The COVID-19 Pandemic has increased stress for many of us. Lockdowns and closures left us in shock. A new reality of life, full of novel and challenging stressors, is present now. I like to think of stressors as bricks. The more bricks you have weighing you down, the harder life gets and the more our body goes into fight/flight/freeze. The more stressors, the higher the toll on us, on our relationships, and the more we disconnect from loved ones. The pressure of this new reality on relationships is unsustainable for the long term.
I asked some of my Facebook friends about the stress of the pandemic on them and their relationships. Their answers unsurprisingly match what clients have told me. The answers fall in three categories.
Physical or mental health stressors: Feeling sadness and isolation; fears of catching Covid; passing Covid to a loved one; anxiety from not knowing more about Covid; frustration of having special needs kids and not being able to get services; anxiety about how to stay safe and healthy.
Job/school stressors: Feeling overwhelmed performing 3 roles at the same time (teacher, regular job role, and parent role); changes of child care, school or job; lack of resources or support to perform 3 roles to the best of one’s abilities; financial stress (losing job, furlough, etc).
Conflict stressors: It also seemed that the two areas of stress above are generating a third stressor. I call this third area conflict stress. Most people under stressful circumstances try to cope and problem solve. Some couples find themselves in conflict over the solutions. This generates more stress. Another area that creates conflict involves whose job is essential. For instance, couples with kids have to decide who takes “the hit” (oops, the privilege) of caring for kids. Is it the person that makes more money? Is it the woman? Is it the best “parent teacher”? The result of this decision can imply that one job is more important than the other. This relationship power imbalance can contribute to increased conflict and stress.
With so many types of bricks affecting so many relationships, how do we stay connected and healthy? It is a hard task. Here are some suggestions for minimizing the brick affect.
- Accept what cannot be changed as it is outside of your control. Look for changes within your control and do those.
- Communication is key. Share your fears, worries, anxieties and ask for what you need. Do you disagree with your partner over risk or opinion related to Covid-19? Communicate by sharing your emotion first, then your thoughts and your needs.
- Stress management, self care and self compassion are important. Be kind to yourself and practice anxiety/stress management skills.
The latest research indicates that to destroy some of the bricks of this pandemic, we need a type of mindset. They identified three good mindsets. One, the pandemic is a challenge to be overcome. Two, there are controllable things one can do during this pandemic. Three, believe that others who have power over the things you don’t are in charge and they know what they are doing. It sounds like blending the three would be a brick destroyer. Do you want to thrive in this pandemic? I recommend developing the following mindset: I will manage the things that I can, will see stressors as winnable challenges, and will give those uncontrollable stressors to a more qualified person (e.g. God, higher power, community, government, doctors, etc).
This smart mindset will work in relationships especially well. Want to put it into practice? Get a piece of paper. You may want to fold it into three columns. On the left put several squares. Those are your bricks. Write your stressors in each brick. The next column is for “what we can control and how we will see them as a challenge”. Write those next to their brick. The third column is for what is outside of our control. In this column, write down aspects of the stressor that is outside your control. Also, write down a person to whom you can give this stressor. The things in this last column represent what you can let go. This exercise works well for an individual, couple or family.
Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT, provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to scheduled your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Sabrina.