By Maria Zimmitti, Ph.D.
Back in April, I read an article by Chloe I. Cooney titled, The Parents Are Not Alright (gen.medium.com). It was an emotional and honest piece that captured the struggles parents themselves were experiencing. Prior to this article, my work with parents was mostly related to helping them help their children in response to COVID-19. Months into the pandemic (and many more months to go), it is clear that relationships are still “not alright”.
If you feel stress due to COVID-19, you are not alone, and it makes perfect sense. The internet and newspapers are filled with articles on the consequential negative effects our “new normal” is having on relationships, both between adults and between parents and children. The “new normal” includes a long list of stressors: being stuck indoors, trying to oversee remote education while working, possibly being out-of-work, being faced with your children’s anxiety about what is going on, fear for your loved one’s health and safety, and much more. These stressors impinge on us, and we are on edge from tremendous anxiety and a sense of helplessness. Yet, we have little time for ourselves and often cannot tap our usual means of recharging. Rather, we are in constant interaction with our partner and children without respite, and understandably, at times, feeling trapped and sensitive to things we could normally ignore. When we are stressed, we are likely more on edge and readily triggered into a state we wish we didn’t go to.
To manage the stress in your relationships, it is important to not take things personally. Keep reminding yourself that, just like you, each person in your household is doing the best they can under the circumstances. Ways to manage stress include keeping to a routine to minimize the sense of being out of control, having a daily ‘to do’ list allowing yourself to feel accomplished if, under these circumstances, you get a few of the items checked off, eating nutritiously and staying hydrated. It is important to schedule self-care daily. Perhaps your partner and you can agree to schedule time that one takes over responsibilities to allow the other a “self-care” break. Of course, it needs to go both ways. For single parents, see if you can get agreement from your children to allow you a “self-care” moment. Remember that being indoors so much can make your body hurt from stagnation so schedule a time for exercise just as you plan your meals. If needed, there are many online exercise routines such as YouTube yoga, stretch, and meditation classes. Fresh air and sunshine are also important for your physical and mental health so try to take advantage of the nice weather and get out of the house. Take a deep breath and spend 30 minutes in your own backyard or, better yet, a walk on a green trail. While you might want to keep up with the events going on, schedule a limited time to watch the news rather than having it invade your home at all times.
I am an optimist by nature but the reality is the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon so it’s important to take care of yourself and the relationships that are important to you. If you feel things are out of control for you, remember help is still available. Therapists are working remotely and virtual therapy sessions are effective for individuals and couples.