In times of crisis, some relationships get stronger. Others feel the strain – or even break. The COVID-19 lockdown is one of the worst crises many us have seen in our lifetimes. Usually when we’re under stress, we can rely on our loved ones for support. But when they’re feeling it just as much as (or maybe even more than) we are, we can’t expect them to make us feel better.
This crisis is kinda complicated.
You may be worried about health issues: you, your partner, your kids, and especially your parents if they’re older. You may be afraid of running out of food (or toilet paper) or not having enough sick time to cover your expenses. You may even be worried about your company going out of business.
You may be feeling lonely, bored or even empty because you can’t go to the gym, the mall, or your church. If you’re part of a spiritual support group, you may feel lost without their support. Or you may be struggling with friends or relatives who want to share their panic – or the latest stats – with you on an hourly basis.
Social isolation is hard – and quarantine can be even harder. As much as you may miss your social time, you may also want to be left alone. As other people’s stress levels increase, it’s natural that yours will, too.
It’s a lot. And it’s normal to feel like you’re not handling it well enough. But chances are you’re doing just fine.
There are seven keys to keeping your own sanity:
Focus on self-awareness.
Start a journal. Spend at least 10 or 15 minutes a day (longer if you can) writing about what you’re feeling. What’s happening in your relationships? What are you feeling anxious about? Write down your fears. Let yourself feel them. (If you like, you can write each one down and put it in a box or a jar. Then after a week or so you can shred – or better yet, burn – them.) Then go back to your day, knowing that you’ve let go of something.
Limit the amount of time you’re focused on the crisis each day.
Too much time watching or listening to the news – whether it’s TV, social media, or the old-school stuff like radio and newspapers – will make you more stressed. Pay enough attention to know what you need to do and let the rest go. Focusing on it won’t make it end any sooner. Which leads to our next point….
Remind yourself that this will end.
Illnesses (like any crisis) have a cycle. Once they’re over, we can see their progression on a bell curve. And though we don’t know where we are on that curve, we do know that what goes up must come down.
Stop judging yourself and your feelings.
It’s perfectly normal to be scared, frustrated, angry as hell – whatever you’re feeling, it’s OK. Don’t expect yourself to be positive all the time, and don’t compare the way you think, feel or act to anyone else. You are unique, and so is your experience.
Think about how much time you need to yourself, how you’ll get it, and the best way to spend it.
Make a list of things that make you feel good. Your list might include music and dancing, time outdoors, exercise (a walk in the park counts – you don’t have to work up a sweat!), gardening, creative projects (art, music, writing, whatever) or even learning something new. Then do something from that list every day.
Time with others is important, too.
Do your best to connect with positive, supportive people. While it’s true that these people may be in demand, chances are they’re not totally booked. Think about who makes you feel good – about yourself and about life in general – and give them a call. Even five minutes can make a difference in the way you’re feeling.
The other side of this is the effects of negativity. If there are people in your life who bring you down, make conscious decisions about how much time to spend with them and what you’re willing to talk about. It’s OK to refuse to talk about something – even if the other person desperately wants to unload on you. You’ll quickly learn what works for you and what doesn’t; just be sure to act on what you’re learning!
Trust yourself and your ability to handle whatever life brings.
Chances are you’ve already faced some not-so-minor challenges. And you’re still here. If you’re not feeling so confident, keep this list handy and work it every day. You’ve got this!
“Looking after myself is great,” you say, “but what about my relationship?”
There are four keys to keeping your relationship positive:
Look after yourself.
When you’re stressed, you’re likely to trigger your partner. You’re also more likely to take the little things way too personally. A little self-care will help you to get over yourself and get on with life. And that can only help your relationships.
Be patient with yourself and your partner.
You’re likely to have different buttons and different ways of coping. That’s OK. Understand those differences and find ways to accommodate them.
If you need to talk and your partner doesn’t want to, see who else is available. If everyone else is too stressed to offer support, remember that journal. Yes, it’s nice to be heard by others. But you can start by hearing yourself. Give yourself the time you need for self-expression.
If you and your partner enjoy different activities, talk about what you can do together and what you’ll do on your own. Even if you don’t want the same things right now, you can at least come together to figure things out.
Keep your communication as positive as possible.
Researchers are suggesting that we need five positive interactions for every negative one, possibly probably because evolution has wired our brains to focus more on safety than connection. Look for opportunities to be positive; it’s good for both of you.
If your partner is in a panic, try not to judge.
But if you’re finding that panic contagious, set boundaries around your crisis-related conversations. It can be hard to say “no” to someone who wants to share the latest scary stats, but getting sucked into the fear won’t help you or your relationship.
It’s easy to lose focus during stressful times and take it out on each other. It takes awareness and commitment to stay in a good place. And you won’t get it right all the time. When the going gets tough, make a conscious decision to stop judging yourself and everyone else.
And if you’re looking for a positive online space, think about joining my private Facebook group, Boundaries and Bridges. It’s for anyone who could use a little help choosing, setting or maintaining boundaries. It’s a supportive place, and you’re welcome to join us!