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Coping with Changes in the Home amid Covid

By 30th April 2020June 3rd, 2020No Comments
Colman Noctor is a Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytical Psychotherapist. He has worked across a range of Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services both in Ireland and abroad and he has a wealth of national and international clinical experience. He is also a member of the Mental Health Ireland Board of Directors. In this article, Dr Noctor offers tips and advice on how to adjust to our ‘new normal’ in the home and within family life amid lockdown and Covid concerns. 

How everything about daily life has changed at once

Life for everyone has turned upside down and inside out. The result being a complete rearrangement of our value systems and much of which is unfamiliar and uncertain. The results are going to be different from family to family and person to person. Varying from deciding how best to arrange your home-schooling schedule to trying to decide to spend the last of your money on rent or food for your family.

The effect of such adjustments is often anxiety. Anxiety originates from a fear of the unknown. At the moment the globe is going through the biggest unknown in living memory. We don’t know if we will get sick or not. We don’t know if we will lose loved ones or not. We don’t know how our economy will look after all of this, and fundamentally we don’t know when it will end. Anxiety perforates through everything especially relationships which can cause stress, conflict and tension.

When we are anxious things like structure, routine usually the first things to go and ironically, they are the most important things to keep going.

In order to survive the uncertainty of the unknown we must create as many knowns as possible. Even small ones. Keeping a coherent structure on the day will help. It makes us feel in more control and encourages us to concern ourselves with the things we can control and less about the things we cannot. So much about this situation is beyond our control, so the most we can focus on is how we respond and react to unfolding events. Prioritize what’s important and protect them, identify what is less important and let it go.

Expectations for this time 

Managing expectations is key. The more we expect the more likely we are to be disappointed. Focus on the limitations of the current situation and work within the limitations as opposed to ruminating about what ifs. When juggling so many things, again prioritise what is important and let the less important stuff slide. The containment and safety (both physical and emotional) of your family unit should be the priority. Our children’s academic progress and the stocks of toilet paper in the stores are maybe not. We need to survive, establish, maintain and thrive. Now is not the time to thrive so perhaps the focus should be on the other three concepts.

How the current ‘stay at home’ public health measure might be impacting on relationships 

There are many potential stressors of cabin fever. Close proximity in stressful circumstances can be a recipe for stress and argument. It is important to accept that these conflicts may happen and negotiate them to be as infrequent and mild as possible. Look for the opportunity in the crisis. We have been a time poor society for the last decade. Use this opportunity to reconnect with immediate family relationships. Try to do things and work on projects together. Social distance doesn’t have to mean loneliness. Savor the opportunity for closeness. Get to know each other. But also use the time to get to know yourself. In an era of distraction space to be alone and reflect can be hard to come by. Make the most of it while it is here.

The importance of communication within the family at this time

Communication is always key to relationships. We need to use language to communicate in relationships. It is important to be open when we communicate without being blunt or overly harsh. Using our voice to articulate our needs and wants and frustrations and desires is crucial. These mutual disclosures create intimacy and connection. Using this forced down time to meaningfully communicate with each other would be an ideal way to make the most out of a set of challenging circumstances.

What families can do to look after each other 

We need to be patient. Patience allows us to manage relationships in a wide and measured way. It avoids over or under reaction. Remember the key to Wellbeing is balance and moderation. I would suggest we rate everything we do between 1-10. When we do this we need to remind ourselves that 4-7 is where equilibrium exists. Whether it’s how we relate with alcohol, work, worry, fear, ambition, exercise, food, and expectation, 4-7 is where it’s at. If you find that any aspect of your life is 8-10 then bring it down. If it’s 1-3, then try to bring it up. In a set of circumstances which will cause is to feel extreme emotion, try to regulate your emotional responses and try to avoid hysteria or complacency. If we stay balanced and concentrate on equilibrium, we are less likely to get stressed or overwhelmed.

So wash your hands but don’t let it become obsessive, encourage your children to be vigilant but not stressed to a point where they cannot sleep. Go for a walk and try to exercise but have a doughnut from time to time too.