Everyone is feeling the impact of the social isolation and logistical complications of self-quarantining. During my online sessions with individuals and couples, I am seeing some coping more successfully than others. Here is a list of the strategies I am seeing the more resilient couples and families use. The list is in no particular order.
Creating Physical Boundaries at Home
Physical space is a bit more at a premium in some households. Resilient couples and families are negotiating who has access to which spaces, when. This may mean naming a room as an office during certain hours, with the person who is working having sole access to that space during that time. Designating who has access to specific rooms at specific times allows for boundaries between work and home, physical space, and privacy.
Application: Talk with your family and explore the task or privacy needs of each person. These needs may be about work, school work, private phone calls, and/or emotional connecting. It even could include a date night!
Everyone’s needs are valid, so listen to the needs and create a schedule. Block off spaces and times so people feel heard and are able to predict these privacy arrangements. Don’t forget to determine how to notify when a space is ‘occupied’, such as a note on the door or a creative door knob hanger like we see in hotels.
Establishing Predictable Routines
In all this chaos, predictability is helpful. That is where routines come in. I know of one family that is maintaining the school rituals by even having the Pledge of Allegiance and school announcements in the mornings to start the day. A more consistent routine throughout the day increases predictability and a sense of security.
Application: Talk with your family and negotiate times for meals, sleep schedules, and work/school. Include chunks of time for ‘alone time’ or ‘play time’, depending on the ages and needs of your family members.
Don’t forget to schedule in connecting activities, such as an evening walk or a 30-minute daily strategizing session with your partner.
Allowing Yourself Some Joy
Many people feel helpless and small in the scale of this pandemic. The people who are adapting better to this time are consciously trying to slow down and do the things that bring them joy. For some, it means savoring a loved pet or family member while, for others, it’s about tackling gardening or fishing with a passion. Whatever it is, by doing things that bring pleasure or joy, ‘feel good’ chemicals are released and we also experience an increased sense of control.
Application: Sometimes we ‘forget’ what we like to do. Discuss with each family member what he/she likes. Create some individual and shared plans for activities around this.
It may feel frivolous to be doing things right now that give you joy. Time can feel precious when divided between all the additional tasks you may have. But remember, by taking care of yourself, you will be more grounded, able to sustain yourself longer, and easier to be around.
Decreasing Information Overload
The news, and other sources such as Facebook and even certain family members, keep inundating us with bad news. This continuous onslaught contributes to a sense of helplessness. Resilient couples/families are limiting their news intake. Choosing when to get news and limiting the amount allows us to prepare for difficult information, limit the emotional distress to predictable times, and increase our sense of control.
Application: Consider where you want your information to be coming from. Some sources might be more balanced than others. Decide how much and how often you want to take in the information. Is it helpful to watch 2 hours of news nightly versus 1 hour every 2 days?
Don’t forget, social media and family/friends are also a source of this information. You can choose not to follow certain sites at this time or directly tell family members that you are consciously limiting how much conversation you are having about COVID-19.
Getting Out of the House
People are getting restless being in the same space. Additionally, people are experiencing more ‘screen time’ due to work and school being online. Getting out of the house is the solution; resilient couples/families are intentionally doing this. ‘Going out’ can be as simple as getting into a car and driving around. It can also be about finding open areas for walking/hiking where the physical distance can be respected. By getting out, we get a psychological break from the quarantine space and each other.
Application: Who knew going to the grocery store could be such an event?!?! Consciously plan safe ways to get out of your home environment. Keep your car a mini-quarantine area by restricting it to family only.
Remember to go to places just with your partner. This is an opportunity to breathe and take care of one another. You may only be able to go into the backyard, but let that be a time and place for calm, away from the chaos.
Getting Back to Books (Audible)
The libraries are closed right now but people are successfully learning new skills, escaping from reality and just enjoying some alone time by listening to Audible books or other audiobooks. Some families are doing this separately with headphones. Others are connecting by listening together to books played on a computer.
Application: Discuss with your family the idea of interspersing books with tv time. Make sure everyone has a voice by taking turns on the book choice. Combining listening with another activity, such as coloring or creating a craft item, may be more appealing to some.
There are free or low-cost options to Audible. Libraries have an option called Overdrive that you can access with your library card and an app. There are also books that can be purchased with various apps online.
Connecting With Others
As humans, we need to connect with others; it’s biologically imperative. Unfortunately, the social distancing we are doing to keep us healthy is also causing social isolation. An essential strategy being used to manage the quarantine is connecting with others. People are being safe yet are connecting with friends and family through video, phone, and even group chats and watch parties. Some are also meeting outside in open areas, enjoying one another within the CDC guidelines of physical distance. Although it may feel different, these interactions all give the benefit of emotional connection.
Application: You need to feel seen and heard to be connected, so consciously reach out to others. If chatting is getting boring, play a board game (where one of you has the game), listen and discuss a Ted Talk, or watch silly Youtube videos together. The content is less relevant than the connection.
Don’t forget to connect with your partner and family. Explore their feelings and experiences by asking questions. By ‘being there’ for your family, you will be making that connection stronger. For specific strategies, refer to my blog “How to ‘Be There’ For Your Partner.”
Creating Psychological Privacy
Many of us are feeling inundated by the noise that’s happening in the house. While having family at home can be great, so many people being in an enclosed area for prolonged amounts of time is creating stress. Resilient families are using music or background noise (noise machines or apps) to create some ‘alone time’ in the midst of many bodies. Some families have the ability to close doors and go to a separate room; others are using headphones. Either way, using sound to create an internal sense of privacy gives individuals a sense of having some control over the environment.
Application: Review what technology options your family has, such as headphones or sound machines, and who needs that ‘alone time’ (some members won’t). Check out apps on your phone that can be soothing in addition to creating privacy (I found several under ‘sound machine’).
For privacy during phone or video calls, close the door and put the sound machine (or a phone with a sound machine app) at the base of the door. Do this INSIDE the room with you. People outside the room may hear your voice but will not understand your words.
Doing Something That ‘Feeds’ You
Our minds are feeling full with the stressors and difficult things right now. Some of the more resilient couples are distracting themselves (as individuals or a couple) by taking on a new interest or learning a new skill. Whether it be learning Italian, dancing a waltz, or pruning bushes, now is a time to consider learning something you have been curious to try. This new focus serves as a distraction, adds to your routine, and brings joy/pleasure to your day.
Application: Explore what family members are curious to learn. Go to Youtube.com and type in ‘learn to’ and you will immediately see ideas. Group-on commonly sells courses and many things can be found by doing a general Google search. Depending on your family, you could schedule a ‘talent night’ where members have the opportunity to share what was learned with the family (or even extended family with Skype/Facebook Live) being an audience!
This could be an opportunity for you to learn something with your partner, such as dancing, couples massage, or communication skills.
Being Kind to Others
Many of us are feeling helpless, hunkering down and just waiting for this to get over. Ironically, in times when we feel helpless, we actually experience a greater sense of control and satisfaction when we help someone else. This strategy is being used by resilient individuals in a variety of ways. It has included gifts of toilet paper, grocery shopping for the elderly, and reduced or free services. Being kind to others reinforces our humanity and need for connection. Additionally, it counters that sense of helplessness with a feeling of being helpful.
Application: Reach out to friends, family, and neighbors; find out what would be helpful. In your act of kindness, you may need to be creative to be safe yet helpful.
In this time of social isolation, one of the biggest unmet needs I am witnessing is individuals longing for social connection. If you know of someone quarantining alone, consciously reach out to them more than you normally would. Many times, it’s not about DOING anything, it’s literally just about being there (even via phone).
As difficult as it is, we have this.
Without a doubt, this time is challenging most of us. We are being pushed to learn and practice more effective ways of relating with our loved ones as a matter of survival during this quarantine. Apply some of these strategies and strengthen your resilience. We have this!
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