During this unprecedented time, we might find ourselves being around others we live with more than we are used to. At times we may enjoy that, and other times it can bring up a variety of emotions, such as stress, overwhelm, irritation, and frustration. How do we cope in a situation we didn’t foresee? How do we get space when we can’t go anywhere and are stuck inside? Here are some tips for managing these dynamics while staying at home (everyone’s situation is different so take what is helpful and leave what isn’t):
1. Take time for yourself. Identify a room, space, corner, chair – something in your home that signifies “your area”. This is a place that when you are there, it means please give me space and alone time. You may even decide to inform others before you go to “your area” so they are aware you are taking that time. This is especially helpful if you are a parent and you need to find another responsible person in the home to watch your children while you take time for yourself. It can be 5 minutes or substantially longer - whatever you need and that is realistic for your situation. Allow others in your home to do this as well and respect their use of it. Set ground rules and time limits if that is needed or helpful.
2. Be flexible with household rules and roles. Any time a big change occurs in a household, there often needs to be a renegotiating of rules, household tasks, roles of the family or couple. For example, if you always clean the dishes before bed, but feel so exhausted one day, maybe you decide to clean them the next day or ask your partner to take over that chore for the night or for most nights at this time. As another example, if you have strict limits on screen time for your kids and they have met that limit, but you find yourself as a parent about to have a meltdown and need 15 minutes alone in your room, maybe you let your children have 15 extra minutes of screen time for that day to help yourself. We need to be able to care for ourselves to care for others, including our children.
3. Notice mind-reading. Don’t assume others you live with will react and think the same way you do about COVID-19 or will handle things the same way. Mind-reading can be common even outside of this time, and signs we are doing this are when we are becoming angry and resentful based not on facts or hard evidence, but on assumptions. If you find yourself mind reading, take a moment to take a breath, and then formulate a non-attacking question to help you get a more accurate answer of what is going on with that person. For example, an attacking question/statement might be, “You haven’t been spending anytime with the family lately. Is work more important than your children and me?” You can most likely expect an argument to stem from that. A more non-defensive approach might be, “I noticed you are spending more time to yourself away from the family. How have you been feeling lately?”
4. Remind yourself this is temporary. We don’t know what things will be like when businesses start to reopen and COVID-19 restrictions lift, but we know the way things are exactly at this moment won’t last forever. Often our brains can trick us into believing something will last forever or a long time (such as years). So help your brain by reminding it that the one certainty in life is that things will change, and our current state is not static and won’t last forever.
5. Take time to engage in ways to calm your anxiety, stress, and nervous system. When we feel heightened levels of stress we can go into fight, flight, freeze, or collapse mode. These are ways our brain tries to help us survive. However, when we are in one of these modes for prolonged periods of time, we become irritable, depressed, and can be quick to identify something someone does as a threat or an attack on us. If we are able to calm our minds, emotions, and bodies then we can more accurately perceive situations, and are also more able to take a moment before responding instead of reacting to situations. A few options are meditation, deep breathing, and mindful movements such as yoga. This may help to reduce arguments and quick-to-anger moments, and also help you to feel better emotionally.
6. Practice gratitude. It can be easy to notice what others whom we live with are not doing, which often leads to resentment and anger. Make sure you are asserting yourself when needed, but also be mindful if you are overlooking the things that your partner, family, roommates are doing that are helpful and kind. When we focus on the negatives, we lose sight of the positives and it can impact us emotionally. What we notice impacts our emotions, but also our emotions impact what we notice. Look for what people ARE doing and reinforce that by saying thank you or just simply make a note of it in your head.
7. Be compassionate with yourself and others. We are all going through this difficult time and are doing the best we can. Our stress can be expressed differently, and we may cope with things in different ways than others. This doesn’t mean we let others treat us poorly, but this may be a time to work towards understanding where someone is coming from when they respond a certain way. We can practice compassion for ourselves by acknowledging how we feel instead of judging ourselves. When we have more compassion for ourselves, it opens up more space for compassion for others.
8. Find an activity to do together. Working towards a common goal can bring people together. Finding time to connect and laugh together can be healing. Even if there are things you don’t do well together, see if you can find at least one thing that you can do together where you may be able to find common ground. Examples could be cooking a meal, watching or talking about a movie, or playing a game.
Written by: Sam Franklin, MA, LMFT