Coping Skills For Disability Insureds – Part I “Insured’s Alone Time”

Leaving work due to a medical disability is a traumatic event. For most, it’s a “fire bell in the night” – unexpected, undesired and financially harming to the extent that it often causes insureds and claimants to feel “off their mark”, fettered, confused and helpless.

In addition to managing impairment, insureds are expected to keep up with a very challenging private disability claims process that often results in secondary diagnoses of anxiety and depression, I call “Disability Claims Syndrome or DCS (pun intended.)

In combination, medical disability plus filing a private disability claim can push most people to a dark place of negativity, pessimism, and fearful living. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Like many other phenomena in life, “attitude and knowledge” can make all the difference often requiring skills that replace the expected negative behaviors with more positive perspectives of what it means to be disabled. Although I’m certainly not the guru of coping skills, I feel qualified to offer a few suggestions that could help  insureds while   receiving disability benefits and managing a disability claim.

To begin, there are two basic realities that most insureds should think about and accept when going out on disability.

  1. There must be a recognition of the reality that the mechanism used to receive benefits, your Plan or contract policy, is deliberately designed to be adverse to your receiving benefits legitimately due to you. Sitting in your family safe, your policy is already a negative to the process of receiving disability benefits.
  2. Although unexpected, your disability precluding you from working,  is an uncertain aspect of your life that can only be determined day by day. No one can project disability in the future, and doing so can be a constant source of negative thinking.

Once insureds fully accept that ERISA group STD/LTD and IDI policies do not represent “entitlements”, or presumed benefits, “knowledge is power” takes over and the process is less frightening. Insureds are more capable of defending their Plans and policies when there is basic recognition of the realities of the claims process and what it entails.

Although the Internet offers little in terms of positive reinforcement to those on disability, filing a disability claim need not be a horrific experience. As the above graphic suggests, life is not over because of disability, only that insureds may need to adjust their thinking to daily activities in search of the quality of life they want and deserve.

Here is my first coping skill:

Using “Insured’s Alone Time Wisely”

Most insureds work at least 40 hours per week, and for some occupations even more. Those who are out of work generally have 40 hours that now requires some activity to keep them involved. I’m guessing that medical and impairment management will take up at least 50% of the non-working hours; activities such as doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions, medical objective evaluation, and performing basic Activities of Daily Living are real tasks that take up time.

Let’s overestimate medical management and say that leaves about 10 hours per week for what I call the “Insured’s Alone Time” or IAT. One of the best disability coping skills I can think of involve filling idle time with positive activity at levels tolerated by each individual’s impairment and medical condition.

While there are no specific recommendations of WHAT to fill the time with, reading, walking, drawing or painting, allowed exercise, taking a course online, learning new languages, doing a minor household chore, or even dancing around the kitchen to an oldie but goodie tune, even putting a puzzle together with a grandchild, are great fillers of time. Engagement in fun, pleasurable activities, whatever they are, is a means to using non-working time in a positive way.

What should be avoided at all costs is using non-working hours to “just sitting and thinking”, a predominately negative probability. After a few minutes, “sitting and thinking” becomes a focus on how sick you are, or how much you are in pain, or how fatigued you’ve become. Thinking about pain worsens pain; inactivity breeds inactivity; and, unfortunately focusing on negativity often produces negative results. Negative thinking becomes a powerful habit.

Finally, your thinking switches from your medical symptoms to your disability claim producing even more stress, fear and anxiety.

Those who use their time just “sitting and thinking” about their disability claim usually become extremely paranoid and negative about “what’s probably going to happen to my benefits in the future.” “Is Unum going to continue to pay me? What are the odds?” “Why is MetLife doing this? What deceptive motives do they have?” And on and on……

These negative thoughts cause insureds to do things they shouldn’t do such as frequently calling their claims reps, or visiting the website portal 10 times a day. Still, insureds often  do anything to relieve themselves of the stress of “sitting and thinking” about their claims, even to the point of risking denials.

Replacing idle time with re-directed time brings new perspectives and often opportunities to being disabled. Alone time can be planned and looked forward to every day. Being disabled and on claim does not mean you have to act like a wounded soldier with grandma’s comforter pulled up to your nose.

Filling your “Alone Time” with joy is a major step to managing any disability. Where before you were used to working 40 hours per week, you now are forced to manage your  health and well-being with perhaps some time to spare. This time can either be used to produce stress, or it can be filled with activities you choose to better your life.

Therefore, the first coping skill to disability is replacing the habit of just “sitting and thinking” with activities you enjoy and can look forward to. Life isn’t all about your medical condition, and clearly it isn’t all about your disability claim. Negative thinking produces negative results!

It’s about YOU and the people and things you love. It could also be said that using “Alone Time” wisely is not just a disability skill, but a life skill for everyone.

In any event, thinking positively about your claim is the first coping skill to successful outcomes.