Updated: Oct 31, 2020
You have probably seen the quote going around that “we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat” in reference to navigating COVID-19. For some of us, we are at home with children and spouses balancing work and childcare (hello potty training a 3-year-old while having a work call, #mylife). Others of us are quarantined alone away from friends and family members, and still others may be sharing living spaces with roommates. All of these situations bring about new challenges for navigating relationships while also managing constant changing life stressors.
In addition to new stressors, we don’t have our typical outlets of spending time with friends, going to restaurants, hitting the gym, or just getting out of the house! Honestly, when I write all that out NO WONDER we’re feeling a bit like we’re inside a pressure cooker. High stress and lack of release make it hard to hold space and patience for those around us. Especially if you or a loved one are struggling with a mental illness.
Based on our work at Restore Family Therapy around improving family communication and managing mental health symptoms, here are some tips:
Cut family members or roommates some slack— Right now we could all use some extra forgiveness for short tempers and unproductive behaviors. Everyone, from newborns to grandparents, is feeling stressed and managing it as best they know how. Choose your battles, if the behavior is not dangerous, hurtful, or truly harming you, it might be worth your own sanity to let it go.
Hold clear boundaries around self-care—You need time for yourself to decompress now more than ever. We all need space to breathe and engage in solitary activities. Identify what you are needing most right now. Need rejuvenation? Perhaps a walk alone outside or taking a warm bath each day may be the trick. Social time? Set up a planned phone call with a friend. Having time to care for yourself helps you to differentiate are you actually mad at the person or the situation you’re in?
Listen before speaking— We are all processing this experience in unique ways and are hit by waves of emotions at different times. Use a stance of curiosity to really understand what the other person is feeling and needing, without judgement. Maybe you don’t have an answer for their problem, and that’s ok. Listening and allowing someone to feel what they feel is a gift of connection.
4. “I feel…” statements—Use “I” statements to explain your point of view. When we’re frustrated, it is easy to jump into a conversation venting our feelings and releasing accusations. However, this is not useful for resolving an issue as the other person feels attacked and defensive. Typically, they will either shut down or engage in accusations back, which stalls progress towards a solution. We can only control ourselves, so it is best to own our own feelings. For example, instead of
“Why can’t you just put the clothes in the hamper? I’m dong your laundry and you’re too lazy to even put the clothes in the hamper!?”
“I feel overwhelmed when you leave the clothes next to the laundry hamper. would you be willing to put them into the hamper next time? If not, perhaps you should start doing your own laundry.”
5. Focus on the positive—Actively look for positive behaviors and traits you enjoy about the other person. There is a theory in social psychology called confirmation bias, or that we tend to find what we’re looking for. If you look for negative behaviors in others, you’ll focus on these actions and find evidence to support your evaluation of their character (“Look at him just sit there, I knew he was lazy!”). The same holds true for positive behaviors, look for them and you’ll find them!
6. Act the way you want to feel—If you want to feel loving and joyful around your family members or friends, take actions towards those values even if you don’t feel like it in the moment. Feeling irritated? Perhaps blast some fun music or unexpectedly hug your Dad. Feeling sad? Maybe write a card for a friend.
What can you do now that will help you to cultivate the types of relationships you desire? How do you want to remember this time when you look back on it?
If these ideas sound useful or you’re feeling stuck with conflict, please reach out for a free consultation with Restore Family Therapy at 760-456-7462 to assess your situation and determine how we can best meet your needs!