Posts

Anxiety: What Causes it and How to Keep it at Bay

We are at an unprecedented moment in the history of humanity. A moment that requires us to take care of ourselves and in most cases shelter in place in isolation or with our family. Today we talk about anxiety: what causes it and how to keep it at bay.

It is the first time in history that a pandemic is taking place through a virus of such rapid contagion and long incubation in the midst of globalization. This virus can get to any of us. It makes no differences.

In our normal lives, there are many reasons why thousands of people die, but since they seem like problems of another country or region, we usually feel safe.

Do you remember a couple of years ago, the photo of a little dead boy in the arms of a rescue worker on the shores of the Mediterranean? It moved us all for a few weeks and then we forgot. The image had the audacity to penetrate our daily lives and yet it did not provoke more than a few minutes of emotion in our lives. Soon that death, like that of so many thousands of other refugees who continue to die at sea, was forgotten and no longer news.

The same goes for wars, famines and many other diseases like Ebola that are restricted to areas far from our homes.

This virus, which in the early days could be believed only affected a far- away town in China, soon spread throughout the world. And it has the particularity that it makes all of us equal. (In Argentina, for example, the first case we had was of a passenger who arrived in first class on a flight from Milan.)

Here's another post on how to overcome anxiety inside and outside of work
Understanding what causes anxiety will help you control it. Photo Credit- Priscilla Du Preez. Unsplash

Understanding what causes anxiety will help you control it. Photo Credit- Priscilla Du Preez. Unsplash

What causes anxiety and how to keep it at bay

When we talk about anxiety, it is important to explore what causes it and how to combat it, since understanding the cause will help you find solutions tailored to your situation.

1Feeling like everyone is a threat

First, a source of anxiety is that anyone can be a threat and infect you. You don’t know where the enemy is. It is an invisible microbe that has humanity in checkmate.

2Feeling that you are not in control of the situation

Many people feel anxiety in response to thoughts like, “I can’t control it.” That is, the idea that you can’t control it simply because you don’t see it. These past few days, many of my patients expressed this concern. If this is your case, let me remind you that the idea of ​​having things under control is just an illusion. Actually, you never have complete control of anything. There is always a margin of error and chance that makes us susceptible to things not going the way we expect. When this illusion explodes against an indisputable reality it makes us anxious because we suddenly feel out of control. The illusion that dissipates and makes is that it is impossible to have absolute control. Ever. Only until now you did not see this fact clearly clearly. Therefore, let yourself be guided by the authorities, and live one day at a time without trying to plan anything, even in the medium term. This situation is changing minute by minute and we will have to adapt to the new normal.

3Feeling uncertain about the future

Uncertainty also generates anxiety. But this is a time to be patient, and not try to anticipate anything. In other words, as I said before, manage your life minute to minute. We do not know when the quarantine will end, nor in what situation we will be. Right now it is important to think about today’s actions and projects and perhaps those for the next 2 or 3 days. Let’s put to work our creativity and internal resources.

If up until now you were someone who liked to have her entire schedule planned well in advance, take the opportunity to “break” away from your structure. Maybe you can use that ability to organize your closets, drawers, books, the kids’ room, or the kitchen cabinets. For the next few days you will have to make friends with uncertainty since it is not possible to do anything else. The sooner you do, the less anxious you’ll be.

One of the activities to keep busy at this time is to clean up your closets and organize your home. Photo Credit- Dhruv Patel. Unsplash

One of the activities to keep busy at this time is to clean up your closets and organize your home. Photo Credit- Dhruv Patel. Unsplash

4Having an excess of information

You have to be very careful with excess information. Especially the one that flows from unofficial media. We all have many chats where we get videos or audios. Some seem scientific others are funny. People bombard us with information. In some cases, we ourselves go looking for it on the Internet. That excess makes you crazy. Because it often involves false or contradictory information that is hard to weave out from the real one.

I suggest that you focus on the information shared by the official channels of your country, such as that of the ministries of health. If you don’t trust your own authorities, you can visit the World Health Organization’s (WHO) page. Establish one or two times a day when you’ll seek this information and then disconnect.

The coronavirus ends up infecting everything, not only physically, but mentally. If you allow it, it will take over your whole life. Even if you are tempted to be on social media constantly or watch the endless stream of news, do your best to avoid it. More information will not benefit you. Also avoid forwarding messages and videos to others in your network. Not only does it overload them but it also overloads the system which is already stressed by everyone being online all the time.

Learn what causes anxiety to limit these situations

Learn what causes anxiety to limit these situations

5Formulating apocalyptic ideas

Situations like the one we are in lend themselves to apocalyptic ideas. Maybe it is not your intention, but when you see that your neighbor buys food as if he were preparing to spend six months in a bunker, or you see the empty shelves at your local supermarket, you start to think that perhaps the apocalypse is indeed around the corner. Keep calm. We are not facing the Third World War or the end of the world. It is important that you stock up knowing that you will be able to go out again in a few days. I reiterate that if in doubt go back to well respected sources: your government’s official page or the WHO site.

6Overestimating or underestimating the situation

Another thing that generates anxiety is not being able to assess accurately what is happening because we don’t understand it. Let us trust that in each country there is a committee of experts advising the authorities.

It’s as important to avoid overestimating the situation by creating an apocalyptic movie or underestimating it to the point of putting your life and that of others at risk. If you follow the guidance of your local authorities, anxiety will drop substantially. It is not you who has to make the key decisions right now. Delegate that responsibility on those who understand the subject. Your responsibility is to abide by their recommendations and to use common sense.

Don't miss 10 things you can do to stay sane during the quarantine
Anxiety: What causes it and how to keep it at bay. Avoid overestimating or underestimating the situation. Photo Credit-John Cameron. Unsplash

Anxiety: What causes it and how to keep it at bay. Avoid overestimating or underestimating the situation. Photo Credit-John Cameron. Unsplash

7Feeling dragged down by the vertiginous moment

Another cause of anxiety is the speed of changes we are experiencing. Between the uncertainty and the confinement, it would seem that nothing contributes to calm you down. But think about this: When there are strong winds, the trees that survive are the most flexible. The stiffer ones will probably break. So stay flexible.

The news flow is ongoing and the information is not always consistent. It’s two steps forward and one step back. Maybe two days ago you were working at your office, and now you are doing remote work. Maybe tomorrow you’ll be laid off. We all have to adapt all the time. Don’t think for a moment that you are the only one who’s having a hard time adapting. To a greater or lesser extent it’s hard for everyone. What you should know is that as long as you want to cling to the way things used to be, you’ll have a worse time.

As a psychologist, I have always seen patients in person. In the last few days due to the measures taken by the government, they weren’t able to come to my office. So I offered to hold our sessions by phone, Zoom, FaceTime or any other virtual platform.

Many accepted the idea immediately and some decided to wait because they still don’t feel ready for it. Think how permeable you are to change. The new norm, for some, is an inaccessible monster. Try going slowly, taking on the challenge of doing something you have never done before. You may be surprised to see that it was not so difficult. And the monster was nothing more than a defense mechanism of yours to hold on to rigid models.

This can be a great time to rest. It is as if the world has stopped for a while, giving us the possibility to look each other in the eye, or to look ourselves in the mirror. Reflect on the direction our life is in and the one we want going forward. Let’s think about the things we have never said, and to whom we would like to say something. It is also a great opportunity to get bored. Yes, getting bored allows ideas to bubble up.

While we don’t know how long this isolation will take, it won’t last forever. At some point we will meet others again, we will hug again, we will kiss again. Perhaps by then we will have discovered abilities that we did not know we had. Perhaps by then, a painting created by us will hang on our wall. Perhaps by then, we have become friends with unthinkable people. Or we have become wiser, more cautious, with some permanent habit changes, truly valuing leisure time.

There is so much to do …

Be flexible. Photo Credit-Mahkeo. Unsplash

Be flexible. Photo Credit-Mahkeo. Unsplash

10 Things you Can Do to Stay Sane During the Quarantine

If you want to remain sane during the quarantine, when you’re likely working from home and living with your family in closed quarters, you must quickly incorporate new routines. Here I share 10 things you can do during the quarantine that will hopefully awaken other creative ideas to keep you and your family in the best of terms.

For some time now remote work has been a common practice in a large number of companies. But what makes this situation unique is that now, while you’re home working, so are all the members of your family who normally may be in school, at work or doing other activities.  Add to this the fact that you may not be able to take a break and grab a cup of coffee with a friend or hit the gym, and you have the perfect storm to be overstressed.

Without minimizing the seriousness of the current situation, I invite you to remember how many times you have longed to have more free time to do countless things like cleaning up your closet, reading a book, watching movies, or taking an online course. And above all, to spend quality time with your loved ones.

Taking into account that the isolation can last several days, I suggest some activities that can be sustained over time.

Spending quality time with your family. Photo Credit- National Cancer Institute. Unsplash

Spending quality time with your family. Photo Credit- National Cancer Institute. Unsplash

10 Things you can do during quarantine with your family

1Read aloud

Here’s a personal experience that may help you. When I was in high school I had a literature teacher who read novels to us. She did it with in a very histrionic way. She’d only read a few pages and stopped in a cliff hanger. Although they were young adult novels, she managed to create the climate to keep a group of 15 years-old intrigued for a whole week. (Along the line of what Netflix or Amazon series do today.) I remembered that teacher all my life for instilling in me the value of reading and in turn, I did the same with my young children, to whom I read stories every night. We put together what we called the “storybook corner”, which was a hallway halfway between the rooms of my two kids. Every night, before going to bed, they brought their pillows and I read to them. It was part of beloved ritual.

You can also carry out this activity with adults. There is something very special about reading aloud and having a book read aloud to you.

2Share old stories

Is there a story in your life that you haven’t told your family yet? As simple as it may seem, it may be a nice moment to share it. There are always things that others don’t yet know about you. Especially if it is your partner or your children who seem to know everything there is to know about you.

3Write letters

What to do during the quarantine. Photo Credit- Annie Spratt. Unsplash

What to do during the quarantine. Photo Credit- Annie Spratt. Unsplash

How long has it been since you last used pen and paper to write a letter? Whether it is to someone who lives in another country, or someone who lives in your own town and who you don’t see often. Think of your old school friends. Is there anyone that you stopped seeing long time ago and with whom you would like to reconnect and still have not done so on Facebook?

4Review photos

Those old printed photos of your childhood, the ones you didn’t digitize, can lead to beautiful moments. While you digitize them, or organize them in albums, you can go through them with your partner, children and even parents who remind you of stories you didn’t know. Write down the names of the people who appear on the picture. And you can even add a paragraph on the back that reminds you of when it was taken. Another option is to take advantage of this moment to create books with digital photos. It is a fun and time-consuming task that you or your children can undertake.

5Retrieve the old board games

Another beautiful activity to do during quarantine is to play board games. Our dependency on virtual life has made us forget those old games. Cards, dice, Monopoly, Backgammon and so on are among many games that our children may not even know about. Show them. Dust them off and put them to work. Both with children or between adults, you will be surprised at how much fun they were and how much you can enjoy playing them again. You can do championships that carry on from one day to the next.

6Drop down and play

How long has it been since you drop to the ground to play? Whether you are with children, with other adults or alone, this is a great opportunity. Assemble puzzles, Lego castles, Barbie stories, or whatever you like. You can make collages or pictures with recycling material, or crafts with discarded objects.

7Put together a band

From conventional instruments such as guitar, piano or drums, to homemade and invented instruments. Pots and pans, glasses with different amounts of water, rattles made out of plastic bottles and rice, combs made out of aluminum foil. You can search the Internet to find tutorials or let your imagination run wild.

Cooking together is something you could do during the quarantine. Photo Credit- Toa Heftiba. Unsplash

Cooking together is something you could do during the quarantine. Photo Credit- Toa Heftiba. Unsplash

Time to get a little dirty

8Create a vegetable garden

Being in close proximity to soil, even if it is just with a few pots, can make you feel great. You can germinate beans and then move them to soil or plant seeds alone or with your kids. You can even grow some aromatic plants or herbs to use in the kitchen. Taking daily care of a small garden and seeing plants grow is extremely gratifying.

9Cook together

Cooking can be very enjoyable and creative. Even teaching children to collaborate in daily housework is a way to educate them, not only for this atypical situation, but for life in general. Be sure to rotate activities so you avoid creating stereotypes where girls always do certain things and boys other things. (Example, girls set the table and boys wash the car.)

10Learn to compost

During quarantine you will have a higher volume of garbage in your home. Take this opportunity to learn how to compost. In addition to increasing your home’s sustainability, you will send your children a clear message about the importance of caring for the planet. There are many tutorials to help you along the way.

During the quarantine we all have to change our habits

As you can see, this isolation will require a change of habits on everyone’s part. From hygiene, social interaction, to everyday life. It is an excellent opportunity to revalue the connection with our loved ones, as well as giving rise to creativity and using that time that you so longed for in a productive way.

Reading out loud during the quarantine can help you spend quality time together. Photo Credit- Kinga Cichewicz. Unsplash

Reading out loud during the quarantine can help you spend quality time together. Photo Credit- Kinga Cichewicz. Unsplash

 

8 Ideas to Make the Most Out of Working from Home

It’s not for everyone. I’ve met people who look at me in complete shock and horror when I tell them that I spend most of my time working from home. To some, the prospect of losing things like the social interaction and usual distractions of a day spent at the office, is simply unthinkable.

I really can’t blame them. It’s easy to lose track of time and blur lines when your workspace is also your home. Easy to either spend too much time working or to fall into procrastination with the excuse of some chore that just needs to get done. Still, it’s achievable. And all that time that’s not wasted in traffic, commuting back and forth can leave you with some unexpected – and much appreciated – free time.

I’ve been working from home for a few years, which has given me enough time to do it all wrong and learn a little bit from my mistakes. I’m not going to say I never surrender to the appeal of my favorite couch, but I know how to prioritize and how to be productive and respect my workspace and schedule.

Working from home. Photo Credit Ella Jardim. Unsplash

Create your own space within your home. It helps keep boundaries.Photo Credit Ella Jardim. Unsplash

The Subtle Art of Working from Home

1Designate a work space. Stay out of your bedroom unless it’s absolutely necessary, that way that area can be a getaway from the workspace. If you have the room to create your own office, do it. If not, find a corner of the house and make it your own. A designated work area will also make it easier for others to respect that this is where you keep your work stuff. A concept that can seem a little bewildering to office goers.

2Have a morning routine.

Have breakfast, take care of personal calls or emails, shower and change before starting the workday. You obviously don’t have to dress up, but it helps to make the beginning of the day real. If I don’t change into street clothes, I will very rarely manage anything productive once I’m done with the more pressing work. This is how you end up with last-minute assignments that can take over your entire weekend.

3Schedule your work ahead of time. I’m easily distracted, so anything that brings a little order to my day is appreciated. Look at what needs to be done through the day and set goals before you decide when to take breaks and when to stop working for the day. It helps to have a fixed work schedule if the nature of your job allows it. It may be impossible to avoid projects that demand more and may sometimes entail working late or on weekends but administering deadlines can let you plan ahead. In order to do this, you need to set clear expectations with your boss, your clients and yourself.

4Prepare your lunch ahead, just as if you were planning to leave the house. There are two reasons this is a good idea. First of all, it makes you keep up the illusion that “you’re not home”, which can be key in concentrating. Second, it can save you time, money and keep you away from unhealthy meals and snacks. You can assign time to get out of the house and get something to eat now and then, but your pocket will probably appreciate occasionally staying in. To avoid overdoing it with the snacks, (it’s easy to fall into this trap when you’re so close to your very own fridge and pantry) prepare some for the day as well. Also? Research shows that when we choose all our meals for the week at the same time, we tend to have a healthier and more varied diet.

5Avoid family and friends during work hours. My mother has a really hard time understanding that working from home doesn’t mean I’m just hanging out at my place, a misunderstanding she shares with friends who have free time during working hours. Likewise, some friends have mentioned how important it is for their kids to understand that mommy’s working, even if she is home.  Avoiding them will not only make you more productive, it’ll help them understand that your work hours must be respected. Just as they would be respected if you were at the office. Having your own office space also helps set boundaries and avoid interruptions from your children, partner and other house guests.

6Get out of the house. Make sure that you make time to do other things, like taking a walk, going to the gym or having lunch with work colleagues. It helps you clear your mind and it’s important when so much time is being spent in your house. Remember, vitamin D is important so make time to step out into the sun. A certain flexibility comes with working from home and that can usually mean you can take that class or wander off for a couple of hours to do something that will make you happy.

7Take advantage of projects that allow you to collaborate with others. While there are many upsides to working from home, creating your own schedule and being in charge of your own time, it can be pretty isolating too. Being part of a team and the interaction that comes from it is good for our mental health and can motivate us to work harder, providing a fresh perspective that’s not always available when doing home office. Look for projects that will allow you to collaborate with other people and make time to meet up for lunch, coffee or drinks every now and then. You don’t always need to be confined to your workspace. If you collaborate with larger companies, it may be a good idea to stop by the office to say hello now and then.

8Stay in touch. Make sure you’re talking to the people you work with, especially when you’re a part of an international team with multiple time zones. Differing time zones can make it harder to keep up with everyone, especially if you’re trying to stick to your work hours. Try to schedule conference calls and video chats at times where all, or at least most of the team can join. If it’s not up to you, be open to them and try to engage and make your presence felt. It’ll help you and others to feel like a part of the team, even if you and others are working remotely.

Working from home has its advantages. You decide when to take a break. Photo credit: Free Stocks. Unsplash

Working from home has its advantages. You decide when to take a break. Photo credit: Free Stocks. Unsplash

The Benefits of Working from Home

While some people feel that working from home would affect productivity negatively, a robust two-year study held by Nicholas Bloom, from Stanford University, proved that people in a work-from-home situation actually worked full-shifts and found it easier to concentrate while working from home.

The main problem for most people is how isolating it can be. Like I said, it’s not for everyone. Some people need the very specific aspects of a more conventional work environment to be productive. However, more and more companies are finding that the rise in efficiency of their home office teams and the money that can be saved by reducing office space might be worth looking into.

If done right, home office can make you the master of your own time. It takes some effort to perfect it, but you can learn not to procrastinate, to choose the right collaborations and the best people to collaborate with. It’s all about avoiding distractions, managing your time, sticking to your priorities and building a good relationship with the people you work with.  In any case, it’s looking more and more like it could be the standard for the future, so this is a good time to start exploring the benefits!

 

Working from home. Photo Credit Emma Matthews. Unsplash

Prioritizing and sticking to your plan is an important part of being productive. Photo Credit Emma Matthews. Unsplash

How to overcome anxiety inside and outside of work

We live at a time when anxiety is one of the most common disorders. Today I invite you to identify some triggers and explore how to overcome anxiety to live a fuller life.

The feeling of anxiety goes beyond a diagnosis. Here some questions to detect if you feel anxious.

  • Do you feel nervous?
  • Are you always in a hurry or running against the clock?
  • Do you constantly have more things to do than you can?
  • Do you feel the need to do more and more?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions you have probably felt anxious in recent times.

Ferris wheel, a great way to slow down.

Find ways to slow down. Photo Credit: Johannes Daleng. Unsplash.

Anxiety crisis

Sometimes anxiety can end up in a crisis. You may cry, or binge eat, or feel overwhelmed. There are even those who experience panic attacks. We live in an era when time seems to have accelerated, and we seem to speed behind it. We could say that we live WITHOUT time. Everything is NOW, everything has to be IMMEDIATE.

Let’s do an exercise: Pay attention to commercials. How many of them highlight the value of speed, the famous “you can have it now” for a service, for a medication or for a meal? How many ads underscore that by using this or that product, you can continue to do anything without stopping?

None of those ads will tell you: “if your head hurts, rest for a bit,” or “if you’re exhausted, go to sleep.” No. They will tell you what to do if you have a headache so you can go on for a while longer without interruption.

How to overcome anxiety caused by our current work style?

Most people who work in an organization tend to live against the clock. That is, having to deliver projects always faster than is possible. We have the perception that there are more and more demands placed upon us and that whatever we do, it will never be enough. In fact, this is partly true because work is inexhaustible. That “more” that we constantly hear is what causes us anxiety.

New policies being developed in leading companies

Pioneer companies, however, are using research that suggests that working 24/7 and being always “on” is counterproductive to encourage leisure time. Many are forcing their associates to take vacations in order to disconnect and recharge batteries because they know that without these regular breaks you can’t think, produce, endure. Without these recovery intervals, anxiety takes hold.

What to do when we feel anxious?

Candle and book

If you want to overcome anxiety, take time to do what you enjoy like reading a book, or enjoying the smell of a candle. Photo Credit: Ellieelien. Unsplash.

If you’re wondering how to overcome anxiety, there are several ideas you can explore. Hopefully they will trigger others.

1Stop. Check where you are at. Breathe.

We could define the feeling of anxiety as “not having time”, that is, living in a hurry. It is necessary, however, to have time to do something for and for you. And when I say “have time” I don’t mean simply having chronological hours. If the day had one more hour, you would likely do more of the same. You would work harder and you would continue to hurry because you would still not have enough time for all your activities. That’s why I emphasize the lack of time is not just about not having extra chronological time. You need to create human time.

2Humanize time

The only being with time is the human being. Animals do not “have time,” they exist. Time becomes humanized when you find things to do that bring you satisfaction, when you do something you want, that you like, that you love. Have you done something like this in recent times? Or is it an exception for you to take time every so often to do something that is pleasing to you and that has nothing to do with your work?

3Get Bored

Boredom has bad press. But we have seen how important it is for kids and teenagers to get bored. It enables them to find their own resources, develop, discover or invent them. If we are constantly entertaining kids with activities or gadgets, if we never let them get bored, they are likely to become adults who won’t know what to do when they are not working. This is also true for you. Getting bored gives you the opportunity to discover new aspects about yourself and unleashes your creativity. Have you allowed yourself to get bored lately? Or do you spend all your time working or filling up your calendar with various activities?

4Explore slow movements

Human activities require time: cooking, painting, dancing, or practicing a sport. Going to the movies, strolling, sleeping. Building relationships. None of these activities can be done without time. Many have an almost meditative effect. Perhaps some of this is what the slow movements are trying to bring back. Films that last the entire length of a transcontinental trip, filmed with a camera attached to the fuselage of an airplane, invite you to sit and watch for hours as the landscape slowly changes. It is not always possible to live like this, but it is important to make time for yourself.

How to overcome anxiety tip explore slow movements

Watching birds fly can be a great way to slow down time. Photo Credit: Husen Siraaj. Unsplash.

How to overcome anxiety generated by changes at work?

Joining a new company, changing sectors or starting a supervisory role requires certain amount of time to fit, to understand the organization’s culture, to feel that you belong, to develop relationships. And frequently, you don’t control that timing as you depend on others to do their jobs. It is common for people to want to skip these stages. You may feel bad because you started your new job a month ago and you think you should’ve already overcome this or that milestone. Or assume you should have already adapted to the new role or culture. Stop! Respect the process and respect your times.

How to help reduce anxiety in your organization?

Bring cooking courses to your company

If you have a chance to bring ideas to your organization, try this: Cooking classes! Photo Credit: Kloe Arledge. Unsplash.

If you have a chance to offer new ideas in your company you could create a list of activities and interests of your teammates, department or division. This would lead to hiring experts to carry them out and perhaps to establish a series of rotating courses. Here are some options

Painting, sculpting, drawing

Getting involved in any of the art disciplines during working hours can release stress and expand creativity in an unconscious way.

Cooking

Organizations are expressing an increasing interest in fostering good health. What better way to promote your company’s support for healthy eating habits than to offer cooking classes? People can prepare their lunch to eat at work or cook dinner to take home. (Thus alleviating the time it takes to prepare dinner once employees get home.) It is also an excellent opportunity to learn about other cultures and strengthen ties between people from diverse backgrounds.

Literary or film clubs

This type of course leads employees to take time to watch a movie or read a book together or on their own and then meet to have a meaningful conversation.

Knitting & weaving

Knitting and weaving groups have shown excellent results to establish and strengthen connections in different communities. It is also an activity that has an almost meditative rhythm that forces you to slow down.

As you can see, there are many alternatives to foster spaces to create time for yourself. Paradoxically, this time that may seem unproductive at first is critical for your health. It helps reduce the anxiety caused by the feeling of lack of time and it promotes your well-being at work and in your personal life. So take time to make time.

To overcome anxiety take time to make time

How to overcome anxiety: Mainly, take time to make time for yourself. Photo Credit: Roxanne Desgagnes. Unsplash.

Elderly parents: The one thing that works for me

As women, one of the roles most of us face at some point in our lives is caring for our elderly parents. And even if you’re not involved in the daily routine of care giving, as your parents age everyone must adapt to a new situation and embrace change.  Here’s what is working for me.

Let me first qualify my advice: This is my perspective as a daughter. And as such, I’m making everything up as I go. Just like children don’t come with an instruction’s manual neither do parents. And granted, my situation is particular, given that my parents live in Buenos Aires (where my brother and sister live as well) and I live in New York.  But many of you may be able to relate to the story even if your parents didn’t move to Florida to retire or they don’t live far away from you.

For the last thirty years my parents and I have had a consistent pattern: Once a year they come to visit me and once a year I go see them.

You got this sign

You got this sign- Photo Credit: Sidney Rae- Unsplash

In recent years, my mom’s been suffering from severe back pain. Her spine has practically collapsed and she has little cushion left between several of her vertebrae, which has limited her mobility. As walking became increasingly painful, I suggested that she get a wheelchair. Call it prejudice, push back to keep her independence, or hard-headedness, she wouldn’t budge. Of all the changes life requires as we age, this was one she wasn’t ready to make yet.

She still drives, goes food shopping and runs errands daily, and as she’s very sociable, she remains involved in many activities. The problem has been that what she can and can’t do depends on how close to where she’s going she can park her car. As you can imagine, that’s not always possible, so her activities have become more limited.

A few days ago my parents arrived in New York for their annual trip. On the second day I took my mom to an orthopedic pharmacy to rent a portable wheelchair. And as we tried the various kinds and I lifted them to select the lightest one so it would be easy to maneuver in and out of a car we found the perfect one. It was small, light, and comfortable. I said, casually:

“I think you should buy it.”

“But what would I do with it when I leave?” She asked.

“Either you leave it at my house for next year or you take it to Argentina with you,” I replied matter of factly.

And at that moment, without hesitation my mom replied:

“Let’s buy it, and I’ll bring it with me to Argentina.”

End of story. A decision that had seemed so difficult a few years ago, had suddenly become possible given the right circumstances. She was on vacation, relaxed, her mind was more open and her pain had become increasingly unbearable.

True. It was the end of one story and the beginning of a new chapter. Here’s what happened next.

Elderly parents wheelchair bound

Elderly parents wheelchair bound- Photo Credit: Steven Hwg- Unsplash

Helping your elderly parents’s adjust to changes naturally

Right after we purchased the chair, I took my mom to a strip mall nearby, where we proceeded to make several stops. I got the wheelchair out of the trunk, sat my mom down and ran around the strip mall, speeding, laughing, engaging in conversations with people who told her how pretty she was, and who tried to speak Spanish to her as they heard the two of us chatting animatedly. We went in and out of a shoe store, the supermarket, the pharmacy and a restaurant.

I get it: If someone in your family uses a wheelchair, this will all sound trivial to you. Or you may have an entirely different experience than we did. As I said, this is a personal story and it was the first time both for me seeing and pushing my mother in a wheelchair and her first time (other than at airports) out and about in one.

The next day, I enrolled one of her closest friends, who happened to be also visiting New York. She played a critical role in helping my mom feel that having the wheelchair was the best thing that could’ve happened to her. As her friend easily wheeled my mom around, took her to the pool and then to lunch, it proved that the wheelchair gave her a wider access to activities she had given up on.  They immediately started making plans to go out shopping, to art galleries and to the movies together when they both returned from their trips.

My parents and I in the Meatpacking district

My parents and I in the Meatpacking district

Two days later we engaged my dad who, for reasons of his own, had probably also been a bit reluctant to give into the idea of his wife being wheelchair-bound. We drove into Manhattan, parked the car and visited the beautiful Hudson Yards. We shopped and had lunch, took pictures, drove to the Meatpacking district and then we took a leisurely walk around the neighborhood. By the end of the day, we had clearly incorporated this new tool that would make my mom’s life easier from now on.

Of course it will be different when she goes back home. For one, the sidewalks in Buenos Aires leave a lot to be desired, but also, because it won’t be all fun and games like it is when she’s here on vacations. There’ll be doctor’s appointments and banking and all the daily things to which she’ll have to adapt with her new chair. But having taken the first step while in a relaxed environment helps.

Staying cool under pressure always helps in times of change.
Wheelchair sign

Wheelchair sign- Photo Credit: Matt Arts. Unsplash

I’m sure part of the fun was that according to my mother, I “drove” the wheelchair like I drive my Mini Cooper: Fast. But here’s my big reveal:By de-dramatizing, de-stigmatizing the fact that she now needs a wheelchair, we made it possible for her to admit it. To take the step and sit on the driver’s seat of her new situation. She could still be her social self, engage with friends and strangers alike, and be an active participant of the world around her. She could see her new circumstances in a brighter light. And most importantly, we were all part of the process rather than have her go through this change alone.

I’m sure some of her fears had to do with becoming less independent as she’d need others to take her places. (She doesn’t have the strength to put a wheelchair in and out of the car herself so she’d always need someone with her.) But by helping her experience this new stage of life in a natural, no-drama way, she was also able to see that having someone who pushes her wherever she wants to go, is not that bad. It may offer a new kind of wind beneath her wings that enables her to continue to live her best life with the necessary adjustments along the way.