31st July – Ask An Expert
Reducing alcohol consumption – There’s never been a better time to quit smoking
Aidan and Oonagh in the Morning spoke with Thelma Birrane, Health Promotion Officer with the HSE about this week’s Ask An Expert topic ‘There’s never been a better time to quit smoking’
Listen To the Full Podcast Below:
Is quitting smoking something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
Well, there’s never been a better time to give up. HSE Health Promotion and Improvement (Community Healthcare West) outlines why it’s now more important than ever to quit smoking and the support available.
COVID-19 has made us focus on what really matters: our family, friends and our health. There is added motivation to quit right now to reduce the risk of getting coronavirus.
Smoking is a known risk factor for all acute respiratory infections – including coronavirus. These infections can also be more severe in people who smoke.
Quitting smoking helps build your natural resistance to all types of infections including coronavirus and all types of flu.
When you stop, the natural hairs in your airways (cilia) begin to work again.
Within 1 to 2 days, the oxygen levels in your body will improve. Your blood pressure and pulse reduces, which in turn decreases the overall stress on your body.
All these things are good defences against coronavirus.
If you manage to stay off cigarettes for 28 days, you’re five times more likely to stay off them for good.
It can take some people a few tries before they give up for good. You don’t have to do it cold turkey. Stop smoking medication and nicotine replacement therapy help relieve withdrawal symptoms and increase your chances of success.
The HSE QUIT service offers free support, help and advice whatever stage you’re at. Their Quit Advisors are on hand to help you through even the most difficult times.
The HSE QUIT service provides personalised, free support by phone, in-person, by email, SMS and live chat that will double your chances of making a successful quit attempt.
- Free call QUIT on 1800 201 203
- Visit Quit.ie for stop smoking tools, a free Quit Kit or to create a quit plan
- Get peer-to-peer support on the QUIT Facebook Page or on Twitter @HSEQuitTeam #QuitandWin #TheLastStop
22th July – Ask An Expert
Reducing alcohol consumption – 3 reasons why it matters
Aidan and Oonagh in the Morning spoke with Evelyn Fanning, Senior Health Promotion & Improvement Officer with the HSE about this week’s Ask An Expert topic ‘Reducing alcohol Consumption – 3 reasons why it matters’
Listen To the Full Podcast Below
Alcohol may have become more of a part of people’s lives in recent months. With the restrictions in place drinking from home has become much more prevalent. There may be an inclination to drink more as a way of coping with the current stresses associated with COVID-19. Unfortunately, instead of helping the situation, this is likely to make matters worse not just for the individual themselves but their family and wider community. HSE Health Promotion & Improvement (Community Healthcare West) would like to take the opportunity to reinforce 3 reasons why it’s important to have a low-risk relationship with alcohol.
As we journey through COVID-19 new habits may be emerging around the use of alcohol in the home. Many people see alcohol as a way to relax or de-stress. However alcohol can make it harder to cope and has a negative impact both on our physical and mental health. Less alcohol is better for your mood and mental health. The more you drink the greater your risk of alcohol related harm.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions and causes us to do things that we may not do if we were sober. If we drink too much we may be less aware of physical distancing and hygiene which protects us from COVID-19.
The World Health Organization has reported that overall the evidence suggests that there is no “safe limit” of alcohol. Drinking within low risk guidelines can reduce your risk of harm from alcohol. For healthy adults aged 18-65 the low risk guidelines in Ireland are currently: Men: 17 standard drinks or less a week (e.g. 8.5 pints) Women: 11 standards drinks or less a week (e.g. A bottle of wine has 7.5 standards drinks).
A standard drink is a half pint of lager/stout, or a pub measure of spirits or a small glass of wine (100mls). Drinks should be spread out over the week, with no more than 6 standard drinks on any occasion and include 2-3 alcohol free days per week. Taking a break from alcohol or cutting down is one of the best things you can do for your health. Reflecting on your drinking habits and identifying healthy coping tools are important for long term health.
2. Your family and those around you
The negative effects of alcohol are often felt by those around the drinker such as children, family and friends. This may include relationship difficulties, arguments, fear, neglect, hurt, abuse, injury or violence. If you need advice about coping with some one’s drinking talk to your GP or HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline, 1800 459459 or visit www.askaboutalcohol.ie
Research shows the way parents drink and their attitudes to alcohol are one of the biggest influences on how their children drink. If we overdo things ourselves it is difficult to expect different behaviour from our children. Try to protect children from exposure to harmful alcohol use.
It’s important for young people to avoid alcohol for as long as possible. From the age of 12 until our mid 20s our brains are constantly developing. Using alcohol can damage the growing brain causing long term emotional problems and difficulties with learning, planning and memory.
3. Your community and wider society
The cost associated with alcohol harm is significant across society. Alcohol is a contributory factor in public order offences and undermines confidence in public safety. Sleep disturbances, being harassed on the streets and feeling unsafe in public places are some of the harms experiences by people due to strangers drinking.
Alcohol consumption is a major factor in injuries and deaths on Irish roads. Workplaces also are impacted by work colleagues drinking with reduced productivity, absenteeism and covering for co-workers. Alcohol impacts on our health service – Emergency Department, Hospital admissions, GP services. Our environment and Local Authority are also bearing the cost.
Reducing alcohol consumption is an urgent public health issue impacting on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities, and wider society. We need to implement effective action to reduce alcohol harm such as minimum unit price, restricting availability and advertising and promotion of alcohol. We need your support to make this happen.
Further information and support www.askaboutalcohol.ie – A HSE website with trusted sources of alcohol information in Ireland from HSE experts. The website also has a self-assessment tool designed to help people understand more about the impact their drinking is having on their lives and a drink calculator.
HSE Alcohol and Drugs Helpline for information and support services Tel 1800 459459 Monday to Friday 9.30-5.30 or email email@example.com www.healthpromotion.ie – A HSE resource providing a series of information leaflets that can be downloaded free e.g. Alcohol and Drugs – A Parent’s Guide, Men and Alcohol Information Leaflet, Women and Alcohol Information Leaflet, Your family and alcohol information leaflet, Pregnancy and alcohol leaflet.
16th July – Ask An Expert
Healthy Eating Tips For Young Families
In this week’s Ask An Expert series, Aidan and Oonagh spoke with Sinead Mannion who is a Dietitian working in Community Nutrition & Dietetic Service with the HSE
LISTEN BACK TO AIDAN AND OONAGH’S CHAT WITH SINEAD BELOW
Healthy Eating can be a challenge for many of us at various times in normal circumstances. As we continue our journey through COVID-19, it is more important than ever to look after our general health and that of our family, and eating well is a huge part of that.
Many families are spending more time at home together, routines have been affected and it may be more difficult to maintain healthy eating. HSE Dietitian, Sinead Mannion has put together a few tips to help us to get back on track with healthy eating for all the family.
Have regular family meals
Having regular meals might have been something difficult to schedule due to parents busy working schedules and children’s recreational activities. So now is an excellent opportunity to start! Also, family meals are a chance for parents to introduce children to new foods and to be role models for healthy eating.
Research has shown children who regularly take part in family meals are also:
• more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains
• less likely to snack on unhealthy foods
Teens may turn up their noses at the prospect of a family meal. Due to COVID-19 restrictions teens now have more time at home, so this is a great time to get them involved. Studies find that teens still want their parents’ advice on different issues. Use mealtime as a chance to talk about the worries and stresses they have as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
You might also try these tips:
• Involve your child in meal planning and preparation
• Keep mealtime calm and friendly
• What counts as a family meal? Whenever you and your family eat together — strive for nutritious food and a time when everyone can be there.
Stock Up on Healthy Foods
Children, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what’s available at home. That’s why it’s important to control the type of food brought into the house — the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks.
Follow these basic guidelines:
• Work fruits and vegetables into the daily routine, aiming for the goal of at least five servings a day. Be sure you serve fruit or vegetables at every meal.
• Make it easy for kids to choose healthy snacks by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. Ensure that they are clearly visible on the kitchen table or similar. You could try the following:
o Chop some carrots up into batons
o Cut some strawberries into smaller bit size pieces
o Chop some red, green and yellow peppers into lengths
o Have a bowl of mixed fruit salad available in the fridge
Other good snacks include
• Low-fat yogurt, peanut butter and celery, or whole-grain crackers and cheese.
Some other basic recommendations for main meals include:
• Serve lean meats and other good sources of protein, such as fish, eggs, beans, and nuts
• Choose whole-grain breads and cereals so children get more fibre. Remember fibre is the fertiliser for good gut bacteria!
• Limit fat intake by avoiding fried foods and choosing healthier cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming. Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
Aim to reduce or limit the following:
• Fast food and low-nutrient snacks, such as crisps and sweets, but don’t completely ban favourite snacks from your home. Instead, make them “once-in-a-while” foods, so children don’t feel deprived
• Sugary drinks, such as fizzy drinks and fruit-flavoured juice drinks. Serve water and low-fat milk instead.
Be a Role Model!!
The best way for you to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. Kids will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you’ll be sending the right message.
Another way to be a good role model is to serve appropriate portions and not overeat. Talk about your feelings of fullness, especially with younger children.
Don’t Battle Over Food
Well-intentioned parents might find themselves bargaining or bribing kids so they eat the healthy food in front of them.
Children should decide if they’re hungry, what they will eat from the foods served, and when they’re full. Parents can control which foods are available to their kids, both at mealtime and between meals. Here are some guidelines to follow:
• Establish a predictable schedule of meals and snacks. It’s OK to choose not to eat when both parents and kids know when to expect the next meal or snack.
• Don’t force children to clean their plates – doing so teaches them to override feelings of fullness.
• Don’t bribe or reward children with food. Avoid using dessert as the prize for eating the meal.
• Don’t use food as a way of showing love. When you want to show love, give your child a hug, some of your time, or praise.
Get Children Involved
Most kids will enjoy deciding what to make for dinner. Talk to them about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Perhaps educate them about the different nutrients from each food and how that nutrient can help them grow e.g. omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish helps brain development, calcium in milk and dairy products helps keep bones and teeth nice and strong.
Use this opportunity while you have more time at home to get children involved in meal times. It can help prepare them to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat when the time comes that you won’t be so freely available to them.
Further information/resources to support healthy eating is available from the following:
Healthy Ireland • Eat Well www.gov.ie/en/publication/da7f19-eat-well/ • Healthy eating during COVID-19 www.gov.ie/en/publication/7183c5-healthy-eating-during-covid-19/
HSE • Healthy Eating Active Living www2.hse.ie/healthy-eating-active-living/nutrition/
• Healthy Eating publications available on https://www.healthpromotion.ie/publication/fullListing?category=Healthy+Eating&searchHSE=
Safefood • Healthy Eating information www.safefood.eu/Healthy-Eating.aspx • Make a start www.safefood.eu/Start/Welcome.aspx
Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) • Nutrition Fact Sheets https://www.indi.ie/all-food
9th July – Ask An Expert
How to Support New Parents as COVID-19 Restrictions Lift
Aidan and Oonagh in the Morning caught up with Anne Marie Naughton who is a Senior Clinical Psychologist with The HSE Child and Family Psychology Service and they spoke about how we can all support new parent’s as COVID-19 restrictions lift. Expecting a baby can be a very happy time for new parents; however, this transition can equally feel daunting and overwhelming for many. Adjusting to parenthood, no matter how welcome the pregnancy was, has been more challenging for new parents during COVID-19 and all the changes this has brought.
LISTEN BACK: How to Support New Parents as COVID-19 Restrictions Lift
Common emotions for new mothers in these uncertain times
Having a baby and becoming a parent is a very special and exciting time in your life, filled with many magical moments. The present time is also a particularly challenging time in history, which may affect how you feel about being pregnant, or bringing a new little one into the world. Pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a new baby can bring dramatic changes to your life, and all of these adjustments can cause you to feel a variety of emotions, especially during a pandemic.
You may feel happy and overjoyed at times, but you may also feel extremely tired, anxious, and overwhelmed, especially during these uncertain times as restrictions lift. It is important to remember that these stress and anxiety responses are normal. Now during COVID times, you may have concerns for what the future holds and concerns for your health or the health of your baby (e.g., “How will I cope?”; “What will I do if the baby or I get sick?”). You are not alone in feeling these feelings. Acknowledge them and try to be gentle with yourself.
You might also be feeling a sense of loss for the birth experience and maternity leave that you had planned for. Many new mothers have described a feeling of grief about how they imagined things would be during this special time. You may be disappointed by cancelled face to face antenatal classes or parent and baby groups, or by being unable to have the family get-togethers or coffee shop meet-ups with other parents. You may feel that you are missing out on, or have missed out on, the birth you had planned for, with less time with your birth partner and no visitors in hospital. To help you cope with these challenges, it is crucial that you check at your antenatal visits what is allowed and what is restricted in your specific maternity department, if you have not yet had your baby.
You may feel isolated as you haven’t had the same contact with family and friends during the lockdown, and now you may wonder what is safe and not safe for you and your baby to do as restrictions lift.
Other new parents have been further challenged by having to look after older children during the closure of schools and childcare settings during the lockdown, which greatly affected the time available to give exclusively to your new baby. Becoming a parent is challenging at the best of times, but even more so now, so you have done amazingly well to get to this point.
Practical coping strategies for new mothers
1) Practice being kind to yourself: All your baby needs is a ‘good enough’ parent who is gentle and kind to themselves, which will help you to tune into your baby’s needs. You may feel guilty if you feel you are not coping with anxious thoughts or the isolation you have felt, or still feel, being away from some of your normal supports. Try to notice any self-critical feelings towards yourself, and bring kindness to your feelings, as they are valid and understandable.
2) Stay connected if possible: While we all need to ensure physical distancing right now, it is really important that now, more than ever, you remain socially and emotionally connected. Build your ‘support village’ and keep in regular contact with those you trust, and by whom you feel genuinely supported, through socially distanced meet-ups, or by phone or video calls.
3) Try to get your basic needs met: It is very important that you eat well and regularly. Enlist the help of family and friends, or organise some batch-cooking to ensure you have something quick and nutritious to hand. Prioritise as much rest as you can, and sleep when the baby sleeps, even if that is in the middle of the day. Avoid using drugs or alcohol to relax. Fresh air and exercise are essential for your
emotional well-being and physical recovery. Remember to start exercising very slowly after having a baby and let your body recover.
4) Focus on the positives: You may really have missed sharing the arrival of your new baby with visitors or being able to go out over the past few months. However, ‘cocooning’ with your new baby may have also given you the opportunity to really get to know your baby, and for you to recover physically and emotionally after the pregnancy and birth, and go at your own pace. Getting to know your baby takes time. As you continue to try to tune into their cues and cries, and learn how to respond, it can feel a bit like ‘fumbling in the fog’; but by staying close to your baby, you are giving yourself plenty of opportunity to form a loving, nurturing bond with your little one.
5) Make time for yourself: Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. In looking after your baby, you need to care for yourself too. This may be challenging, but doing things that you enjoy to replenish your energy and sense of calmness is important. This might be taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, reading a book, relaxing with a cup of tea or taking a few, deep slow breaths.
6) Seek support when you need it: Be aware of your stress levels and ask for practical and emotional support from family and friends if you feel it is all becoming too much. Others may not know what you need, so try to express this in a way that is clear about what you need and invites a supportive response (e.g., “Can you mind the baby for an hour so I can get some sleep?”).
7) Let go of perfection: Your baby does not need you to be perfect, just ‘good enough’. Let go of having to be in control of everything around you or setting too high a standard. Try not to compare yourself to others or start to believe that other new mums are managing these early days of parenting better. Every new parent struggles and that’s ok.
8) Don’t be afraid to reach out: While you may have been discharged early from hospital, you still might have a lot of recovering to do. It is really important that you know you can contact your GP, Public Health Nurse, or other professional, who will be happy to help you with medical and postnatal care for you and your baby, and information on local supports.
Finally, give yourself the time you need to learn as a new parent and allow yourself to be vulnerable with those you trust. Parenting a new baby is enriching, but it can also be really hard, especially at the moment. Be gentle on yourself and remember that tough times do pass. Minding you and reaching out to others for support will give you and your beautiful new baby the healthiest start together.
Further sources of information / resources:
www.mychild.ie – A HSE website with Information on pregnancy and the first 3 years of your child’s life
HSE book My Pregnancy – Expert advice for every step https://www2.hse.ie/file-library/child-health/my-pregnancy-book.pdf
HSE book My Child: 0-2 years – Expert advice for every step https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/child-health/my-child-0-to-2-years.pdf
HSE Perinatal Mental Health: The National Programme for Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services has launched a series of information leaflets to support women and their families experiencing mental health difficulties during pregnancy and in the baby’s first year. To access these resources, as well as a poster on ‘10 things to know about Perinatal Mental Health’ see: www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/4/mental-health-services/specialist-perinatal-mental-health/
TUSLA website with key messages on what works best for children and families at different ages and stages.
https://onefamily.ie/– National organisation for one parent families HSE web page on Ante-natal classes:
https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/child-health/antenatal-classes.html World Health Organization –
www.uhgmaternity.com – Provides up to date information for expectant parents on ante-natal classes, labour, post-natal care for Mum and baby etc. as well as factsheets re COVID-19 and pregnancy www.breastfeeding.ie – HSE webpage with information, advice and support on breastfeeding.
2nd July – Ask An Expert – WITH some support; Well-being In The Home
In this week’s Ask An Expert, Aidan and Oonagh spoke with Dr Sharyn Byrne, HSE Senior Clinical Psychologist, Community and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Dr Sharon has written a resource for children and young people to understand parental mental health difficulties. It is estimated that between 15 and 20% of children and young people in Ireland will at some point have the experience of living with parents who have a mental health problem.All the research shows that if children and young people are not given information about the nature of their parent’s mental health difficulty, they can be at increased vulnerability to emotional, behaviour and Mental Health difficulties themselves.
They asked Sharyn about how significant has the impact of COVID-19 been on those with pre-existing mental health vulnerabilities and the effect that can that then have on children who’s parents have mental health vulnerabilities. Dr Sharyn also spoke about the very useful resource for young people called The WITH project.
LISTEN BACK TO THE FULL CHAT BELOW
In recent months due to COVID-19 restrictions, our contact with loved ones, friends, access to sporting and other activities and our sense of connection to others has all been reduced, with understandable effects on our sense of emotional and psychological well-being. To a greater or lesser extent we have all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need to create distance from each other, has negatively impacted on our access to many factors that support and protect our Mental Health. Our access to supportive services has also been affected by the need to adhere to the restrictions imposed.
It is without question that our Mental Health has been impacted by reduced access to services and reduced access to the protective factors that promote positive Mental Health. For those with pre-existing Mental Health vulnerabilities the impact of COVID-19 has been very significant. Fears about COVID-19 may be increasing their anxieties; reduced access to protective activities and relationships may be negatively affecting their mood etc. For adults with Mental Health difficulties nearly 70% of women and 60% of men who attend Mental Health services are parents. They and their children have essentially been confined to home in recent months. This means that children and young people have been more exposed than ever to their parents’ Mental Health distress. Where do these children and young people go to learn about what’s happening in their homes?
The WITH project stands for Well-being In The Home and it is a young person’s guide to parental Mental Health. It is a South Mayo CAMHS initiative that was developed because (i) research shows that children and young people in these situations do better with information and (ii) that there was no such resource available to children and young people in Ireland. So in 2017 the CAMHS service, working with a local youth group and in collaboration with Mindspace Mayo began developing the first ever online resource in Ireland for children and young people (10+ yrs.). An important feature of the initiative is that it was developed by young people for young people. The WITH project which resulted was officially launched in Oct 2019.
This online resource helps young people to understand their parent’s Mental Health difficulty, what it can look and feel like to be around, the impact it might have on them, and the supports they can access for themselves. The WITH Project is a series of informational videos; it provides information on various Mental Health difficulties (e.g. Anxiety, Depression, Alcohol and Substance Misuse) talks about how parents can recover, and how the young person is not responsible for the parent’s Mental Health distress or for making it better. It also provides useful links and details of services that can support the young person. In the coming month or two (and as COVID restrictions ease) we will be adding videos on other mental Health difficulties, i.e. Psychosis, Bipolar Affective Disorder and Personality Disorders.
This CAMHS initiative has been covered regionally and nationally through radio and print media. The WITH Project youth group (Chloe, Dean, Niamh and Sarah) has won the Category for Community Safety Award in the Mayo Garda Youth Awards and have been put forward for consideration for the National Garda Youth Awards. The WITH Project has also been shortlisted for the HSE 2020 Excellence Awards.
For further information on The WITH Project please go to www.youtube.com/c/thewithproject
Other useful link
· www.yourmentalhealth.ie – a HSE website for advice on how to mind your mental health
· www.gov.ie/together – Looking after our mental health
25th June Ask An Expert
In this week’s Ask An Expert, Aidan and Oonagh spoke with Tracey Ward who is Head of Psychology with Ability West. Tracey spoke with Aidan and Oonagh about the challenges for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities during Covid-19.
Tracey also spoke about the changes we might notice in people with intellectual disabilities during this difficult time and how we can best support adults with intellectual disabilities.
LISTEN BACK TO THEIR CHAT BELOW
Challenges and Supports for
Adults with Intellectual Disabilities
HSE Psychologists Seamus Ryan and Claire Lacey together with psychology colleagues Denise Brett (Western Care Association), Tracy Parker (Ability West) and Maria Mannion (Brothers of Charity) have written the following article to help both adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their carers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions.
How can we support adults with intellectual disabilities?
· Ask yourself how much does the person understand about what is happening at the moment? Consider what information and how much information might be useful to share with them. Consider how much COVID-19 talk there is around the person? Is it helpful information, or is it escalating their anxiety? You can use easy-to-read information or visual resources such as pictures, photos, or social stories to aid communication if needed.
· Adults with an intellectual disability may need regular reminders about hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. Visual resources displayed in the home may help with this.
· Offer regular opportunities with plenty of time for the person you support to talk to you about their emotions and concerns regularly. Visual aids, such as cards displaying various emotions may be helpful with this. Providing open and reassuring communication will help them feel less isolated.
· Create a daily structure and routine. It may be helpful to use a visual schedule or calendar to keep a daily structure. Are there opportunities to learn new skills or do valued activities together? Ensure activities provide a mixture of pleasurable activities, activities that bring a sense of achievement, and socially connecting activities. Developing meaningful roles for everyone at home can help enhance feelings of self-esteem and maintain a sense of purpose.
· Find opportunities to offer choices within everyday routines to provide a sense of control (e.g., choice of food, drinks, choice of what activity options may be possible). Limit time spent watching news stories by setting one specific time of day when your household will catch up with what is happening in the news. Support the person to engage with other activities during the rest of the day. Try to avoid conversations about COVID-19 just before bedtime, to encourage better sleep.
· Encourage the person to engage in relaxing or calming activities, including activities that use movement and help the person to be active. Relaxation and mindfulness activities can help calm busy minds. Help the person you support to make a relaxation box including things that they can touch, smell, taste, listen to and look at in times of stress. Using the five senses can help ground a person when they are feeling overwhelmed. Day to day tasks that can also help regulate emotions include hoovering, cooking, or gardening.
· Support the person to keep eating healthily and keep moving as best as they can, e.g. walking or online exercise classes. Develop a wellbeing plan with the person. Think about how you might support them to maintain good physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health in creative ways.
· Help the person make a ‘worry box’ where they can write down or draw their worries and put them in the box. This can help the person to feel that their worries can be ‘held’ in the box, and outside of their own minds. Encourage the person to share what is in their worry box with you daily if they wish.
· Find ways for the person to use video call platforms such as WhatsApp Video, Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. Maintaining social connections with friends and family in this way is important where the usual face-to-face contact is not possible. The facial expressions and body language that are facilitated through video calls helps us to feel more connected to each other.
· If the person with an intellectual disability is self-isolating away from their family, you can encourage friends and family to stay in contact by suggesting sending cards in the post, sharing photos, or ‘thinking of you’ parcels to help combat loneliness. This reassures the person that those who are not with them are thinking about them.
· The person may need some extra individual time with their family members or carers to help with new routines, or in providing reassurance.
· As a carer, try to develop your own compassion for yourself, as you may experience difficult feelings that make you act in ways you might not normally act. Be forgiving to yourself and to others. Try to maintain your own self-care routines as much as possible. Managing your own routines, social connectedness, and mental wellbeing will be vital in allowing you to continue supporting the person you care about.
· Families and carers can also make contact with the person’s local support services for further advice if needed.
For HSE COVID-19 guidance for people with disabilities, please see the “HSE Approved Guidance for Disability Services” section on the following webpage: https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/news/newsfeatures/covid19-updates/partner-resources/
For HSE advice on supporting someone with special needs during the pandemic see the following webpage:
- HSE COVID-19 website: https://www2.hse.ie/coronavirus/
- HSE Live: 1850 24 1850 (Monday – Friday 8am-8pm; Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm).
- Government resources on coping at home during COVID-19: www.gov.ie/together/
- Brothers of Charity’s Self-Care Handbook Addressing the Psychological Needs of Disability Carers and Staff during the COVID-19 outbreak: http://www.fedvol.ie/_fileupload/Corona/Self-Care Handbook – Addressing the Psychological Needs of Frontline and Healthcare Staff in Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak.pdf
- Brothers of Charity’s document entitled ‘Staying Well: Maintaining Positive Mental Health and Well-being’: http://www.brothersofcharity.ie/pdfs/Staying_Well_Maintaining_Positive_Mental_Health_and_Wellbeing.pdf
- Brothers of Charity’s document entitled ‘Minding Me and My Mental Health’: http://www.brothersofcharity.ie/pdfs/Minding_Me_and_My_Mental_Health.pdf
- Ability West: Contact 091 540934 for the following: (a) Handbook on Supporting people with additional needs during Covid-19; (b) Adapted Psychological First Aid Training for staff in the intellectual disability sector.
- Western Care Association: There is a dedicated COVID-19 section on the Western Care Association website. Resources include information, easy-read information and resources to promote positive wellbeing in people with intellectual disabilities and their families during this time. Please visit www.westerncare.com
- Galway City COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 1800 400 150 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Galway County COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 1800 928 894 or email email@example.com
- Mayo COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 094 906 4660 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Roscommon COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 1800 200 727 or email email@example.com
18th June Ask An Expert: Men’s Health Week 2020
Be Part of the solution
Aidan and Oonagh in the Morning spoke with Paul Gillen who is a Health Promotion Officer with the HSE.
Paul spoke about Men’s Health Week. This annual week aims to raise awareness of preventable health problems; encourage the early detection and treatment of health conditions in men; and support men and boys to engage in healthier lifestyle choices and activities.
This year the theme is: ‘Restoring the Balance, Be part of the solution’. 2020 has been an exceptional year in many ways. All aspects of life in Ireland continue to be shaped by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It has had a major impact on men’s health.
Listen back to Aidan and Oonagh’s Chat With Paul
Individuals across Ireland are trying to re-build their physical health, emotional resilience, relationships, jobs, finances, connections and routines and everyone is asked to be part of the solution and do something realistic and practical, no matter how small, to help restore some balance and stability to all our lives.
This annual week aims to raise awareness of preventable health problems; encourage the early detection and treatment of health conditions in men; and support men and boys to engage in healthier lifestyle choices / activities. Men still die on average about 4½ years younger than women. They also have a higher incidence of death rates for virtually all of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke and suicide.
“Challenges and Choices” Man Manual
A new free “Challenges and Choices” Man Manual is available. This covers a variety of men’s health issues including alcohol, food, physical activity, smoking, stress, blood pressure, sexually transmitted diseases, skin cancers, back care and help seeking behaviour. This manual which was funded by the HSE is available to download or can be ordered from www.healthpromotion.ie
For further information on men’s health week, please contact
· Anne Marie Murphy, HSE Health Promotion & Improvement on 087 4063166 or email firstname.lastname@example.org · Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (MFHI) on www.mhfi.org
11th June Ask An Expert: Coping With Emotional Eating During Covid-19
COVID-19 is bringing unrivalled challenges for us as individuals, and as part of a wider Irish society. It is important that we all do what we can to look after ourselves and each other as we try to effectively manage this evolving situation. For many, the outbreak of Covid-19 in Ireland has brought with it heightened levels of emotion be it anxiety, anger, boredom or feelings of being overwhelmed. Strong or difficult emotions such as these can leave us with a feeling of emptiness or emotional void.
In this week’s edition of Ask An Expert Aidan and Oonagh In The Morning spoke with HSE Psychologist Mary Hynes on the topic of coping with emotional eating during Covid-19. They began their chat by asking Mary; ‘Why do we turn to food as a source of emotional comfort?’ . Oonagh and Aidan went on to discuss ‘How do I know I’m emotional eating? and finished their chat by asking Dr Mary; ‘what steps do the HSE recommend we can take to make improvements?’
LISTEN BACK TO THE FULL PODCAST BELOW
Identifying Emotional Eating:
If you eat more when feeling stressed, lonely, bored, angry or jealous or if you use food as a way of calming or soothing yourself for example, you may be engaging in emotional eating. Emotional hunger is a hunger that can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there.
Once you have identified that emotional eating may be a difficulty for you, the next step is understanding why. This can be done by assessing triggers to eating. One of the best ways to identify unhelpful eating patterns is to keep a ‘food and mood’ diary. This means that each
time you eat (or feel like eating) you create an entry in the diary that details how you were feeling at the time of eating (or feeling an urge to eat), exploring if something happened to upset or anger you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterwards. Over time, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Maybe you always end up indulging after spending time with a friend whom you find judgemental or critical of you. Perhaps you eat to cope with stress whenever you have a deadline or when you attend family functions. Once you identify your emotional eating triggers, the next step is identifying healthier ways to feed your feelings. To do this we must understand our emotions and what they are communicating.
Emotions and feelings aren’t good or bad, they just are what they are. The behaviour people engage in, as an expression of their emotions may be helpful or unhelpful. Emotions are very complex and consist of many parts or different reactions happening at the same time. Sometimes the problem is that you do not tune into or sense your body and bodily changes. Failure to do this can mean you don’t hear your emotions and therefore do not respond in a regulated way. To regulate emotions, you have to be pretty good at sensing your body. In order to gain control over emotional eating it is important to learn ways of coping with emotional distress which doesn’t involve food. The following steps can help you to recognise and let go of emotional distress.
Steps to letting go emotional distress
1. Observe your emotion – acknowledge it, take a step back from it
1. Try to experience your emotion as a wave, coming and going
2. Do not judge it
3. Do not cling to it
4. Open yourself to the flow of the emotion
5. Be aware that you are not your emotion
6. Do not act on it
7. Do not build a wall around or block your emotion – it just keeps it around longer
8. Practice accepting your emotions – be willing to have them, they have a purpose and are justified
9. ‘It’s not your fault’ – Remind yourself that it is not your fault that life is difficult right now and that your emotions and thoughts are hard to manage
Steps for increasing positive emotions
Once you have a handle on coping with emotional distress it is important to increase positive emotions. This can be done by firstly attending to relationships which can increase your sense of happiness. It is important to note, however, that we should not place all our happiness on
one person or one relationship. Stay connected with family and friends even if this has to be by phone and multimedia at present.
Another way to increase positive emotions is to avoid avoiding. No one can build a positive life if they are avoiding problem solving or doing things that are necessary. Make a ‘to-do list’, write your problems down and brainstorm possible solutions. Most importantly, don’t give up!
Mindfulness of positive experiences is a powerful way of harnessing positive emotions. This can be done by focusing your attention on positive events that occur, even the small daily stuff. Refocus on positive parts of events when your mind wanders to the negative. While becoming mindful of positive events it can also be helpful to try to become unmindful of negative events. Try to become aware of distracting from positive experiences, by for example, worrying that they may come to an end, or thinking about whether you deserve it, or thinking about how much is expected of you now.
When we engage in emotional overeating we can become self-critical and have strong feelings of guilt. These feelings can then lead us to seek self-soothing using food and as such a cycle of eating to cope with strong emotions can emerge. Self-Compassion is the antidote to feeling this way. Compassion Focused Therapy is a therapy designed to target these feelings of shame and self-criticism in particular. Recent research findings have highlighted the positive role of self-compassion in preventing and recovering from these troublesome eating cycles (Steindl, Buchannan, Goss & Allan, 2017). Compassion focused therapy uses imagery to engage our compassionate minds. The following exercise is an example of this and can help you to build a safe and calm space when feelings and emotions become overwhelming.
Exercise: Creating a safe place (adapted from Gilbert, 2010)
Begin by focusing on your breath. Take three controlled breaths to help centre you. Breathe in slowly and steadily to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4. Hold that breath to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4 and slowly release the breath as though you are blowing out the candles on your birthday cake to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Next focus on creating a safe, comfortable and calming space in your mind. Close your eyes if you find it helpful. You are going to create a place filled with calmness and safeness that you can visit in times of strong emotions.
With your eyes closed, imagine looking around you. What can you see? You might be in a beautiful, ornate garden with water fountains, colourful flowers, lush green grass, a small pond or flowing stream. You might find yourself looking around and seeing a beautiful beach, the waves lapping towards you and the sea stretching out to the horizon. Or you may find yourself imagining a cosy log cabin in the woods filled with woollen blankets and a roaring open fire.
Next focus on what you can feel. Use your sense of touch. Notice the sun on your face, the gentle wind blowing through your hair. Notice if the ground under your feet feels firm or soft? Are you barefoot and able to sink your feet into the sand, or the grass if in a garden?
Now focus on what you can hear in this place. Can you hear the sweet song of the birds in the distance? What sounds can you hear up close? Maybe the sounds of a gentle stream as it gently flows past. Perhaps the rustling of leaves if in the woodland?
Next bring your attention to what you can smell. For example, can you sense the scent of the sweet roses growing in the garden or the salty smell of the ocean if you chose the beach as your safe place? Maybe you can smell the timber beams from the log cabin.
Try now to visualise your facial expression while in your safe haven. Try to picture yourself smiling in contentment at being in this relaxing and tranquil environment.
In practicing this exercise you are creating a safe space in your mind which you can visit to allow your body and mind to relax and take a break. When calling this safe space to mind, try to imagine that the environment itself takes pleasure from your presence. Immerse yourself in the feeling that your safe space takes joy from you being there. In doing so you are building your emotional connection with this beautiful place. It can be helpful to visit this calm and soothing place when strong or overwhelming emotions arise.
No matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, learn to eat mindfully instead, regain control of your weight, and finally put a stop to emotional eating. Identifying triggers, identifying alternative ways of coping with strong emotions and treating yourself with kindness and compassion are the best ways of doing just that.
Useful contacts and helpful resources:
· www2.hse.ie/coronavirus or call HSE Live 1850 24 1850 (Monday – Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm) for up to date information on Covid-19
· www.hpsc.ie – Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) for regular updates relating to Covid-19 in Ireland
· www.yourmentalhealth.ie a HSE website for advice on how to mind your mental health · www.gov.ie/together – for lots of tips on looking after your health and wellbeing
· www.stresscontrol.ie for details of a free online programme with practical skills to deal with stress
· www.bodywhys.ie – Bodywhys is the national voluntary organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders.
4th June 2020 Ask An Expert: Caring for Others and Coping with Bereavement during Covid-19 Restrictions
In this week’s ‘Ask An Expert’ , Kayte O Malley spoke with Joanne Byrne who is a Senior Clinical Psychologist working with the HSE on the subject of ‘Caring for Others and Coping with Bereavement during Covid-19 Restrictions.
Caring for someone who is ill can take a significant emotional toll. This is heightened during Covid-19 as access to usual support systems is reduced due to restrictions.
HSE Psychology colleagues Joanne Byrne, Orla Richardson, Padraig Collins, Diana Jordan, Deirdre Cleary, Gerardin Casey and Malie Coyne have put together information to help the public with caring for someone who is ill, managing loss and grieving, and how best to support bereaved children during this difficult time.
Caring for someone who is extremely ill
The opportunity to care for someone you love who is extremely ill can be a very meaningful experience. In these COVID times, without access to the people who would normally offer help and support to us, the physical and emotional demands that come with providing a high level of care to a loved one can be magnified. It is very normal to feel under strain at a time like this and it is normal to experience a range of both positive and negative feelings. If possible, try not to give yourself a hard time for some of the more difficult feelings you may experience.
It is normal to feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed in the face of ongoing uncertainty. Feelings provide us with valuable information and can lead to a positive response (e.g. anxiety about spreading the virus leading to following guidelines about hand washing). However, feelings that become overwhelming may no longer be helpful and may lead you to neglect your own needs. If you find yourself overwhelmed, it is an indicator that you may need to focus some care and attention on yourself.
As the saying goes, you need to “put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others”. When looking after yourself, it is a good idea to think about what has worked well for you in the past. You could also consider these ideas:
· Start with the basics: Our physical health is linked to our psychological health, so it is important to try to get enough rest and sleep, eat healthily, engage in physical activity, and avoid unhelpful coping strategies (e.g. excess alcohol). Start with whatever is manageable, whether that is getting to bed 10-minutes earlier, introducing gentle stretches or going for a short walk.
· Consider your supports: For many people, a regular connection with family and friends plays an important role in keeping emotionally balanced. It can be helpful to link with positive and supportive people in whatever ways are possible at this time – by phone, by email or social media. It is also important to respect your need for quiet, personal time on your own, if this is more helpful to you. Set boundaries, where needed, around any interactions that you find stressful.
Remember, the act of caring for someone who is ill comes with both rewards and challenges. Acknowledge your strengths and struggles. Be compassionate towards yourself and accept that you are doing the best that you can. Seek emotional and practical support if you feel that this would help by contacting services and agencies that are there to help you.
Grieving in exceptional times
A death in your family or in your circle of friends can be hugely difficult. You may feel shocked, upset, angry or frightened. You may find it difficult to process what has happened. Being bereaved can be one of the loneliest experiences you or someone you love will ever go through.
When we are bereaved, closeness and support from those we love may help us to cope. Unfortunately, during this time where remaining physically isolated from others is necessary, the physical distance can add to the grief and to a sense of feeling alone. Many people have concerns about what might happen at a funeral during restrictions. The traditional ways we mark our grief has changed. For the moment, it is not possible to come together and to gather in one location for a large funeral, as a maximum of 10 people from the bereaved household and immediate family are permitted at this phase of the lockdown.
Families might use technology to include a wider group of people. The Irish Hospice Foundation ‘Care & Inform Series’ have practical information around planning a meaningful funeral for your loved one at this time (see https://hospicefoundation.ie/bereavement-2-2/covid19-care-and-inform/).
In the days and weeks following a loss, there are important ways that you can support yourself and others in this situation:
· Look after yourself: Try to stick to a routine if at all possible. Prioritise your own need for rest. Try to get outdoors into nature. Eat regular meals. The structure will help, even if only a little. It may be a good idea to limit consumption of news and social media as when you are feeling sad, regular news can be overwhelming.
· Keep in contact with others if this is helpful to you: Some people find it useful to keep in contact with family and friends, others can find this overwhelming. If you find that people are not responding in a way that is helpful to you (which can be often due to fear or feeling helpless), you may consider contacting a helpline (see services listed at the end of this piece).
· Seek and offer practical help from others: Don’t be afraid to ask others for practical help as most people will be happy to do something useful for you (e.g. ask someone to manage phone calls if you need a break).
Some days may feel very difficult. You may also find you have days when you have more energy and the grief isn’t as consuming. Good and bad days are a normal part of grieving.
How you can help another person
You may have family or friends who have been bereaved and you may wish to support them. It is good to be aware that, at this time of uncertainty and fear, many people may struggle more than usual. Being present with someone you care about in their grief is one of the best gifts you can give them. It can be useful to directly ask someone how you can help them. In general, offering practical and emotional support, and staying in touch when needed, is welcomed.
Supporting Bereaved Children
The loss of a loved one can be a traumatic and confusing experience for children and young people, at any time. The current restrictions have meant that the comfort and support from the wider community is not available in the same way as before which is very difficult for many families. While each child will respond differently to a loss, all children can be supported to understand what has happened and to be helped to process their difficult feelings.
What to look out for: One important factor in how a child experiences loss is their age and stage of development. Although the understanding and emotional response to death can vary greatly among younger children and older adolescents, all children are capable of feeling the loss and can pick up on the grief of the family. Sometimes children show very little noticeable reaction and may process their feelings at a later time. It is not uncommon to notice disturbances in eating, sleeping, behaviour and play, and for children of all ages to experience a range of emotions that may come and go.
How to help:
· Provide honest age-appropriate information: Although this is something families can find challenging, it is important for the child that someone close to them tells them about the person who is going to die or has died. Ask questions about the child’s understanding of what has happened and respond in a gentle way. The instinct can be to use comforting metaphors (e.g., ‘they have gone to sleep’), but using clear and honest language is preferable (e.g., ‘their heart stopped beating and their body isn’t working anymore’). Answer the child’s questions honestly using words that they can understand. Reading a book on loss together, such as those recommended on websites below, can provide a way to make sense of this loss and associated feelings.
· Give your child time to talk to you, at their pace, now and in the future: Reassure them that they are not to blame and that it is okay for them to be upset. Share happy memories of the person who has died and let them know that it is still okay to have fun. Children will take your lead and open expressions of feelings such as ‘I feel sad today and I miss ….’ can help children to see that adults have feelings too and it is okay to express them.
· Help the child to work through their emotions in a non-judgemental way: Parents often face the challenging task of managing their own wide range of reactions to the loss while also trying to help their child to cope. Children’s behaviour often gives an indicator of underlying feelings (e.g., an unexpected angry outburst may actually be your child letting you know they need a hug). Accept their emotions without judgement or blame. Assure your child you’ll do your best to support them.
· Encourage children to engage with usual activities and interests: Because children thrive on predictability, where possible try to stick to regular routines. When restrictions are over, communicate with the school as returning to a familiar environment may bring up feelings your child needs support with.
Remember that there is no perfect way to cope with death and that grief follows a different path for each person. Being available to your children and allowing yourself room to grieve with compassion is the best way to way to support them through this difficult time.
- Barnardos: Bereavement helpline service (01 473 2110, Mon – Thurs 10am to 12 pm) or Email: email@example.com, or find resources on: https://www.barnardos.ie/resources/bereavement
- Hospice Foundation: Care and Inform Hub – Information on matters relating to end-of-life and bereavement care Covid-19: https://hospicefoundation.ie/bereavement-2-2/covid19-care-and-inform/
- Irish Childhood Bereavement Network: Supports for Helping Children and Teenagers to Grieve: https://www.childhoodbereavement.ie/
- Rainbows: 01 473 4175. Supporting children with Bereavement. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.rainbowsireland.ie/
- comwith David Kessler: an American writer and therapist who has written several books on grieving. He has a live Facebook group available daily at 1pm to help people worldwide during the pandemic.
- https://bethany.ie/ Bethany is a voluntary community and parish based service which aims to support bereaved adults through the grieving process. Services are free of charge and confidential.
- https://anamcara.ie/ Organisation that supports parents and families after the death of a son or daughter.
- https://www.widow.ie/ Support network for people bereaved of a spouse or partner.
- https://alittlelifetime.ie/ Foundation to give voice to bereaved parents and their families across Ireland and promote healthy grieving, understanding and hope when a baby dies at any stage of pregnancy.
- Dr Susan Delaney has a number of informative video’s on YouTube and discusses grief and coping with loss.
- Hospice Foundation: Resources on Supporting Carers: https://hospicefoundation.ie/supporting/supporting-carers/
- Care Alliance Ireland: Guiding support for Family Carers:
- Family Carers Ireland: Provide a variety of supports and services to family carers: https://familycarers.ie/
Listen Back To The Full Interview Below
Ask An Expert: Parenting Children with Autism: A Covid-19 Perspective
Aidan and Oonagh in the morning spoke with Lee Harlow from the HSE who spoke about parenting children with Austism: A Covid-19 Perspective. Listen back to their chat below.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in huge adjustments for families in Ireland, as the country grapples with the changes that constitute our ‘new normal’. In a short space of time, families have had to adapt tochanges to important routines and structures that usually form the bedrock of everyday life.
As parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) already know, routine and predictability can promote a sense of safety and well-being in a child with ASD. For some children, the reduction in daily social demands, as a result of being out of school, has led to a decrease in social anxiety. For others, the uncertainty of new arrangements may be leading to a heightened sense of anxiety.
During the pandemic, parents have the tricky task of trying to meet the needs of their child with ASD, whilst balancing the competing demands of work and family life. This can present both challenges and opportunities that are unique to each individual and their family.Psychologists from the HSE have put together the following 7 strategies and suggestions for parents and their children with ASD to help during this period:
Parent self-care: It is important for parents to find ways to recharge the batteries and to create some space to look after their own wellbeing. Caring for a child with ASD can often result in parents making less times for themselves and this may be even more true during the pandemic. It may not be possible for parents to meet their previous standards and that is okay. It is good to remember that scheduling space for parental self-care provides good role modelling for children. This can be done by setting aside time for activities that promote feelings of rejuvenation and calm, whatever these may be. Visit the “wellbeing for parents” section at www.barnardos.ie for tips on self-care for parents.
Reduce demands: The past two months have been particularly challenging for children with ASD. Within the current climate of change and uncertainty, it is likely that children are using significant emotional resources to cope. In helping them to adjust to these changes, it is a good idea to limit demands at this time, particularly in anxiety-provoking situations. This can include reducing academic demands and altering other goals that your child may be working on. For now, it is important that children with ASD feel safe and emotionally regulated. Visit www.autism.org/covid-19-resources/ for further advice.
Exercise: Encouraging children to turn off their devices and to get outside can be challenging, particularly for children with ASD. Sixty minutes of daily physical activity has been shown to significantly reduce children’s anxiety levels and to improve mood and physical health. Children with ASD are more likely to spend more time on activities that are motivating, fun and of interest to them. For children who do not enjoy going for a walk, run or cycle, other ways may be found to squeeze in exercise-time, such as taking part in online exercise or dance videos, playing hopscotch and chasing games, or setting up a garden or living room obstacle course. www.gov.ie have created a helpful document on ‘Staying Active during Covid-19’.
- Routines: Establishing a daily routine for children creates predictability, which can help to reduce anxiety. Routines should be as consistent as possible, particularly relating to regular mealtimes and bedtimes. Children with ASD benefit from access to a daily schedule so that they are aware of the events planned for the day. Schedules for new routines can be created using simple drawings, photographs or templates available online. For support with creating schedules and routines, visit www.middletownautism.com.
Practice old coping skills and learn new ones: In managing difficult situations, it can often be helpful to revisit coping skills that have worked well in the past. Children may need additional support with how they utilise their coping skills, for example, connecting with others via technology rather than in person. Strategies that can be useful include giving children the space to engage in sensory experiences that they find calming and doing activities that stimulate their interest. In general, new coping skills are best introduced slowly when children are feeling calm. www.asiam.ie provides guidance on coping with Covid-19 for children with Autism.
Plan something to look forward to: Since many events such as communions, weddings and family holidays have been cancelled, it can be helpful for families to make new plans for delayed events or celebrations, if this is possible. In daily life, having something each day or week to look forward to, such as ‘art time’ or ‘movie night’ can bring a sense of joy and fun. Involving children in planning these events will help them to remember that they have the power to create some happy moments, even in difficult times. A lighthearted approach like this can be a powerful way to promote resilience within the whole family. Find ideas for activities for children and young people at www.cypsc.ie
Stay Connected: Positive social support can enhance feelings of connectedness whilst people are being asked to stay apart. It can help to find ways to build in opportunities for social contact with others via phone or technology (such as Zoom, WhatsApp, or FaceTime). It is also perfectly okay for parents or children to say ‘No’ to participating in a call if this is not what they need at that time. Asking for help if needed is important. Although services and schools have been impacted by restrictions, many continue to offer support to families via phone and video link.
A silver lining of the current restrictions is the opportunity for families to spend time together and to bond with one another. Changes to household routines have required families to re-think how they go about their daily lives. Parents of children with ASD often have skills and experience in adjusting family life to adapt to their child’s needs. At this time, it may be useful for parents to remember all their previous successes in meeting challenges. The seven strategies outlined here are designed to promote the emotional well-being of families of children with ASD at a very uncertain time. Ultimately, although these strategies focus on how parents can support their children, it is equally important that parents are kind and compassionate to themselves. By taking good care of themselves, parents can rest assured that they are doing the best for their family.
- HSE Live 1850 24 1850 (Monday – Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm) www.2.hse.ie/coronavirus
- www.gov.ie – Guidance on supporting children and teenagers with ASD during Covid-19
- www.asiam.ie – Autism specific website with informational resources on coping with
- www.middletownautism.com – Middletown Centre for Autism – Autism specific website with a range of online resources relating to Covid-19
- www.autism.ie – The Irish Society for Autism
- www.inclusionireland.ie – Easy-read resources in relation to Covid-19
- www.cypsc.ie – Children and Young People Services Committee (search page for your county)
- www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven TUSLA Child and Family Agency
- www.mychild.ie – HSE website with information on pregnancy and first 3 years of your child’s life
Ask An Expert – Strengthening Family Relationships
‘Ask An Expert’: How To Strengthen Family Relationships During Ongoing Restrictions
The way we interact with one another may create challenges in family life, particularly at this time of change and uncertainty for children, teenagers, parents and couples alike. By becoming more aware of and working on how we relate to each other, we can strengthen family relationships.
HSE Psychology colleagues Malie Coyne, Orla Richardson, Leigh McCann, Maria Dillon, and Andrea Browne have put together information to help the public with family relationships, common emotions, how to support family members, and available supports.
Dr Malie spoke with Aidan and Ooangh about the different ways families and partners can support each other during this time.
Listen back to the full podcast below
Common emotions for family members
Parents may be feeling many emotions whilst balancing various demands. Managing the natural underlying anxiety they feel related to the pandemic with other demands (e.g., financial strains, employment loss, working from home, front-line work, grief, illness, caring for others, household chores, childcare, or home-schooling) presents challenges, which may result in a feeling of overload.
Children have an antenna for their parents’ feelings, which in turn influences the child’s own emotional response. Younger children may be feeling anxious about the virus and may not understand why they can’t take part in their usual activities (e.g., school, seeing friends or grandparents). They may detect their parents’ stress and anxiety and express this through heightened emotions such as anger and fear, and their behaviour may swing from being challenging to withdrawing or seeking reassurance.
For teenagers, peer relationships are an essential part of their development, so it is natural that they would be struggling with the ongoing social and recreational restrictions. This may have affected many important ‘rite of passage’ aspects of their lives (e.g., sitting Leaving or Junior Cert exams, heading off to Irish college, attending their debs, holidays with friends, graduating from school).
For couples living together, more time in close proximity may be a welcome change but for some this may lead to increased conflict and tension. Couples who are living apart may also experience struggles.
Parents who have separated or divorced, parents who are parenting on their own, and those caring for loved ones with disabilities or illnesses, will also be facing their own challenges.
All of these heightened emotions can put a strain on family relationships and make home life more challenging.
How can parents nurture themselves?
Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. In order to support your family, you need to feel nurtured yourself. Where possible, try to take some time out for yourself during the week. This may be challenging at this time but even a walk outside, prioritising quality sleep, relaxing with a cup of tea or taking a few, deep slow breaths can help! Be kind to yourself and reach out for support.
How can you support your child or teenager?
Meeting basic needs (e.g., routine, good sleep and exercise) will help children and teenagers feel more balanced. The quality of your relationship is also key:
· Focus on the feeling: Sometimes children feel overwhelmed by their feelings and are unable to put them into words. They need a parent to help them organise their feelings, e.g., ‘I can see you’re really sad about not being able to see Grandad’. Labelling their feelings will help them to feel understood.
· Problem-solving: Once the child feels understood and validated, redirection works well if they are not too upset, e.g., ‘Why don’t we write Grandad a letter?’
· Connection before correction: If your child is very upset, simply ‘connect’ with them using soothing words or offering them a hug. Later, you can ‘correct’ when they are feeling calm again, e.g., ‘I know you were feeling really angry earlier; it’s okay to feel angry but we don’t hit in this house. I am wondering what we can do the next time you feel angry?’ Come up with solutions together.
· Take time to listen and empathise (especially for teenagers): Actively listen to your teen and let them know that you understand how difficult it is for them, e.g., ‘I know it’s really hard for you not being able to see your friends, I really get that. I’m wondering is there anything I could do to help?’ Create a space where they can talk about their worries and frustrations.
· ‘Special Time’: Spending quality time with your child or teen will really help strengthen your relationship (e.g., playing one to one for a period of uninterrupted time with your child; shared enjoyment with your teen, etc.).
How can you support your couple relationship?
It’s normal when faced with stresses, especially those outside your control, to direct those feelings of frustration towards your nearest and dearest, especially a partner. The key to healthy communication is to listen to your partner with respect, try to understand their perspective, have compassion for yourself and one another, and then try your best to let less important issues go.
While couples may be spending a lot of time together there may be an absence of quality time, so it is important to try to create healthy boundaries, routines, and rituals to help nurture yourself and your relationship. Explore opportunities for increasing connection, intimacy, and fun. Take time apart when needed.
For couples who are living apart, respectful listening, communication and compassion are key. This approach also applies to parents who have separated or divorced, as it will help them to co-parent in a way which supports their children’s emotional development.
Parenting on your own
For those parenting on their own, the current restrictions can be even more difficult. Acknowledging your strengths and accepting that you are doing the best you can is really important. Be compassionate with yourself, try not to judge yourself too harshly, but do take action and seek emotional and practical support if parenting alone is becoming too challenging for you. Family or friends may be more available than you imagine, but if not, consider some of the supports listed below. They are there for you!
Remember, conflict happens in all relationships and is a normal part of family life. Repairing the disagreement provides a valuable opportunity to strengthen your relationship. When arguments happen, take some time out to yourself – it can take 90 minutes after a serious falling out to settle your system! Try a few slow, deep breaths. Only when both of you are feeling calm again and willing to talk, share your views with each other, but without blame. Take responsibility for your part, and talk about new ways of managing in the future.
The goal for all relationships is to seek to understand each other better – you can still ‘agree to disagree’. Remember, we can all be struggling at times – so take it easy on yourself and others.
In this week’s ‘Ask An Expert’ series, Aidan and Oonagh In The Morning spoke with Diane O’Mahony who is a Senior Clinical Psychologist working with the HSE. Diane answered your questions on ‘How To Stay Well While Cocooning’. A Special thanks also to Assistant Psychologists in the Galway Psychology department – Jamie Spiren and Maria Dillon – who helped Diane and others to prepare the topic for the media.
Cocooning is a measure to protect the health of those of us who are over 70 years and those who are medically vulnerable/have underlying health conditions. Cocooning means that people are asked to stay at home. In a recent nationwide study by the National University of Ireland Galway and Dublin City University, 14% of respondents reported they were cocooning, while 35% of respondents have taken on additional caring responsibilities during lockdown.
Listen Back To Aidan and Oonagh’s Chat With Diane In The Podcast Below
Common Reactions to Cocooning:
Diane explained to Aidan and Oonagh how it is perfectly normal for everyone to go through a whole range of emotions during this time. Some of the common emotions are outlined below.
Feeling safe and protected: Knowing that others are thinking of you, taking steps to reduce the reach of the virus, and maintaining connection can feel like a comfort and may provide relief during uncertain times. It may also feel reassuring that the country is working together.
Isolation/Loneliness: In the absence of everyday acts like spending time in others’ company, hugging and congregating with their community, it is normal to feel more isolated and lonely.
Vulnerability: Many people living with chronic health difficulties have learned to draw on a range of strategies to help them feel confident that they can manage their condition. However, in the current crisis, they are likely to receive frequent reminders of their ‘vulnerability’, which can be disconcerting.
Exposure: Living with an underlying health condition is a fact of life for many. However, some people cocooning may feel uncomfortable with the focus of attention they are now receiving.
Fear: It is normal to feel afraid and uncertain as we await developments and updates on COVID-19.
Boredom and lack of achievement: Having less structure and the absence of activities outside of the house can lead to feeling without purpose, boredom and with little sense of achievement.
Inadequacy: Stories and online articles proposing taking up new hobbies can lead to feelings of inadequacy and guilt. This is particularly likely to be the case for those who use social media.
How you can help yourself if you are cocooning:
- Make your physical and mental well-being your priority. Develop a routine, exercise daily (the remit of cocooning has been extended this week), eat well, keep up your medical treatments, do things that you enjoy and stay connected to others. Finding value and engagement in these activities can bring back a sense of control over your day-to-day life.
- Remind yourself of your strengths in managing this particular situation – look at what has worked up to now. Many people with underlying conditions have become experts at being apart from others to eliminate health risks.
- Acknowledge and accept what you are feeling. By labelling and accepting our feelings we can make ourselves feel calmer. The duration and impact of this pandemic is uncertain so feeling more anxious, stressed and insecure are entirely normal responses. Talk to those you trust about how you are feeling, and seek support where necessary. Minimise your exposure to media and use only reliable news sources.
- Ground yourself in the present moment – Present-moment awareness involves attending to current experience rather than predicting future events or dwelling on the past. Notice when you are getting caught up in thoughts and worries. Stop what you are doing. Take time to notice your surroundings. Feel your feet on the ground. Slow your breathing: Breathe in for 4, hold for 4, out for 6. This helps to regulate your body and encourages a feeling of calm.
- Be aware of the power of your thoughts. Remember our thoughts are not always true. Distance yourself from negative thoughts by prefacing them with ‘I am having the thought that ________’ e.g. ‘I am having the thought that this will go on forever’. Practice choosing to think helpfully: Instead of seeing cocooning as isolation, see it as minding yourself and protecting others.
How you can support someone who is cocooning:
- Take the risk seriously. For many of us, social distancing is an awkward new behaviour that is starting to feel more like a nuisance than a necessity. Never has it been truer that the behaviour of the many can help the few. By maintaining responsible behaviours in relation to slowing the spread of the virus, we are doing something that protects others.
- Remember many of those cocooning will still be at risk when restrictions start to ease. This may be a particularly challenging time for those with compromised immunity, possibly made harder by reports that others are returning to ‘normal’ life.
- Keeping support and contact will be particularly important, whether you are a friend, family, colleague or employer. Don’t forget to ask people how they are doing and what will be helpful to them. Stay connected by letter, phone or video technologies.
And remember, this too shall pass…
- HSE Live 1850 24 1850 (Monday – Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. www.2.hse.ie/coronavirus
- www.gov.ie – Guidance on cocooning to protect people over 70 years and those extremely medically vulnerable from Covid-19
- Galway City COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 1800 400 150 or email email@example.com
- Galway County COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 1800 928 894 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mayo COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 094 906 4660 or email email@example.com
- Roscommon COVID-19 Community Support Helpline 1800 200 727 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- ALONE National Covid 19 Support Line for Older People 0818 222024
- Senior Line (listening service for older people): 1800 804 591 www.thirdageireland.ie/seniorline
- Age Action 01 475 6989
Ask An Expert – Gov.ie In This Together online Resource Explained
Aidan and Oonagh in the morning spoke with Kate O’Flaherty who is the Head of Health and Well Being at the Department of Health. Kate is also Head of “Healthy Ireland” and came on to talk about the new Government website which offers informative advice and tips to people in all areas of their lives which are currently being impacted by Covid-19.
According to the website which you can visit here” you will find lots of advice and tips on how you can look after your mental wellbeing, stay active and stay connected. In This Together draws together a huge range of activities that you can pursue in your home or your locality, by yourself or with family members or with friends online. There are ideas and activities for people of all ages”.
About ‘In This Together’
The spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is a new and challenging event. Everyone’s lives and daily routines are affected by the measures that have been introduced to disrupt the spread of the virus, and keep us all safe.
It’s normal to be worried or to feel stressed during this difficult time, but there are many things we can do to help us mind our mental health and well-being.
Listen back to Aidan and Oonagh’s chat with Kate below