try to not bottle up your feelings. It is ok and normal to struggle. Speak about how you are feeling. Try to recognise and name your emotions. This can help you understand what is happening. It can also help with externalising or getting the ‘problem’ out. This can help you recognise that strong feelings are separate from you and you can learn that they will pass. This can help you to better manage and cope with strong and unpleasant emotions.

B – Be kind to yourself and others.

Staying connected with our friends and loved ones is important. Spend time with people you care about. You can stay connected via Zoom or Houseparty. These apps can be downloaded for free. If you have an apple or smart phone you can face time your friends or family. Try to stay in touch.

C – Connect, connect, connect:

Connecting with your body can calm trauma & anxiety. Connecting with others is important. Try it, its simpler than you think J Doing some simple deep breathing exercises can help with anxiety and panic: focus on breathing evenly, deeper and lengthening out your breath. Breathe slightly longer out than in. Do this 3 -5 times and count your breaths.

Some good free apps are:

  • Smiling Mind – free mindfulness meditation app to help you look after your mental health and manage stress and daily challenges.
  • Headspace – free “Weathering the Storm” program available to help support the global community through this time including  a curated list of calming meditations, help with sleep, and at-home workouts or movement exercises.

What do you do to look after yourself?

Let’s share ideas and experiences and maybe we can come up with an A- Z guide for better coping during COVID-19.

I will start with sharing an experience I had the other day in the shopping centre; I was at the checkout with my daughter buying some carefully selected snacks but was unable to pay as I only had cash and the shop no longer took cash. This was our outing for the day buying snacks for movie night so my daughter was super exited and then massively disappointed. The lady behind me said “Let me pay your bill for you.” My daughter and I were so touched. This women’s act of kindness made our day. It made me see what was important.

Acts of kindness, no matter how small can work magic J You are not alone. Remember, we are all in this together. We can support and help each other. We have the power to make a difference.

Stay well, stay home and be kind to yourself & others during these challenging times.

Thank you J

Written by Julia Kwiet, Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) Burn Social Worker & recourses by Louise Sayers, ICU Staff Support and Bereavement Support Co-Ordinator, RNSH.

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