As we continue to live in a socially distant world, we may be finding ourselves spending more time with our partners and/or family members, inevitably increasing the likelihood of conflict and/or miscommunication.
Conflict in relationships is normal — the way we choose to “fight” defines whether or not the conflict is healthy or unhealthy.
Here are some tips for fighting fairly with your loved ones:
Start with curiosity versus judgment – notice the conflict cycle. Ask yourself:
What role am I playing in the conflict? Notice how you are usually reacting – defensiveness? Yelling? Walking away? What could your reaction be telling you? Is a boundary of yours being crossed? Are you carrying a responsibility that you don’t need to? Be curious about your reactions by simply noticing them versus judging them or being hard on yourself – you’re human!
What headspace am I in when entering a conversation with my loved one that turns into conflict? Chances are you may be entering into important conversations while already feeling dysregulated from the day – lots of work calls, managing the kids new online school, running errands (let’s be real – we all have a lot going on as we continue to adjust to life in a pandemic). Start with taking some time to take care of yourself – this can be something you do for 5 minutes of the day to an hour!
When are my loved one and I usually having these conversations that turn into conflict? Set a time for important conversations so you both have time to regulate before entering the conversation.
Reframe. View the goal of conversations as finding a solution to the problem versus winning.
You and loved one versus the issue NOT you versus your loved one
The two words that often increase the likelihood of defensiveness in the person being spoken to are, “Why” and “You” when used to start a question or statement. Try the I-statement model instead, starting with how YOU are feeling versus what your loved one is DOING.
“I feel ______ when ______. I need ______. What do you think?”
Repeat back what you heard BEFORE answering.
When we repeat back what we heard our loved one say first, we focus more on listening BEFORE coming up with our own response.
“I heard you say ________. Did I get that right?”
Ask for a break.
If you find yourself or your loved one escalating emotionally – name it AND choose a time to reconnect. It is impossible to have a productive conversation when we are only speaking from an emotional place – logic is no longer present.
“I’m getting angry. Can we talk about this again in an hour?”
Incorporating even one of these tips into your communication pattern will inevitably change the conflict cycle you and your loved one may be engaging in.
Practicing these tips is synonymous to learning a new language.
Learning to communicate is difficult! Give yourself compassion as you navigate this process. Lean in to what you are needing in a healthy way. Wishing you all fair, healthy fighting!
For nearly six months, our world has been swirling in a lingering state of uncertainty and change. Our normal routines were swiftly pulled from under us, and we’ve quickly had to navigate changes in our homes, our work, our income, our social interactions, and on and on.
Many of us are not moving as much these days, working from home and not driving as often.
So, why do we feel so exhausted?
Our Physiological Response
I came across a meme by Chani Nicholas the other day that read, “I’ve never done so little and been so tired.”
She continued with this quote from Emily Baron Cadloff:
“Nancy Sin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says that in stressful situations like this, there are physiological responses in our bodies. ‘Our stress hormones increase. We prepare to fight or flee,’ said Sin. And as this pandemic continues and isolation drags on, ‘we’re having a lot of these physiological adaptations, each time we feel stressed, each time we feel worried. And over time, these repeated hits, physiologically and psychologically, can accumulate.’ That accumulation is called the allostatic load, essentially the damage on our bodies when they’re repeatedly exposed to stress. And while it feels like I’m doing nothing most days, my brain is still dealing with the anxiety and strain of this pandemic. I’m exhausted not because my body is working hard, but because my brain is.”
Uncertainty is Exhausting
While our bodies might not be as physically active at this time and while we might not have as many places to be, we are feeling the stressors of having to quickly adapt to so much change, while simultaneously holding the truth that we don’t know when this is going to end.
Our brains are frantically searching for certainty so we can feel safe again:
When will work go back to normal?
What will school look like for the kids?
When will I have more freedom? When will I be able to gather with friends again?
When can I relax at the coffee shop like I used to enjoy?
When will I be able to get on an airplane to visit family without worrying?
When will it all go back to normal and will things ever be the same?
That’s a lot to carry on a daily basis without getting any clear answers.
First, we need to acknowledge the immense amount our brains and bodies are holding and have compassion for ourselves. This is a lot to navigate.
Second, we need to admit that self-care is not only a good idea, but essential at this time.
What might that look like?
Here are five nourishing self-care ideas aimed to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of calm and safety.
Be mindful of the energy in your home environment.
We are all spending a lot more time at home these days. Do you enjoy your home? Is it clean? Is it comforting? Does it feel like your own personal sanctuary (or at least do pockets of it)? I currently see clients from home and have been spending the majority of my day in this house of mine. As a result, I have been mindful of treating it differently. I clean my home more often. I use a diffuser that sprays essential oils into the air. I’ve purchased some new plants to fill my space. I want my home to feel ultra peaceful and comforting. I know this isn’t always possible and can be more challenging if you have young ones at home, but are there small changes you can make to create a more enjoyable home environment?
Intentionally create personal space.
BOUNDARIES are so important right now. Before quarantine, many of us had boundaries naturally carved into our lifestyles. We’d go to work and leave the home. The kids were at school for a large majority of the day, which meant parents had some time for themselves. So many of our normal boundaries have disappeared. This means less personal time to recharge. It is so much easier when our boundaries are automatically set for us. But when you are at home with everyone ALL the time, setting boundaries can be hard. Are you able to say no to your children or partner when you need personal time? Have you found new ways to create space for yourself? This is a group effort and may require creating a new calendar with new agreements. Maybe Mom decides she is not available to the family on Tuesday afternoons. She will be in her room with the door closed because she needs to take a bath or work on her own projects. The kids know that Dad is available for them at this time. Guilt can rear its head here. “Shouldn’t I be available to my kids all the time? Will they think I don’t love them?” This is about understanding that rest and personal space are necessary in order to recharge and be able to show up well for the people around you.
Double up on support.
Be proactive about creating consistent avenues for receiving support. We all need places where we feel like we can lean back and be held. Maybe this looks like meeting on a friend’s porch for coffee and conversation, going for a morning walk in nature, or finding a therapist or therapy group where you can be vulnerable. Aim for weekly support like this (the more the better).
Get in touch with your senses.
Be mindful of bringing activities into your life that feel nurturing and grounding. Anything that helps you get out of your brain and back into your body. More cuddling. Taking a slow evening to cook a homemade meal. Preparing a candlelit bath. Going swimming. Committing to morning stretching. Getting your hands in the soil and gardening. Getting in touch with our senses is beneficial on so many levels. It slows us down, brings us back to the present moment, and regulates our nervous systems.
Connect with something deeper than circumstance.
If we look to the state of the world to determine how safe we feel right now, we’re not really setting ourselves up for success. The chaotic nature of society is not going anywhere anytime soon. This period of time is asking us to find safety in something deeper than circumstance. It is asking us to find safety in our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others. How can you become more connected to yourself during this time? How can you be kinder to yourself? Maybe this looks like developing a meditation practice or starting to journal again or practicing any of the self-care activities I’ve mentioned here. How can you become more connected with others? Can you be more vulnerable with the people you love? How can you improve the communication in your household and find new ways to work together as a team? Are you able to find joy in the simple things again, like movie night with the family? There is beauty in this opportunity, and a lot of potential for growth as we learn new ways to be there for ourselves and others.
No doubt, this is an unexpected time that none of us saw coming. So much change inevitably brings fear, grief, anger, stress, and fatigue.
My hope is that you’ll acknowledge all you’ve had to navigate over these past six months and show yourself more love and compassion. Be proactive about creating the support you need right now. It’s essential, and you deserve it.
Looking for more ways to practice self-care during the pandemic? Check out this blog!
I’m writing this blog 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, I think this topic is helpful during any time of change, transition, and stress. When things become unpredictable in our lives, adults and children alike experience a desire to have more control and autonomy. For children, their brains are still rapidly developing, and they lack the years of experience that adults have to weather times of change. Children and teens are being dramatically impacted during this global pandemic, and at Austin Family Counseling (and in our own homes) we are noticing increased worry, anxiety, withdrawal, acting out behavior, and more clues that children need extra support.
One strategy parents and caregivers can teach is the practice of creating routines. Side note: I’m a BIG FAN of routines, and have actually made a routine out of Back to School Routines (see my blog from 2014 when my kids were 4 and 2 – now they are 10 and 8! https://austinfamilycounseling.com/back-school-morning-hustle/)
When students go into a new classroom, there are daily tasks, activities, and rules they engage in under their teacher’s guidance. With practice, these become their new routines at school. Kids as young as age 3 can tell you their school routine – this is when we have outside time, eat lunch, etc. With preparation and practice, parents can help children develop routines for daily living at home.
Regardless of whether you are homeschooling, attending school virtually, going back in person, or a hybrid model, with the start of our first pandemic school year here in Texas (and all over the world), consider the following reasons that routines might be just what your child needs.
Routines provide comfort and structure.
While plans for school, the health of our families, parent job stress, and so many other things around us are spinning, a plan for the day that guides children – “First, I do this. Now, I do this” – allows children to relax and focus on the tasks at hand. This is a place where they have some control. Inviting them to co-create their routine with you is so important – use the blank chart below or create one of your own to plan together. Give choices like “would you like to get dressed before you come down for breakfast or after?” or “What are the 3 things you want to do before you come downstairs in the morning?” or “Would you like to schedule your outside time in the morning or in the afternoon?”
Routines become the “boss” instead of the parents and caregivers.
When you co-create your routine together, you are making an agreement with your child that this will be how the day goes (consequently, if you dictate their routine or lack of routine, you are making an agreement with your child that you will be on standby to entertain them or keep them busy). Be sure to build in things they look forward to. At my house, we have agreed that screen time is from 3pm to 5pm each day. Because this hasn’t changed it has become predictable, and we can check the clock together so see “how much longer” until they can get on, or my kids can see what they need to get done before being allowed to have their devices. Because we’ve agreed in advance, I can say “what’s next in your routine?” or “What did we agree we would do from 11-12 today?” pointing to the routine as the “boss” rather than me.
Routines that are developed by the child give them a sense of autonomy and promote confidence and responsibility.
If you start using routines today with your children, how proficient and confident do you think they will be after practicing for 2 years? Or 6 years? Or 8 years? My oldest will likely be moving away to college or to a work study in 8 years – I can’t wait to see how his sense of autonomy and responsibility will have grown!
“The challenge of parenting lies in finding the balance between nurturing, protecting, and guiding, on one hand, and allowing your child to explore, experiment, and become an independent, unique person, on the other.”