Interpersonal stressors tend to increase during uncertain times such as the one we are experiencing now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when we are social distancing and self-isolating, we may not have access to familiar ways of coping. We are facing a challenging time of disruptions and abrupt transitions without knowing when this will end. Some of us may also be in situations where a family member is sick or vulnerable and we cannot be with them physically. And we are only at the beginning of a potentially prolonged altered state of affairs.
How do we ensure and promote relational health in our families and communities during these times? We know from studies investigating abrupt disruptions (such as environmental disasters, war, and displacement, unexpected deaths or losses in families) that emotional responses in families may range from detachment to preoccupation. Each of us deals with crisis in different ways and there is no “right way” of dealing with something like this.
A few key reminders may be helpful at this time:
- Recognize that in times of uncertainty, interpersonal stress is high. Balancing your need for space and connection is important. Communicate with a partner or another adult in the household about feasible and sustainable routines. For example, does it make sense to have one meal together every day? Does it help to schedule a time for work and play for the entire family? Or does it work better if individuals are responsible for most of their schedule? Young children and adolescents may need differing levels of guidance to structure their time. Adults may need reminders that working from home does not mean working all the time.
- Acknowledge personal and relational limits. Setting realistic expectations about what you and your family may be able to do at this time would be important. How you and your family manage this crisis does not define you or your family members. Some people are calm in times of crisis and able to navigate anxiety with ease, while others will be more challenged. Try hard not to judge and be easy on yourself and others.
- Address health and safety concerns as calmly as possible with children. Be responsive to each child’s tolerance for information. Follow your child’s lead in terms of how much information they can handle. Being frightened is not good for children. Children can handle stress but not unmanageable stress.
- Create times to talk about your needs and invite others to talk about their needs. Try to listen to one another quietly and without distraction. It’s helpful, when possible if everyone can be heard when changes are being made. Lists and schedules may relieve stress for one person while making another feel overwhelmed and controlled. How can everyone get some of what they need?
- Take care of your physical health. Make time to engage in physical fitness and prepare healthy foods. These can be done together as a way to be present in relationships (e.g., couples taking walks, parents and children preparing healthy snacks) or may also be a way to have time alone to get a break from relationships (e.g., going for a run, doing an online workout or meditation).
- Connect with others virtually. Set aside time to virtually hangout regularly with people in your life.
- Limit alcohol use. Even though it may be tempting to lean towards alcohol and other substances, it may be unhelpful in navigating ongoing challenges. Interpersonal conflicts, in particular, have a strong association with substance use, especially in stressful times. Once you or your family member has had any alcohol, do not engage in any intense discussion or argument. Wait until both of you are sober.
- Seek professional help for yourself and your family, if needed. Many practitioners now provide telehealth services (via video or telephone). Find a practice that uses secure, HIPAA compliant technologies.
- Connect with communities: This crisis has differential impacts depending on each of our social locations and places in society. If you are able to, figure out ways in which to connect and help communities in need.
Find therapists in your area:
24-hour telephone counseling, suicide prevention, crisis counseling, information, and referrals:
Emergencies – Dial 911
Health and Human Services Referral Line – Dial 211
Contact Hotline 315-251-0600
contactsyracuse.org (click on crisis chat) – online crisis chat
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline -1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Vera House Support & Information Line – 315-468-3260
National Domestic Abuse Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
Disaster Distress Helpline – 1-800-985-5990
Upstate Medical Center Hotline – 315-464-3979
Crisis resources for individuals with a gender diverse experience:
Trans lifeline at 877-565-8860