Recently, I was interviewed by Spectrum News to help families regarding the challenges presented by shelter-in-place living. Here is a summary of that interview:
The threat of the coronavirus has resulted in many new restrictions on our every day living. One particularly difficult change has been the order to shelter-in-place (SIP). Since schools and businesses are closed and other organizations have ordered their employees to work from home, many folks are struggling to adjust to a new daily routine in their over-crowded living spaces. Change of any kind is difficult for most folks but the sudden and radical changes created by SIP are especially precarious for household harmony.
Here are some tips to help you cope with this unexpected and disruptive situation:
(By the way, everything I recommend are common sense things that you already know. I’m just here to remind and encourage you.)
— Examine Your Expectations: Are they realistic ? Given the social stressors, like restricted space, conflicting plans etc., which the new situation imposes on folks who live together, everyone needs to acknowledge that living under the new conditions will not only be different but also, predictably, more difficult. Have you adjusted what you anticipate life to be like under SIP to correspond to the new complications ? If you haven’t, take some time and make a list of what could be different and how you can compensate or adjust.
— Talk to One Another: During challenging times, it is important to communicate. It doesn’t do much good if you acknowledge the new reality but don’t tell anyone your thoughts. Partners need to share their feelings of how the stress of coronavirus is affecting them. It is important to set special time aside to talk about your experience and the particular ways life is more difficult. Likewise, in addition to talking, asking about and listening to your other half and how s/he is feeling and what s/he needs. For parents, it is important to talk with one another but also to talk with their children and ask what the new living situation is like for them and what their worries and concerns are.
— Think Ahead : Anticipate likely conflicts and problems and develop house rules on how to address them. Given the new limitations, certain problems are predictable and are better handled if talked about in advance. Things like how to constructively express anger , individual needs for privacy and how to resolve conflicts constructively need to be discussed and techniques like using I-statements and calling time-outs need to be explained and enforced.
NOTE BENE It is important that everyone understand that, if someone is upset or angry, no meaningful conversation can happen. Thus, it needs to be agreed to that members will not engage and will walk away from any member who becomes irrational or abusive in their attempts to communicate.
— Learn to Monitor Your Stress Level: Another important skill for living together peacefully under stressed conditions is the ability to monitor one’s own stress level. By learning how to pay attention to the body’s signals-of-tension ( see my various blog posts on signal anxiety techniques) , one can intercept and prevent potential explosions and emotional melt-downs. With a little practice you can become aware when your stress level is mounting and you can take evasive action to call time out and hit the re-set button before things boil over.
— Practice Stress-Management Techniques: Things like intentional diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, journaling ,yoga and music are just a few ways that you can calm your stressed feelings and regain a reasonable perspective.
— Pay Attention to Self-Care: During times of stress, attending to self-care needs is vital. Making sure that you are getting enough sleep and that you are eating well and exercising (like taking a brisk walk) regularly will help you cope better and have more tolerance for others.
— Don’t Isolate or Go It Alone: In addition talking to and sharing your emotions with those with whom you live, stay in touch with your friends . Even though you can’t physically visit or be with others, it is important to stay connected via phone and video platforms like, Skype, FaceTime and Duo.
— Be Open to Professional Help: If, after trying some of these techniques, things don’t get better or are getting worse, reach out to mental health professionals who can help you via tele-therapy. It is important to know that since the Governor has declared that a State of Emergency exists in New York, all insurance co-pays and even deductibles have been suspended for mental health counseling until further notice.
— Turn to your Spiritual Resources for Support: It is important , despite all of our resources , we must acknowledge that the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis goes beyond human comprehension and control. Therefore, in these extraordinary times, calling upon the spiritual resources and sacred texts of one’s own religious tradition is especially important for self-care and emotional support. In times such as these, we turn God and realize that, ultimately, the fate of humanity rests in the hands of the divine.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC 4 6 2020
Image attribution and acknowledgement: Cartoonist Wilbur Dawbarn