TGH Exclusive: Specialist Pamela Caravas presents survival guide to deal with the psychological effects of quarantine

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By Ilias Karagiannis

New everyday life entered our lives in a violent way. Quarantine. A sharp adjustment that creates new conditions for our mental health. Our panicked fellow citizens who are actually suffering from the fear of not getting sick, but also the archetypal fear of death, which is threateningly circulating us while we hear the impersonal numbers of new deaths worldwide from Covid-19. Negotiating with ourselves about what quarantine and traffic bans mean. How can we effectively filter all of the above?

The Greek Herald spoke with Greek-Australian specialist Pamela Caravas who, as a certified life coach, knows how to guide us in these difficult situations, where our minds are fragile.

Here is a useful “survival guide” with valuable tips to combat negative emotions.

From next week we will have the opportunity to receive advice through a short video on how we can overcome the uncertainty of the season.

Interview with Pamela Caravas

The times we are going through are unprecedented. We are forced to stay locked up at home to save the lives of our fellow citizens. Something very different from what we were used to. How can one change one’s life at this time, when there is intense stress for one’s life and anxiety about one’s work when the health crisis is over?

This period is what we would call a “red circumstance”. A “red circumstance” is an unexpected situation that affects either an individual or a number of individuals or the masses. It has nothing to do with our ability or not to predict situations. The predictive factor has been put on the table a lot recently. I would say this only accentuates the blame game against certain countries and politicians and the feeling of despair. As citizens of the world, it is in our interest to focus on doing something for us and those around us rather than play that game. The levels of stress are extremely high for those who have grasped the seriousness of the situation, on the one hand, and those who feel the pressure of self-isolation on the other. Taken together, these two stressors can lead to mental distress which is hard to control. As time goes by, unless someone is willing to take a step back and allow the stress hormones to go down a bit – hence “red circumstances”, it is extremely hard to see a number of perspectives that will help you get through this situation with as little harm as possible. This is the time when we have to give orders to ourselves, to become as self-disciplined as possible. I use the term self-discipline since only if we understand the value of the pressure we need to exert on our thoughts, feelings and -up to now important- needs, can we navigate through this new normal successfully.

Experts advise that older people should be more careful. They are vulnerable groups. Grandparents. Fathers and mothers. They feel more anxious. How could we treat them to alleviate their anxiety?

It is true that families are experiencing a painful sense of separation, especially families that are close knit and are accustomed to helping and supporting members in need or simply spending quality time with one another. Even though we all run the risk of contracting the virus that has plagued the world today in a rather different way from what we were used to as regards other viruses, it has been made clear that our focus should be on the vulnerable groups which include parents and grandparents. It might be stressed that those with a pre-existing condition could be more at risk, but I am in favour of the instruction: behave as if you already have the virus and treat everyone around you as if they belong to the vulnerable groups. I must mention here the magic of human nature. Certain parents and mostly grandparents tend to say: “You just make sure you stay safe. Don’t mind me. As long as I know you are ok.” In their way they are telling us what to do. So, reassure them that you are taking care – and actually do so. Mothers have a weird way of knowing when you are not doing the right thing, don’t they? So do grandmothers! Since technology is the only way to keep us all connected, a few families can get together virtually and assign one person to visit the elderly, wearing all the necessary protective gear, and teach them the basic steps of video calling. Also, call them on the phone as much as possible and spend quality time with them. It is time for the grandchildren to actually say to them: “tell us your stories from the past”. Help them sustain their memories and make them feel proud by listening to these and sharing your own successes that you have never taken the trouble to inform them about. In essence, more respect, less worry, connection, and a sense of pride in themselves and for their offspring is what the older members of our family need right now. 

A special category is the children. What would be the best way to explain the difficult situation we all go through and the required social distance from our beloved grandparents?

In all honesty, children are much better equipped with self-discipline than parents. Whether parents have made it possible for their children to tap into this trait or not is another story. This might sound rather harsh, but these times do not have a one size fits all solution when it comes to such delicate matters.

Little ones run to their parents after they return home and expect a big hug. This has now changed. You need to stop your own child from running up to you with open arms until you have removed your clothes and taken a shower. You have to tell near teenage and teenage youth that, contrary to what you have been saying all these years, now they cannot pay the obligatory visit to their grandparents – some might feel thrilled at first, but this is part of the extreme complexity of the situation. Too many variables, too many emotions for us adults, let alone being able to develop the mental strength to help the younger ones and the little ones understand what is going on.

Of the most accepting ways to go about it is leading by example. Set up your day around creating new habits that include grandparents and loved uncles and aunts who live far away. Begin by saying good morning to your family (you’d be surprised how many people have forgotten to say good morning) and after breakfast engage in a brief call with the elderly to have your children listen to you say good morning to them. The biggest risk is the “out of sight, out of mind” probability. Whenever you make cookies with your kids, put some aside and say, this is for your grandparents. Even if it takes a while to have them delivered. If you know what their favourite TV show is, have your children call them up to “remind” them that their favourite show is just beginning. Make sure they are “present” in the house in one way or another. The same goes for divorced families. Make sure the other parent remains present in the child’s life using some of these ideas.

Pamela, you have a special connection with Australia. Would you like to tell us a few words about this and about yourself as a coach?

Yes, indeed! I am an Australian-born Greek. My hometown is Brisbane, my wonderful Cretan grandmother still lives in Brisbane with my uncle, aunt and cousins. I also have a lot of relatives on my father’s side of the family in Melbourne. And, finally, (we are a big family) one of my sisters lives in Sydney. Following my studies in Greece and the UK, I became one of the youngest female entrepreneurs in Greece by setting up my own language school. I am not really sure that I knew what I was doing, but back then it seemed like I knew. Long story short, successes and failures followed one another until I ventured into the corporate world where I discovered the concept of coaching. This is when I did what I do well the most: I took what was known as “coaching” and turned it into a most profitable business while doing research at the same time to keep the standards high.

This led to coaching assignments in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, coaching entrepreneurs for the Dutch Embassy in Athens for three years, a presentation of our research at the Harvard Medical School 2018 Conference on Leadership and Coaching (Institute of Coaching) and a collaboration with the United Nations System Staff College on developing negotiation skills for the 2019 UN Emerging Leaders Experience. New assignments include training executives in corporate profiling in New York and London. I train others to become coaches as well – teaching is part of who I am and what I love the most is to see evolution happen in class. No greater joy comes to a coach when she watches with humility talent and determination, development and creativity spring forth from students and clients.

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