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Mental Health

How to Cope When You Have a Loved One Hospitalized for COVID-19

I speak from personal experience when I say having a loved one hospitalized from COVID-19 is one of the most difficult and emotionally draining events that can happen to someone amid this pandemic. In my case, my mother — a frontline physician — was hospitalized after being exposed to an infected patient. Her plummeting oxygen levels and shortness of breath required immediate medical attention. During her extensive stay at the hospital, my family and I lived in what was our worst nightmare. As my family and I went through this, I picked up some valuable lessons and tools to share and use, should you find yourself in this situation (which I sincerely hope never happens to you).

Surround yourself with the right support

This sounds like the most obvious step to take, but it’s foolproof. Surrounding yourself with the support you want, from who you want, and at the level you want is all crucial, whether it’s your SO, friends, sibling(s), parents, or relatives. Lean on people you know you can trust to be empathetic, caring, and nonjudgmental. A phone call or caring message of sympathy can make all the difference, even if just for that day.

Additionally, if you’re a student, don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors to let them know what you’re going through so they can provide the academic support you need during this time. When writing your email, try to find a good balance between being formal and expressing how your situation has impacted your ability to fully concentrate on schoolwork. It can be tough to craft emails like these, so there’s no shame in reaching out to a friend for help.

Check in with your loved one, but be mindful

It’s always good to check in with your loved one via FaceTime and phone. However, it’s important to keep in mind that they need their rest too. This is all dependent on the severity of their condition and comfort level speaking on the phone. Be sure to know their boundaries in terms of communication!

Take your time

Now, more than ever, it is important to take things day-by-day. It can be really harmful to your mental and emotional health to start fixating on what possibly may happen to your loved one. With all the news stories we see on TV and read about in the newspapers, it’s easy to get lost in thought fixating on a worst-case scenario. Instead, focus on doing calming things, like meditation, yoga, baking, painting, or any hobby that brings you a sense of peace.

Exercise (preferably in nature)

Feeling overwhelmed? A walk in the park, hiking, or a run in nature on a sunny day can help lift your spirits and ease any tension you’re experiencing. If you don’t want to be alone, ask a friend or your SO to accompany you — socially distanced and with masks on, of course.

Know that it’s OK not to be OK

It can never be said enough that whatever you are feeling during this challenging time is completely valid. It is natural to feel helpless, depressed, and/or emotionally drained during this period. If you’re falling behind on work or class assignments, remember to not only inform your boss and/or professors of your situation, but also to forgive yourself for not being as productive as you want to be. We are living in a pandemic, and to have a loved one hospitalized is both scary and surreal, so engage in self-care without shame.

Though these lessons and tools can be challenging to follow 100 percent of the time, I hope they help you if you find yourself in this situation. Everyone has different methods of coping, so there is always room for adjustment as needed.

Stefani Shoreibah

Columbia Barnard '21

Stefani Shoreibah is a student at Barnard College, Columbia University majoring in art history with a minor in biology. When not studying or working, she can be found exploring New York City, reading (memoirs, historical fiction, or Frank Bruni's newest article in The New York Times), or petting strangers' cute dogs.
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