by Tonya Schaeffer
The stress and strain of Covid-19 has impacted families on so many levels this year. As you know, sheltering in place or quarantine has placed us all with family members or significant others more so than ever before. At times, it is nice to have the comfort and support during difficult times, but often the stress and close quarters increase the likelihood of arguments and confrontations.
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that relationships exposed to high stress for long periods of time become strained. The study recommends that each person identify ways to successfully manage stress. One of my first questions in a counseling session with a client is, “how are you taking care of yourself or how do you currently manage stress?” More often than not I get a blank stare.
Some things to consider trying in order to decrease the stress on your relationships include the following:
√ Ask for what you need. This may sound simple, but I promise you it is not easy for many people. This shouldn’t be done in a demanding way, but in a direct, honest way. If your family member continues to do something you’ve asked them to stop doing, try approaching them in a non-confrontational manner without the use of blame or a harsh tone.
√ Really listen to your family. This is not just hearing the words coming out of their mouth; this is putting aside blame, judgement, and negativity. Try listening to them with respect, calm, and patience. Reflect back to the person what you heard them say. At first, it may seem odd or uncomfortable to reflect back. But, over time it can cut down on miscommunication and hopefully improve relationships. Over half of my sessions are spent helping each person to identify what the other person actually said—not what we think they heard.
√ When things between families get fueled by anger, it is extremely important to take time to calm down. It is imperative to identify when you are feeling stressed or irritated. When we are hurt or angry, it is normal to revert to less healthy ways of coping and expressing our emotions. You might lose your temper, use a rude tone of voice or snapping insults. Try to take some deep breaths and tell the person that you need time to calm down. Create a plan with the other person(s) to talk again once everyone is calm. People often believe things have to be addressed right in the moment, however, that isn’t always the case—especially if the disagreement is spiraling out of control.
√ Remember, it is imperative you take time to care for yourself. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, and limiting alcohol. Take breaks away from your family if possible. Go outside, take a walk, call a supportive friend, or listen to music. Distraction can be very effective during times of stress. During these uncertain times, try to focus on setting limits on alcohol, unhealthy eating habits, and gambling.
These are unprecedented times. As humans, we often take our frustration out on the ones we love. It’s more important than ever to express gratitude and thanks to the ones we love. We are all going through this together. None of us know the full impact of what this year has pressed upon us yet. We only have what is right in front of us now.
So practice grace, and try to calm yourself when you feel the stress beginning to rise. Most of all, don’t take your loved ones for granted. This pandemic will pass, even though it may not feel like there is an end in sight right now. But, hopefully we can all try to find a silver lining in this past year.