You don’t need me to tell you that people’s stress is at unparalleled levels during this pandemic. This is fuelled by some basic human needs which are not being met: safety, security, connection and certainty. All of which are severely compromised at the moment. And feeling hemmed in doesn’t help.
The Effect of Lockdown on Stress and Relationships
Feeling unsafe, insecure, disconnected and uncertain makes us stressed. The more stressed we are, the more reactive we are. And, the people that we take it out on the most are those closest to us. So when we are in lockdown, with no “escape” this can only act as a pressure cooker: small irritations can turn into huge rows or people can withdraw into themselves. Withdrawal may seem like the peaceful route but it can be the beginning of a slippery slide, widening the emotional distance between you and building resentment and tension.
Relationships and Mental Health
We are social creatures and positive relationships are important for our mental health. So, here are some tips which should help your stress levels and your relationships. The post is lengthier than normal to provide you with some fundamentals to support you:
- Realise we are all the same in that we need to feel safe and secure, be heard, understood, respected and loved: even though our behaviours may not be conducive to that. Remembering this and the basic tenet of treating others how you would like to be treated will go a long way to making this situation easier on you all.
- A good way for everyone to have a greater sense of safety and security is within the realms of your routine. Try to make your daily routine mirror as closely as possible your usual one. The familiarity can be soothing so you feel less disoriented. If you also factor in some quick wins, you will enjoy a sense of purpose, progress and achievement. When you feel calm and productive it can have a positive influence on your mood and also those around you.
Key Principles for Relationship Survival During Lockdown
- Create space so you can have alone time as well as share time together. It may be that you simply take your daily exercise apart. Or it may be taking exercise together but spending some time in separate rooms during the day so you have breathing space. A little distance now and then can help the heart stay fond!
- It’s good to know that making things easier for others makes things easier for you so discuss how you can support each other at this time. Ask what each of you could do to ease things for the other: something small like agreeing to pick up your socks or not interrupting during your favourite program or if you are on a business call, not to choose that time to sing. If you all do one small thing it eases things in the household and creates an environment of collaboration, consideration and co-operation rather than conflict.
- Agree a rota for chores and swap it up a bit very now and then. This ensures that everybody is taking equal responsibility for things getting done. The swapping idea helps people see that there is more to a chore than they realise: either it is more complicated/difficult or mind-numbing. The intent is to create a deeper level of appreciation and co-operation.
- Apply The Respect Rule. Absolutely, no put-downs, criticism, bullying, stonewalling, swearing or name-calling, no matter how far pushed. It is hard to come back from this. It also creates a toxic atmosphere and destroys trust. You might want to agree a forfeit or fine for breaches of this if you can do it in a fun way.
- Enjoy social time together by agreeing how you will spend your free time: something you can both enjoy and have fun with. Of course this could just be channel flicking, mindful of each others’ preferences. But it may also be a good time to explore different ways to enjoy time: games, joint exercise, joint projects, online parties with friends, reading a book together and having your own mini-book club; cooking dinner together; creating a “round-the-world” wining and dining experience – Monday Italian Night, Tuesday Thai Night, etc. Have fun, be creative.
- If you have kids boundaries are more important than ever. Make sure that you are singing from the same hymn sheet while they are being home-schooled. Mixed messages will create confusion, raise anxieties and create tensions. Tell them what’s happening and that you need to work during the day but will have breaks when you can play with them or answer a question or do lessons. When you are working teach your children to wait until your next break to attend to them and give them jobs to do such as some homework, build a lego house, clear up their room, etc. They need clear direction and a consistency of message as well as your love.
- Make this a time when you work on the relationship you have with yourself: more compassion, more kindness. This is not a free pass for bad behaviour: if you are out of line, own up to it, make up for it and learn from it. Then forgive yourself. Start to treat yourself how you would like others to treat you and everything becomes easier.
Useful things to say when things get tough
We are all human and make mistakes, despite best efforts. So, knowing what to say or do when things get tough can really help to avoid a Lockdown Tiff or recover from one. You may find it useful to ask them how it would be helpful for you to respond when things go awry. Certainly an approach which is respectful, tactful, and compassionate will help diffuse things. In the meantime, here are some examples. You will notice that there are no accusations here, just a calm and neutral statement. Of course we can’t control people’s reactions but hopefully these are sufficiently benign that they help:
“I know. It’s really tough right now. Let me get you a cup of tea.” can be a good diffuser.
“Seems like you need a bit of space right now. I’ll go and have a bath, or would you prefer I run a bath for you?”
“I need a bit of space. I’ll take my walk now.”
“We have gone off kilter a bit. How can we make this experience as easy on each other as possible?”
“When you … it makes me feel …..”. This is an honest but non-confrontational way of letting someone know how they are affecting you and means they are more likely to respond in a helpful rather than combative way. For example “When you leave the dishes out, it makes me feel overwhelmed as though I have to do everything.” Or “When you don’t answer me, it makes me feel disrespected.”
“I’m feeling vulnerable/insecure/reactive right now. I could really use a bit of time to myself/a hug/a chance to talk it through with you/a break away from the news, etc.” This communicates how you feel and what you need making it easier for the other person to respond in a way which is useful to you.
“I was really mean then. I’m so sorry. I was just feeling overwhelmed and shouldn’t have taken it out on you.” Said sincerely, this can work wonders.
When thinking about what to say, ask yourself “Is this intended to help or to harm?” Sometimes we can be in a habit of criticism so do think about being clear and kind at the same time.
To be happy, or to be right?
Relationships are a compromise but it doesn’t all have to come from you: blending assertiveness with kindness and compassion should ease the way for you. Use a light touch and, if appropriate humour. Sometimes we take ourselves to seriously, don’t you think? And isn’t it better to be happy than to be right? Not all disagreements need a winner. Sometimes it is better just to agree to disagree.
You can’t reason with the unreasonable. So, if you find that diligently applying these strategies does nothing to calm things, it is either time to seek professional help or to consider whether this is a relationship which is going to serve you when the lockdown is lifted. You get one life and, if this lockdown teaches us anything, it is what’s really important.
Need more help?
These principles are simple but not always easy. If you feel you need 1:1 support, do call for a free, no obligation chat to discuss how I could help you through this challenging time. I can be reached on 0345 130 0854.
(c) Tricia Woolfrey