Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Hello again! Welcome to the third week of our blog posts that come directly from our weekly livestream. We've updated the time to better reflect when you're available, so now our livestream will happen on Thursdays at 8pm on Facebook and Instagram. We hope that you're able to join us, because your questions and responses are a big part of making it a success!
This week's topic was healthy relationships. Most respondents indicated that they have healthy relationships right now, and are maintaining them through communication, giving each other spacing, and practicing grounding techniques. Excellent news!
The same is not true for everyone, and even the best of relationships are under strain right now. Given that, the big question is: how can we maintain and/or improve our relationships in the current crisis? That's what this blog post is all about! For some great advice from a variety of sources, keep on reading:
*Hard to connect when we are stressed! Have to work on dealing with our stress levels before we can truly connect with others.
1) Turn unpredictable stress into predictable stress with dosing
“There are ways to turn the unpredictability and uncontrollability of the stress we are experiencing into something that is a little bit more digestible, moderate predictable stress. Stress is not really a bad thing, it’s just bad if its present in these unpredictable, extreme or prolonged ways.” (Perry & MacPherson, 2020).
Those who sit in front of TV and worry can become more vulnerable. Those who have a schedule (get up at same time every day, have a routine) , create structure that takes the unpredictability and makes it predictable. Scheduling our time is an effective way to manage stress in many ways. “‘Just like we tell people in normal circumstances: schedule date nights, schedule time, and then schedule time to be apart from each other," said Wasser. 'If you have room, get into different parts of the house and spend some time separately, because I think that's important too.’” (Nathoo, 2020).
Dr. Perry makes a really good point as well, in that if you go for a 45-minute walk/jog once a day, that doesn’t mean you’ll be regulated for 24 hours. You should also get up every 25-30 minutes and do 5 minutes of walking, deep breathing, stretching, grounding exercises, yoga stances, etc (what works for you). Practise dosing; tiny doses of regulatory activity will make you feel less stressed. Start dosing in little ways throughout the day.
The major way we regulate is in context with other people, and we’re not meant to be close to others. We want to physically distance but stay emotionally close. Be intentional about using your phone to contact other people, e.g. 5-minute phone call to someone close to you. If we’re intentional about that communication, that can be good!
Note: playing video games is actually a regulating dissociating activity. 20 minutes every couple of hours might not be a bad idea.
2) How to regulate, relate and reason to communicate more efficiently
Regulate, relate, reason: sequential processing in the brain. If you quiet down and regulate, it allows you to effectively connect with someone and they will be able to hear more accurately what you’re saying. Regulation is the key to communication!
Human beings are relational creatures. If you as an adult are dysregulated, you’re not going to effectively communicate with anybody. We have to get a hold of ourselves. The degree to which we are regulated makes us more effective regulators for the people we interact with.
3) Touch base to let people know that you are thinking of them (esp. if you’re away physically from your healthy relationships)
The short time that it takes to write out a text that says “Hey, I’m thinking of you” can have an amazing impact on someone’s day and mental state. They feel they are seen, and that is powerful! These little moments of human connection are really powerful. That’s what weaves social fabrics and that is what makes us capable of dealing with events like this.
Acknowledge that there are some challenges/disagreements that may occur now that have never happened before. E.g., around grocery shopping, going for walks, going to work, riding public transit, physical distancing in your own home. “These days, the normal differing points of view are more emotionally laden because of the added component of getting ill or even dying. Feelings are running higher because of the stress. The key is to stay as calm and resist the temptation to blame as much as possible” (Linda & Charlie Bloom, 2020).
And know that there are ways to compromise in these situations! E.g. ensuring that whenever you go out, you’re wearing a mask and gloves, taking extra precautions to wash your hands and disinfect things when you get back from work, getting things delivered.
The cautious vote wins: the more careful side that wishes to take more precautions is the one that should have stronger influence. Due to the impact of COVID-19, it is better to be MORE careful about your daily actions. It can be the difference between getting sick or staying healthy, ensuring that others in the community can stay safe, protecting the elderly and immunocompromised, and getting all of us back to normal as soon as possible.
Meaningful conversations and improvements: this might be the time that heartfelt conversations around separation, death, sickness, etc. come up. “Treat each other with kindness especially when the outside world can feel threatening” (“Maintaining your relationship with your partner”, 2020). Make sure to talk about ay emotions or anxieties you’re feeling with loved ones, and reach out to others (get in touch with a trusted friend) as well to make sure that you’re not overloading each other.
"Think about how you can use this time in a way that will help the family/couple in the longer term” (“Maintaining your relationship with your partner”, 2020). It is possible to work on improving your relationships right now and we may be able to “come through the pandemic crisis stronger at the broken places" (Linda & Charlie Bloom, 2020).
Maintaining healthy relationships now
Space is important: Make sure that everyone has their own space and time for themselves (this might look different depending on what your living situation is like; own floors, own rooms, own space within a room. Could use headphones as a way to isolate sound!)
Be open about your emotions but stay regulated: "‘The most important thing is to talk about your emotions and admit to them. It is okay as it is a hard time for everybody so we should be supporting each other'" (Feely, 2020). But work to make sure that you’re not taking out your emotions on your loved ones. Like I mentioned earlier with Dr. Perry’s advice about regulating, work to manage stress and anger. Identify the cause of stress and find the way that works best for you to regulate yourself before having conversations with partners/family members.
Embrace the good and bad: Each of us is going to have optimistic good days and down days, and we have to make space for all of those feelings and accept all of those feelings: Encourage each other in the things you enjoy!
Avoid the hot topics: If you were under any pressure/stress before, this is not the time to start unpacking all your relationship issues. For difficult things, you need time, space and support from others. Leave the big difficult conversations for another time (Pires & Jones, 2020).
Stay occupied: there are still activities you can do when you’re indoors! Exercising, shopping, online courses, video games, TV/movies, board games, reading, crafting, etc. You can find things that you enjoy and do separately as well as things you can do together as a couple and/or family.
Stay connected: “Family support is very important for our mental health, even in times without stress. You should use social networks to stay in touch with your friends and family” (Feely, 2020).
Be understanding of others: Know that you will likely be reacting to stress differently from other people in your life (e.g. if one of you thrives on social connection and the other is more of an introverted homebody, the social butterfly might be more stressed out).
Reach out to professionals if you need extra help: therapists, psychologists, counsellors and other professionals are still available for those that need it!
Practice gratitude: There is this momentum right now for people to make the best of our situation. We often say we want more family time, and here we are being told that that’s exactly what we need to do! In this time of separation and isolation, we need our collectivity more than ever (Pires & Jones, 2020).
Supporting children and young people
Consider having a family meeting and develop a daily routine to create some control. (Nathoo, 2020). Don't forget that children and youth are experiencing this crisis as well!
· All children are different based on their experiences, upbringing, age and personality. Bear this in mind when thinking about how to talk to them.
· You may both be parenting children with lots of questions and concerns. Try to be united in what you tell them. It can be a confusing time for them, and this can be made worse if they are getting conflicting information from parents.
· Stick to facts and communicate them calmly, consciously and responsibly, using simple language.
· Dispel any myths to help reassure them. Depending on their age you could look up the true facts together from a reliable source such as the government website.
· Talk to them about coronavirus during the day rather than close to bedtime so they can get a good night’s sleep.
· Let them know they can come and talk to you if they are worried about things they have seen or heard from friends or on social media.
· Continue to check in on how your kids are feeling. Things are changing and so may their feelings.
· Get your kids outside in the garden or park to let off some steam but do follow government advice.
· If you feel yourself getting irritated with your children, don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a challenging time for everyone.
What if you DON’T live with your partner/family? This could be a very difficult time in a very different way for you, because instead of being stuck with your loved ones, you are unable to connect with them in the way you are used to.
o Schedule date/family night over video calls
o Do a quiz/game/activity over the internet
o Figure out the best way to communicate for you (are you texters? Callers? Video chat people? A bit of all of these things?)
o Know that you can have meaningful conversations over chats. Talk about your emotions, how you’re feeling, how it feels to be apart, think about the future, etc.
Questions for you all to think about:
What are ways to build structure and predictability into your lives right now?
How can you practice regulating as a family?
Perry, B. (Presenter) & MacPherson (Interviewer). (2020). Bruce Perry, MD, PhD. Staying Emotionally Close In The Time of COVID-19. [Podcast]. Retrieved from: https://www.thetraumatherapistproject.com/podcast/bruce-perry-md-phd-staying-emotionally-close-in-the-time-of-covid-19/
Bloom, L., & Bloom, C. (2020, April 11). Managing Relationship Challenges in the Age of COVID-19. Psychology Today, Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/stronger-the-broken-places/202004/managing-relationship-challenges-in-the-age-covid-19
Feely, P. (2020, April 12). Maintaing healthy relationships during COVID-19. Gulf News, Retrieved from: https://gulfnews.com/uae/health/maintaining-healthy-relationships-during-covid-19-1.1586693874126
Nathoo, Z. (2020, March 28). In sickness and health: How to help your relationships survive COVID-19 quarantine. CBC News, Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/covid-keeping-relationships-alive-1.5513335
Pires, J. & Jones, A. (2020). COVID-19’s Strain on Relationships. [Video interview]. Retrived from: https://bc.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1928964