As the days stretch to weeks and in turn, to months the feeling of uncertainty continues to greet us each morning. This unwelcomed guest has invited itself into our thoughts and minds every moment of the day making an attempt to chip away at our challenged spirit. We just want it gone, we want to give it a swift kick to the curb and close the door as we watch it bounce down the sidewalk, but this is not possible as, sadly our “guest” is here to stay for a little longer.
Whether you are single and living alone, a parent in a busy family, a couple or a generational family living together, the never-ending situation is increasingly challenging and we are beginning to feel a little depleted. In many households motivation is dwindling, tensions are rising, we are becoming bored of it all, hoping when we wake the next morning things will be different.
Boundaries are changing as we blend our work life with our home life. In some cases, they are broadening and in others narrowing to sustain our sense of wellbeing in our professional and personal lives.
In the past our colleagues and clients were not invited into our homes, we had a sacred space in our home and we could shut out our workday, dissolve it on the drive home and shift into our personal lives with a family dinner or a workout at the gym. Now our kitchen table has become our conference table, our colleagues appear on-screen and we see them with a new lens, as they show up sometimes unshaven, in jeans, leggings or even pj’s. The observer on the other side of the screen can see into our private space and the once, polite question of “how was your weekend?” has been replaced with what feels like intrusive questions about our décor. Meetings are derailed by interruptions from kids, dog’s barking and the partner who walks into the room in her bathrobe not realizing you were on a videoconference. Never before have we had to cope with this shift in boundaries and we are struggling to create a framework from which we can regain a sense of control.
The same is true for families. Let’s be real, there are some family members who will constantly push your buttons, COVID or no COVID. Every household is different yet the same issues are present with family members wanting space, needing agency over the day, it feels like COVID-19 is collapsing the structure of how we operate as a family.
What can be done?
Recognize that you are working with your home rather than from your home, and interruptions will most likely happen, sometimes they are unavoidable. Don’t try to hide that this is a reality for you, it is a fact under these circumstances and recognizing that your home is lending itself to your work right now may help reduce resentment and frustration when interruptions do inevitably take place.
At home take time to do daily family check-ins on mood, anxiety, energy and stress levels. Create a time, perhaps over a family meal, to ask how you are doing as a group and invite family members to check-in without fear of judgment or criticism. It can be useful to take the family pulse for the day so you know if a family member needs additional understanding and support and then broaden family boundaries so the household norms can change to meet those needs. Part of healthy boundaries is to let others know what your needs are and don’t expect family members to mind read.
Acknowledging the emotions in yourself and others, validate those emotions without brushing them off, you don’t have to know the answers but letting someone know they are heard can go a long way to reducing stress. Making an effort to give one another what each of you needs, whether it is a hug, space or connection may support a healthier rhythm in the household.
It may also be a time to review traditional roles in the household. Break out tasks to be done in the home, everyone has a role to play and everyone can help no matter how old or young they are. Remember if you are an over-functioning member of the family and want to do everything yourself you may render other people helpless and it will reinforce their under-function tendencies and impact their sense of value in the household.
Show appreciation for what other family members are bringing to the table, notice the positives, it is easy to notice the negatives but aim at looking at the positive contribution everyone is making even if it is small. Make an effort to recognize the personal attributes a family member has and show you appreciate them for who they are, not just the task they completed.
We are feeling a little out of kilter right now and it is hard to maintain a healthy balance in our lives with restrictions in place on where we can and cannot go. If you think of yourself as a house and within this house there are four main rooms that are the dimensions of our self-care:
- Physical self-care
- Emotional self-care
- Intellectual self-care
- Spiritual self-care.
Visiting each of these rooms each day will support a sense of balance. (For additional ways to reduce stress see my previous article.)
Are you taking care of your body? Are you moving your body? Eating healthy? Sleeping 8 hours? Can you take an online yoga class? Are you maintaining good hygiene? Staying in your track pants day in day out may give you a sense of comfort for a while but one cannot maintain positive mental health without good physical health and vice versa.
When you feel stressed are you able to self-soothe? Can you journal? Read some poetry or a book, listen to music? When you need to cry are you giving yourself permission to do so? Right now we are grieving loss, loss of normal, loss of routine, and for some loss of loved ones. It is important to release these emotions.
Are you happy but afraid to express it because you feel guilty for feeling great today? Allowing yourself to feel joy is a part of being in balance, it is not shameful to feel joy in distressing times, in fact, your joy may ripple into other people in the household.
Have you stimulated your brain? Have you had conversations with others that challenge your intellect? Have you read a book lately? Try playing cards or chess rather than watching TV constantly, it will give you intellectual stimulation. What personal growth can you take responsibility for? Does this extra time on your hands give you the opportunity to take an online course you have wanted to do but never had the time for before?
If you are a spiritual or religious person praying or meditating is an obvious spiritual self-care practice, can you fit it into your day as part of your routine? And for those of you who consider yourself to be neither? Can you be creative? You don’t have to be an artist or a good singer but try drawing, writing a story, singing out loud; bringing creativity to your day will serve your spiritual wellbeing. Any ritual that brings you peace is considered a spiritual practice and will connect you to your energy of being. Set an intention to practice mindfulness and gratitude each day.
Do you know in some countries there is a shortage of yeast and flour right now? I don’t know about you but every second Instagram post on my feed is of delicious, mouth-watering bread, cakes, muffins or cookies that someone proudly displays.
So why the draw to bake and what is it about baking that supports mental health? Following a recipe gives us structure. Baking gives us an opportunity to plan a project with a clear beginning and end with a great result thus giving us a sense of agency over the task, which in turn increases our feeling of self-satisfaction. Furthermore, the emotional comfort we get from the smell of something baking transports us to our childhood providing a sense of comfort.
By breaking out the oven mitts, the rolling pin, and apron and getting the family involved in a bake-off, you will create engagement, a sense of satisfaction and comfort. Of course, we may need to walk farther, do more squats or situps to help keep the waistband under control but it will give you a sense of agency you may need in your day.
Finally, as always, if you are struggling and need mental health support, reach out. Many mental healthcare practitioners including myself are offering a sliding scale and are completing virtual sessions on secure and platforms.
Stay well, this won’t last forever, be kind to yourself and others and remember, we are all in this together.