With the pandemic and the recent stay at home mandate, we are getting more together time with our spouse and/or family. Right now, we are all under pressure and being in that state can bring up old stuff and influence the way we respond to others. It can exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms. We are feeling grief over the loss of our normal, feeling overwhelmed, and out of control. Being under constant stress makes us feel flooded, we dig in, and tend to use familiar coping mechanisms from our Family of Origin. Some people stay busy. Some people clean and organize a lot. Some people isolate and want to be alone. Some people try to control things. Kids often battle with parents for a sense of control. These are all indicators of how they deal with high stress. In general, when stressed we are less patient, more reactive, and less able to give the benefit of the doubt to others. In these types of situations, we tend to turn inward and focus on our basic needs and de-focus on self-care and relationship care. The good news is all of this is a completely normal reaction to this situation.
So, what can you do to cope and protect your relationship? First, tune in to how you are coping and how your spouse is coping. Second, take responsibility for how you are coping and if that involves being harsh then own it instead of dismissing it. Be aware of how your coping style impacts your primary relationships. Third, think before you speak. If you have something to say that might be hard to hear please think of how to say it in a softened manner so they can hear it and be motivated to meet your need. Start with I feel, describe the situation factually and then ask for what you need to feel better. Fourth, listen to your loved ones and try to be a safe place for them to share negative emotions. Remember listening to understand does not involve fixing their problem or agreeing with how they feel. The goal is to make them feel heard and understood. Fifth, when you misspeak, sincerely apologize, own the mistake, and repair. Sixth, give yourself and your loved one’s grace. We are all stressed.
I’m trying to remind myself that this situation is an opportunity. Honestly, this is easier to do some days than others. It is an opportunity to come together in a new way, make new memories, and make deeper connections. It is an opportunity to really tune into what you need, express it to your loved ones, and set boundaries accordingly. It is an opportunity to start new self-soothing behaviors such as consistent exercise, meditation, progressive relaxation, or walking your dog around the neighborhood. It is an opportunity to set a new budget. It is an opportunity to start dreaming about the future and/or setting personal or professional goals. It is an opportunity to start journaling or writing a gratitude journal. It is an opportunity to start taking an online class about something you are interested in. It is an opportunity to tackle home projects. It is an opportunity to speak your spouse’s Love Language consistently. It is an opportunity to update Love Maps of your spouse and kids. The Gottman Card App is free and is a great resource for questions to jump start this process. It is an opportunity to plan and dream about your next vacation. It would be ideal if you and your spouse can share your dreams and goals with one another.
It appears this situation will be an on-going stressor for at least 45 days and possibly up to a couple of months. It will be a marathon instead of a sprint. We need to set routines in our days to maintain a sense of security and purpose. It helps if you bathe and get dressed. Create a safe place and/or space for yourself in your house. It helps me to put headphones on and listen to an audible book or music. It helps tune out the noise of my household. Limit how much you are watching the news or doing social media… try to limit it to twice a day as it increases anxiety. If you are working from home, take a break every hour to stretch and move around. We are learning as we go and we are all in this together.