It’s a funny thing about human nature; we lessen our fears when we share them with others.
When our health takes a turn or we get a diagnosis we’d rather not hear, fear is a natural reaction and we have to deal with it whether we like it or not. But, since fear leads to anxiety which leads to stress, we need to reduce our fear to reduce our stress which, by definition, helps us cope with it.
It’s not that easy, though, to share our fears. Here are some of the obstacles that we face:
1. We don’t want to be judged as weak or petty if we tell someone we have fear when they think that they would not in the same situation.
2. Our listeners often jump in with offers to fix the situation; we don’t necessarily want that, we just need to talk it through.
3. We don’t want to have our fears blown off as unreasonable or unnecessary: “That isn’t going to happen” or “Stop worrying, everything will be OK”. In most cases the listener doesn’t know that and she knows that she doesn’t know that and you know that she knows that she doesn’t know that. (Wait a sec… did I say that correctly… uh, let me re-read it… yep! That’s correct!)
So what to do? Here’s an idea: set some ground rules with your listener.
No judging, no fixing, no dismissal… JUST LISTEN. Ask questions to allow full expression of the fear, be understanding, and be compassionate. In many cases, the person with whom you are sharing your fear has fears of their own, so this works both ways.
Plus, and this is important, review the rules briefly each time before you begin. It's easy to forget and fall into knee-jerk reactions.
Make a pact with your patient or caregiver to provide each other a soft place to land when needed. You’ll both feel better knowing that it’s safe to talk about what’s on your mind. After all, what could be worse than having fear of expressing your fear?
This article is one in a series on coping strategies for patients and caregivers alike. For more thoughts on caregiving, coping strategies, and just plain fun subscribe to my free monthly newsletter at www.CaringAndCoping.com.