– Ken Fremont-Smith, LMHC
You already know about the hand-washing, the social distancing, the staying home as much as possible. You’re doing the best you can, and it already feels endless.
But how do you stay sane when the world seems to be shattering? And if it’s you and your partner (not to mention children), how do you not kill each other? How do you do more than just survive? (Because it’s still life, it’s still your life, it’s still about being alive.)
In working with couples, I’ve seen various stresses – and various solutions! I want to pass on the wisdom I am learning. Every few days I’ll be sending out a new message: I’ll start with a general approach for everyone, and finish with a focus for couples. Enjoy. Stay well. Stay strong.
INFORMATION OVERLOAD! – A virus in itself. Of course, it’s wise to keep up-to-date on information about the virus, and to know what’s going on in the world. BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO KEEP LISTENING TO VARIATIONS ON THE SAME THEME OVER AND OVER AGAIN. (Think about it: isn’t that what you’re doing?) Limit yourself – say, to one hour a day for the news – and early in the day, since catching up on news at bedtime is a great way to encourage insomnia.
JUST AS IMPORTANT: read a newspaper (or other trusted source); don’t watch the news. Not unless you want to send your heart-rate soaring. Watching people (and politicians) talking ‘at’ you drives the brain a little crazy: you want to respond (or yell back!), but nobody’s listening. Reading the news gives you a little distance from the emotional hooks – plus you can control how much of any article to read, or whether to skim it (like this one!). And these days, any sense of control is important. And let me reiterate: reading an ongoing stream (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) won’t give you a feeling of control. Choice one or two trusted resources (and that’s your decision). Here’s a way to monitor how you’re doing: tomorrow, track the time spent on various information sources (including social), and at the end of the day write down anything new you learned, and if it’s important to you (you get to decide what’s important or not). Compare what you learned, that’s important, to the time spent, and make a decision about how you want to handle incoming information.
COUPLES: You and your partner probably have different approaches (yeah, how could that be?). One of you probably seeks out more news than the other, and tries to share it. Then you find yourselves in this fun position: the one seeking for more news saying “You’re hiding your head in the sand! You’re not treating this seriously!” The other: “Sweetie, you’re over-reacting. Calm down, take a break.” You may already be at the point where you are seriously unhappy with each other (no more ‘Sweeties’!), each seething about how wrong the other one is.
The Solution: Stop trying to change your partner. As comfortable as you are with your approach – well, that’s how your partner feels too. And there is something to be said for both sides: information is important, AND information (or, rather, speculation) can create unnecessary anxiety. So, the next time your partner shares too much – or pulls away from you sharing – ask them what they are longing for. Why does this one want more information? Why does that one want to limit information? Don’t argue for your ‘side’ – just listen, and then say at least one reason why what they say makes sense to you (look how smart your honey is!). Then come up with an agreement about listening to each other: say, a 10-minute daily (weekly?) check-in about naming what’s really important to you and how you are handling stress these days. Finally, so much of the ‘news’ is focused on (negative) speculation and projections! Look for examples every day of positive ways people are handling the challenge of the coronavirus (this is one thing social media can be great for!).