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Uncertainty has a way of paralyzing and controlling you, but you don’t have to let it. 

I stood at the edge. Staring down at the face of the water 30 feet below. Heart-pounding. My brain thinking a hundred different things at once as a couple of dozen other adventurers who decided to veer off the beaten path in Kauai’s forest looked on. 

What if I drown? What if I hit the water the wrong way and it knocks me out somehow? Or what if I belly-flop and everyone laughs? What if this could be the most exhilarating experience of my life? But what if this changes everything I understand about my fears? 

Only six inches from my heels to the lip of the cliff divided total uncertainty and what surely would happen if I took the next step.  

And I had a choice. I could turn around and avoid the situation altogether. I could stand there, staring, paralyzed. Or, I could take a step and move forward, perhaps in more ways than one. 

We all experience uncertainty in life. And this has never been truer than in the last three months:

COVID-19: Are things getting better or worse? 

What’s to come with this new election year? 

Will there ever be a solution to racism? 

Will we ever experience life as we knew it, once (or if) the pandemic ends? 

Are protests leading to peace or more violence? 

How do we protect our kids? 

Why are we getting hit with disasters like the Australian wildfires and murder hornets and tornadoes that kill and destroy? 

Will any of these things put me or my family in real danger?

We continue to be inundated with a life that grows more and more uncertain by the day. And that festering uncertainty is like pouring gasoline on an already-burning woodpile of anxiety. 

What exactly is the relation of uncertainty to our feelings of anxiety? 

Dr. Michael Stein, founder and owner of the private therapy practice Anxiety Solutions, says that facing uncertainty isn’t like confronting tangible fears such as snakes, dogs, or heights. These are the kinds of anxiety-inducers that you can avoid by walking (or running!) away. 

Uncertainty is much more elusive. You can’t literally run away from uncertainty. So, your brain pulls a fast one on you by telling you the way to deal with uncertainty is to overanalyze it. It makes sense; if you can logic out the uncertainty until it’s no longer uncertain, then problem solved! 

This is why it’s so easy to run stressful scenarios over and over in your head—what we call “ruminating.” You repetitively work scenarios through your head to come up with the most likely outcome. Because, if the sky falls, at least you’ll know it’s coming.

The only problem with this is, it doesn’t work. Uncertainty is, well, uncertain. No matter how much we try to rationalize or reason, we just don’t know what the outcome is going to be. And so you just go through this process of uncertainty, overanalyzing, uncertainty, overanalyzing… which opens the door wide for anxiety to come barging through. 

But if uncertainty is so uncertain, what’s there to do other than worry? 

When you have no crystal ball to see into an uncertain future, it’s easy to overvalue worry, fear, and anxiety. You feel like that’s the only thing you can do to survive. But this does us much more harm than good. 

Not only does the anxiety fueled by uncertainty have a negative impact on our sense of well-being and emotional adjustment, but it also wreaks havoc on our relationships. Once we get caught up in overstressing about something uncertain, it’s easy to slip into becoming anxious about anything uncertain. And this drives a wedge between the connection and intimacy we feel with our family members and those close to us. 

So what is there to do other than have anxiety? 

Dr. Stein says one thing you must do is change your thinking about uncertainty altogether—

If you tolerate uncertainty rather than trying to eliminate it, your brain eventually learns all of the following:

  • Uncertainty is not dangerous. It’s tolerable. 
  • There is no point to worry; it doesn’t stop bad things from happening. 
  • What worry does is cause you suffering right now, but it does not save you from suffering later on. 
  • Uncertainty does not require your attention. 

Training your brain to hold on to these truths is akin to, as Stein says, operating a spotlight. You change the focus of the spotlight from the uncertainty and worry to whatever you are doing in the present moment. 

All this boils down to a healthy understanding of what you can control and what you cannot control, and resolutely accepting that.

A helpful exercise I have found with uncertain situations is to make two columns on a sheet of paper titled Things I Cannot Control and Things I Can Control. Then write as many thoughts under each column as you can. 

For example, if you are facing the uncertainty of a possible job loss due to cutbacks from COVID-19, you may write under Things I Cannot Control:

  • I cannot control if the company downsizes. 
  • I cannot control when final decisions are made. 
  • I cannot control how the company determines who they’ll let go.

And then, under Things I Can Control:

  • I can control how I prepare to seek employment somewhere else, like updating my resumé or reaching out to business contacts. 
  • I can control the level of job performance I continue to display, in case that is a determining factor for the company. 
  • I can control where I focus the spotlight (whether on the worry or on the present moment), especially when I am around my family. 
  • I can control how I take care of myself, physically and emotionally, so that I have the healthiest approach to uncertainty. 

Uncertainty happens, all the time. We are all at the brink of the ledge, looking down into an unclear pool of water. Remember: this water isn’t something to worry and stress over and fear; it’s tolerable. You might not be in control of how cold it is or how high the ledge is. But you don’t have to let the uncertainty of what you can’t control paralyze you, and anxiety doesn’t have to be something that controls you. You are in control of the first step.

For other great reads on how to handle anxiety, take a look at these:

5 Ways to Handle Anxiety About Loved Ones Getting COVID-19

How I Overcome My Anxiety About COVID-19

How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety

Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

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First, the world shut down. It was inevitable as COVID-19 was spreading. But you weren’t sure how you’d handle it. Work, school, health, friends, jobs, money. There was so much uncertainty.

Then, at some point, you settled. You recognized what you could control. You started making the best of it and even realized that it wasn’t so bad. Who are we kidding? You were surprised at how much you were enjoying it. Slower pace. Family time has been fun time. Meaningful conversations with friends. You found your routine

You noticed the anxiety level in your home decrease. Not because of the absence of issues. Jobs aren’t all steady. Health concerns are everywhere. There’s lots of unrest in America right now. But the slower pace, the presence of the people you care most about, the ability to connect with family and friends, even if they are virtual connections, has helped you to live and process life in real time. 

During pre-quarantine days, many of us were moving so fast that we were simply going through the motions of life, but weren’t processing all that we were experiencing.  We had become accustomed to our way of doing life and never considered alternatives. And now the world is ready to open up and you’re not sure you’re ready to give up the benefits of this new lifestyle. So what do you do?

If You Aren’t Ready, Try These Things

  1. Accept: Just like we accepted the shelter-in-place orders and the fact that COVID-19 was spreading. We must accept that the world can’t stay shut down forever.
  2. Identify your fears: This could be anything from COVID-19 to busyness. You may be scared of losing the deep connections you’ve formed. The return of stress, anxiety, perpetual activity. Loneliness
  3. Name what you don’t want to lose: Family time, slower pace, meaningful conversations, quiet time, game/movie nights, time for mindfulness, and self-care.
  4. Be intentional: Just because the world is opening up doesn’t mean you have to dive in headfirst and resume everything you were doing before. Identify the things you have to do. Think through the things that are optional.
  5. Practice Using One of the Most Powerful Words in the English Dictionary: NO. Be willing to say “no” to those things that compromise the very things you’ve said you don’t want to lose. You WILL say NO to a lot of good things. Good will often keep you from BEST.

You may not be ready for the world to reopen for many reasons. Taking control of what you CAN will help you to re-enter the world with purpose.

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For me, it often happens in the evening (though not always). It feels like a sudden Visitor at your door who comes in unannounced and spreads an uncomfortable, heavy, warm, wet blanket over you, gradually but quickly covering your whole body, and I feel it mainly in my chest. As soon as I feel myself covered, I’m very aware of the sense of unexplained dread that’s overcome me. Often my vision narrows and it’s difficult to concentrate on what people are saying. I can feel my heart pounding. My breathing is shallow. And it’s hard not to just sit there, paralyzed, and feel intense fear for something that I don’t know how to define. 

Sometimes it takes a long while for the feeling to gradually dissipate. Other times, it just sort of leaves quickly, like it wanted to slip quietly out the back door without anyone noticing. It’s exhausting. And the most frustrating part, every time, is the nonsensical, illogical way the Visitor just comes and goes, without any sort of reason, at least none that I can think of. 

Anxiety attacks are a beast, and I’ve experienced them for years. Every time I’ve had to deal with anxiety, my wife, Kristin, has been there right beside me, walking the road. She can tell when the Visitor is at the door because she can hear me trying to catch my breath. 

Feeling anxious? 

She’ll gently ask me this, and I never find it threatening nor snarky. This is in large part due to the fact that we’ve had some very open and real discussions about what I experience. What I appreciate the most is her understanding, even though she hasn’t felt what I feel when I have these attacks. 

If you are married to someone who struggles with anxiety, you may feel powerless to help them. Kristin and I want to offer you some tools and concepts to help you be a support for the one you love most when anxiety comes bursting through the door. 

What Is Anxiety Exactly?

It helps to have a basic understanding of anxiety itself. Anxiety is actually a natural, normal process the brain goes through to help a person cope with stress. It causes an apprehension or fear of something to come, and this typically serves to protect a person from harm and danger. 

However, this process is only made to come and go as needed. It’s not meant to pop up without warning and interfere with everyday life. 

This unhealthy anxiety is ambiguous; it can feel differently depending on the person feeling it, and it reveals itself in a variety of ways. Many (like myself) feel panic attacks with no apparent reason. Others may experience a phobia of certain objects or activities. Some have an irrational fear of social situations or worry about their health. 

Researchers can’t pinpoint an exact cause of this kind of anxiety. A mix of genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry seems to be likely, but this doesn’t exactly narrow it down. Therefore, there are a variety of ways professionals treat anxiety, from coping exercises such as deep breathing and other lifestyle changes to therapy and medication. (The Gottman Institute offers a great article here about using mindfulness to deal with difficult emotions like anxiety.) 

This all can seem very complex to you, the spouse, who sees how anxiety is plaguing the one you love. And you might be wondering, what in the world could I ever do to help? 

What Spouses Can Do

In fact, you are not powerless to help your spouse who has anxiety. Anxiety isn’t exactly something you can “fix,” but it can be managed. And as someone dealing with anxiety, a supportive spouse is the most important person to have in your corner. 

Here are some thoughts on how to help your spouse deal with anxiety:

  • Understand that your spouse doesn’t know why they struggle with anxiety. Even if they know what triggers it, such as work deadlines or having to engage with a particular person, the feeling itself just seems irrational. Even more elusive is how to get rid of that feeling. It’d be easy to put the blame of the anxiety on the person feeling it or to say, just stop feeling that way, but this is no help. As a person who experiences this, I can tell you that if I knew what it was I was doing that caused a panic attack, I’d immediately change course. And I appreciate my wife understanding this. 
  • Be present. One of the worst feelings—over and above the anxiety itself—is watching a person leave the room because they don’t know how to help. My wife’s presence is comforting and reassuring, even if neither one of us knows how to “stop the feeling.” Sometimes Kristin, if she is doubting what she should do, will say, I’m going to stay here with you until you tell me you want to be alone. And I can honestly say I have never asked to be alone during a panic attack. 
  • Gently direct toward some healthy coping strategies (and away from unhealthy ones). Again, my wife is good at this (she’s had lots of practice). When I feel an attack coming on, she will gently and respectfully steer me in another direction, maybe to watch a TV show with her or to take a walk. She understands the need to redirect my focus. Other good coping strategies include self-care, meditation, deep breathing exercises, physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, aromatherapy (such as using candles, oil, or incense), and spending time outdoors in nature. 
  • Talking it out helps. When I feel the pressure of anxiety coming on, Kristin will often ask me if I know where it might be stemming from. Sometimes, as we talk, we can identify some possible triggers, such as an impending work deadline or an inevitable difficult conversation I need to have with another person. My wife is really good at helping me think out what’s the worst that can come out of this situation? When I verbalize with her that the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad, it helps to alleviate the anxiety. At other times, Kristin is also very good at reading when talking may not be very productive. This is usually when I’m in full-on panic mode and I can’t think straight enough to make conversation. In this case, she helps me with other coping strategies. 
  • Encourage rest. Exhaustion and fatigue are bullies to anxiety management. Getting to bed early or taking a short power nap in the afternoon helps me (I avoid long naps because it interferes with my sleep at night). I appreciate it when Kristin guides me to make rest a priority. 
  • If anxiety persists despite using coping strategies, it might be good to encourage your spouse to seek professional help through their physician or a counselor. 

There are times when I have felt very inadequate because I didn’t know how to fix what I was experiencing. It’s easy to feel that something is “wrong” with you. And even more so, I’ve wondered just when my wife was finally going to be over me and this “problem.” 

Kristin is very quick to put me in my place (in a good way). She assures me that nothing is “wrong” with me, that she doesn’t judge or think negatively of me because of my anxiety, and that she’ll be there no matter what to help me however she can. Without that, no coping exercise, medication, or therapy session would be nearly as effective.

You are in the prime position to be the main support for your spouse struggling with anxiety. You don’t have to “do” anything about it. Simply walk the road with them. Be in their corner. Encourage them. Be understanding. And be assured that your support means the world.  

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship click here.***

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I was in my home office when I heard gut-wrenching screams and wild barking. The dad-adrenaline shot straight to my brain, and I was out the front door quicker than you can say “ankle-biting poodle.” 

Teaching your child what to do when confronted with a strange dog is one thing. Teaching her what to do when confronted with a charging dog while overcome with terror is quite another. 

As my feet left the top porch step and hit the grass of the front yard, my eyes perceived in slow-motion a medium-sized canine barreling across the lawn toward the heels of my sprinting, wailing 8-year-old daughter. In a matter of near-perfect timing and full stride, I jumped in between them, gave the beast my best WWE professional-wrestler-stare, and (quite literally) ROARED at the animal (think Mufasa confronting the hyenas). 

The pursuing mutt immediately wielded a sharp U-turn and trotted in the opposite direction, head hung low and tail between legs. (It was hard to tell through all the adrenaline, but I’m pretty sure he whined out an apology from a safe distance). 

I admit—I felt pretty darn cool. It’s just a shame the rest of the neighborhood wasn’t outside to see it. 

But the most important part of this story is what followed. Once the adrenaline drained from both of us, my daughter and I sat down to talk about what happened and for me to bestow my invaluable fatherly wisdom.

You see, I was taught growing up that if a dog comes at you, don’t run; if you do, you’re acting like prey, and its wild wolf-like instincts are going to kick in (even with the little ankle-biting poodles), and it’s gonna chase you. Stand your ground, look it in the eye, and establish your dominance

Yeah, try explaining all this to an 8-year-old shaking in her sneakers. And consequently, through our conversation I learned some dad lessons on talking to your child about fear. But now we have something else nipping at the heels of our kids: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Virus?

COVID-19 has our world in a fearful, anxious tizzy. And children are not the least of who are impacted. Kids may not fully understand the situation (Heck, most adults don’t fully understand…), but they sense enough to know that things are amiss—so much so that it feels like this virus is right behind them, ready to pounce. 

And, as much as we want to, it’s not like we as parents can step in between with a wrestler stare and roar the virus into a U-turn. Things are just more… complicated than that.


So how do we help our kids through the fear of COVID-19? I’d like to offer some steps you can take: 

Help your child understand good fear and bad fear.

Fear does serve a good purpose. It protects us, keeps us from harm, helps us survive. But good fear happens in the context of short-term, isolated threats. It gives us the ability to run away from ankle-biting poodles. 

But fear isn’t helpful to us when it’s long-lasting. This is good-fear-turned-bad and can be detrimental to the emotional and physical health and development of children.  

Help your child to understand good fear and bad fear by using words like these: You know, some things scare us because we know there is danger, like unfamiliar dogs or snakes or electrical sockets. And this fear is goodit helps keep us safe

But sometimes we have fear about something and we don’t know why. We think it might be dangerous, but we don’t know for sure. And so it makes us worry for a very long time. For example, sometimes people are afraid of the dark; it’s not because they know what’s in the dark, but because they don’t know what’s there. And what’s happening with the virus might be scaring you, not because you know what’s going to happen, but because you don’t know. 

Normalize fear for your child—even if it’s irrational.

Let your child know it’s okay to be afraid. Say things like, Everyone is afraid of something. And there are a lot of peopleeven adultswho are scared of what’s going on with the virus. It’s okay to be scared. What we want to do is learn more about it and what we need to do to be safe. That way, we don’t have to worry so much. We’re going to work through this together. 

Keep in mind that normalizing fear for your child means validating their fear as a real thing, no matter how irrational it is. Yes, you as an adult know that chances are extremely low that your child could catch the virus simply by walking outside. However, if this is the fear your child has, it’s their fear. This means it’s very real to them no matter how unreasonable it might seem. 

Understand as a parent that fear isn’t something to “get over” but to work through.

It’s a process. Fear is an emotional reaction, and you can’t just fix emotions—especially in kids! So you have to have patience, and encourage your child to be patient with themselves. 

And keep in mind that there’s a bigger picture with helping our kid work through the process of fear. Yes, we are helping them to work through the situation at hand. But perhaps more importantly, we are helping them to build RESILIENCE and PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS that will go with them into their teen and adult years. 

Teach emotional self-regulation.

Encourage them to verbalize how they feel. If it helps, have them write down a few sentences that describe more specifically what they are afraid of. 

Use a tool like the Wheel of Emotion (below) to give your child the language about how they feel about COVID-19. Sure, they may be “fearful” or “scared,” but this helps kids pinpoint some feelings like “helpless,” “nervous,” or “worried” which helps them process what they’re feeling inside. This opens up great conversation with your child, which is essential for processing fear. 

'I Feel' - Emotional Word Wheel

Finally, encourage your child to engage in healthy behaviors regularly such as active play, engaging with their friends and family online, and plenty of rest

I’ve found it helpful to teach my youngest deepbreathing techniques to use when she feels stressed, which can be found on various mindfulness websites and apps. These are all skills which will help your child regulate their fear and gain a sense of calm. 

Coach your child to give their fear a name.

I heard of one family whose child was afraid of the dark, so they directed her to give her fear a name, much like you’d name a pet. The moniker she chose for her fear was “Bob.” Whenever she felt that fear creep into her head at night, the little girl would call it out verbally, and say something like, “Not tonight, BobI don’t have time to deal with you because I really want to get some sleep. So, Bob, you need you to scram!” 

This might seem sort of trite, but in reality this helps children (especially the younger ones) realize the control they have over their emotions. Giving it a name takes the edge off of fear. It also empowers the child to boss it around rather than allowing it to boss her around. 

Regulate your own fears.

Your kids follow your lead. They look to you as an example of healthy emotional regulation and fear management. How well are you taking care of yourself in the midst of the pandemic? If you’re freaking out and not practicing self-care, your kids will play Monkey-See-Monkey-Do. So be sure you are taking care of yourself and regulating your own emotions well. For good resources, read I’m Too Afraid To Leave the House Because of COVID-19 and watch this video on self-care during COVID-19. 

Let’s be real: Ankle-nipping dogs have nothing on the COVID-19 pandemic. But as parents we can teach them either to run away and wail, or to process through it and face down the fear with a ROAR. And they’ll take that ROAR with them the rest of their life. 

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“So first let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address

Too afraid to leave the house because of COVID-19? I understand that. Fear can be debilitating. Let me start with a little story about that…

So there I was

…hanging off the edge, behind-first, staring down into a hole in the ground about as wide as my house. My heels dug into the earthen ledge as I felt the tension of the rope pulling at my waist and holding me in place. We were on a spelunking (caving) adventure. Ropes were strategically fastened to trees, harnesses fastened to ropes, and my body strapped in a harness. I had been rappelling since my high school years, but never into a 150-foot vertical cave in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness. 

All facts pointed to the assurance of safety, security and success: the friends I was with were trained to do this in the military; all knots, harnesses and other gear were checked and rechecked; and my buddy was at the bottom of the cave below me hanging on to my rope, ready to cinch it down and “catch” me should I slip. (And besides—he made it down safely; certainly I would, too… right?)

And yet, there were still the nagging what ifs in my mind. What if that rope snaps? What if a knot comes undone? And even, what if a squirrel leapt from out of nowhere, landed on my harness and chewed the straps away, causing me to fall into nothingness? 

And it was the what ifs that kept me stuck, paralyzed, on the edge of that cave for what seemed like hours (really, it was a few minutes), petrified to take that first step to descend into the cave. 

Fear has a funny way of making a person think the most irrational thoughts. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused life to slam on its brakes, fear has certainly done a real number for many people. What happens when the pandemic has you so afraid that you can’t seem to leave the house? 

Good Fear and Bad Fear

Fear isn’t always bad. There is a good kind of fear. Good fear protects us; it’s rational, valuable, and tells us how to accurately assess a risk. Good fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Better be sure your rope is tied correctly, your gear is checked, and your buddy down there has your back (er… rather, your rope).” 

Bad fear does not help us. It jumps straight to the worse-case scenario based on irrational conclusions. Bad fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Your rope will probably snap and your buddy below has probably taken off to grab a burger. It’s best if you go home, lock the door, hide in your room and never ever think about caves again…

Bad fear started out as good fear, but quickly turned irrational, dysfunctional, petrifying and therefore valueless. It’s junk fear—good fear gone bad, like a mild-mannered comic book scientist turned supervillain. 

And just like any true villain, bad fear doesn’t help us at all. It hinders us from a more fulfilling life. And at its worst, fear can be so irrational that it can cause us to react in ways that are actually harmful to us. 

Irrational Is the Key Word

★ The difference between good fear and bad fear is the weight of the information each is based on. ★

Good fear is based on good, solid facts from credible sources. It seeks the right amount of precautions to take while still being able to function. And so you have to know who you’re listening to. Health and safety precautions taken from the CDC are much weightier than from fake-news outlets or crazy Uncle Joe who’s stockpiled ammo and canned beans in his backyard bunker. 

Bad fear is based on the irrational, the sensational and the worst-case scenario (refer to Uncle Joe above). Bad fear makes us believe we have all the information we need in order to anticipate a future full of dread and terror. 

What Bad Fear Does to Us

Fear works in a way that, when we sense a threat, our body releases hormones that shut down the functions not needed for survival. It sharpens the functions that might help us survive, such as increased heart rate and more blood flow to the muscles (so that we can, for example, heighten our awareness or run faster). 

This is great for single, isolated incidents of threat, such as seeing a snake or standing on a high ledge. However, prolonged, chronic fear wreaks havoc on our body and brain.  

Research has shown us that it weakens our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to sickness. (Think about the irony here: Irrational anxiety and fear of the COVID-19 virus could actually increase our chances of catching it.) Bad fear can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems, and can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death. 

Bad fear also hijacks our brain processes that help us regulate our emotions, read non-verbal cues and think before we act. Therefore, it can have a very negative impact on our relationships. 

When fear is based on irrational assumptions, it tends to keep churning out the dread. It can also have some nasty consequences for our health. 

Fear Gone Bad Back to Good 

Knowing the dangers of bad fear is a good start to turning bad fear around. Here are some other tips: 

  • Listen to credible sources for information. Be picky about who you listen to. There is a lot of sensationalism, and armchair COVID-19 experts abound out there. Ignore these voices and pay attention to the advice of experts such as the CDC, physicians and scientists. Be careful how much time you spend immersing yourself in information-digging. An unhealthy preoccupation in fact-finding can feed fear rather than alleviate it. 
  • Carefully assess what you see, experience and feel. Irrational fear can make us question every little sniffle, sneeze or cough we notice in ourselves and others, sending us down a spiral of unneeded worry. Pay attention to the symptoms and warning signs given by the experts, as well as the level of risk for your age group. And if you have a logical concern, refer to your physician
  • Practice self-care. Be sure you are doing intentional things to keep your mind and body healthy. Being physically active, practicing mindfulness and getting enough rest helps alleviate anxiety and boost the feel-good hormones in our brains. This helps us to think more clearly when weighing reason against irrationality. 
  • Know that this is a process. Overcoming any kind of fear takes time, and it’s often done in small steps. Give yourself patience and grace. Over time, reason will trump the irrational.
  • If you find that your fear is causing you to move toward harmful behaviors such as drinking or using drugs, or that it’s moving you away from basic necessary functions such as eating, personal hygiene or getting basic work done, consider seeking help. There are many professionals who are offering remote counseling services. 

By the way… I made it down into the cave safe and sound. Knots stayed tied and no strap-gnawing squirrels appeared. Why? Because that was just unreasonable. Bad fear does not have to prevent you from diving into a fulfilling life, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

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I’ve never felt so fragile. When my kids were younger and we were driving somewhere, we would point to places we passed and say, “That would be a great place to hold up if there was a zombie apocalypse!” I always (idealistically) pictured myself as a strong “apocalypse” survivor-type. Now, I’m in something that feels apocalyptic and I’m not so sure. I’m scared.

In no particular order, every day at some point, I find myself worrying about:

  • Am I going to get COVID-19?
  • Will I be able to weather this financial storm?
  • Am I hurting my son’s education by not being “on top of it”?
  • Am I leading my family well? Being a good husband? Father?

But by far, my biggest anxiety is about loved ones getting COVID-19. I fear that someone I care about is going to get sick, or worse.

Consider the following:

  • My wife is in the medical field. No social-distancing for her.
  • My at-risk, elderly mother-in-law lives with us.
  • Our daughter is in another state that is under “Shelter-in-Place” law.
  • Two of our sons work at a restaurant that is still open for takeout.
  • Our other son just informed me that his friend’s little sister, down the street, is being tested for COVID-19.
  • My extended family is all in a state far more devastated by COVID-19.

This isn’t even taking into account my many friends that are working on the “front lines” of the medical field, counseling profession and parts of the police force. Plenty of worries to keep my mind busy and distractible and exhausted. I know that many of you are dealing with the same things. 

Worry, Anxiety, Fear, Insecurity, Nervousness… whatever you want to call it, it takes a toll on you. It’ll flip you for real.

[This is the place where I’m supposed to give you the dictionary definition of “worry” and maybe go on to provide you with research about how anxiety affects your health and maybe even encourage you to talk to a counselor if it gets really bad. I could do that.]

Here’s how I try to deal with it…

  • I have a grid of principles that I run my worry through:
    • Is this worry about something that I can’t control, can control, or maybe influence?
    • Is this worry masking a deeper issue that I need to address?
    • How am I going to choose to respond to this worry, not react?
  • I know that my mind and body are connected. Am I practicing good self-care? Getting enough sleep and exercise? Eating right and getting enough water? Am I controlling my breathing?
  • My environment influences my state of mind. I’m working from home now, so I listen to relaxing music or soothing white noise. I set up my “work station” near a big window to let the sun in or by my television playing long YouTube videos of relaxing campfires, trickling streams, or colorful aquariums.
  • I try to be informed while not allowing a steady stream of panic-inducing “noise” into my head via news and social media. It’s a balancing act. I try to only go to the CDC website and check the news no more than once a day because I want to be informed by accurate information but not conformed by the fear-mongering clickbait. 
  • I put anxious energy to use! Family Movie Night and Family Game Night help us all stay connected. We try to do chores together and make them fun. Instead of calling or texting friends and family like I normally would, I use an app like FaceTime or Google Meet so I can actually see them and see how they are doing.

Camping out in feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear about loved ones getting COVID doesn’t do anybody any good. It doesn’t help you and it certainly doesn’t help them. You may not be able to control the thoughts and feelings that “pop” into your head, BUT you can control what you do with them!

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For most Americans life isn’t “business as usual” these days. Smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, COVID-19 has flipped our normal life on its head and conjured up a mix of panic, anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Every family faces unique struggles and obstacles when it comes to creating a new norm with unfamiliar parameters such as social distancing, quarantine and vigorous personal hygiene. But for those of us who have a spouse at risk working on the front lines, whether they’re physicians, nurses, first responders, childcare workers, truck drivers or the countless other essential workers that keep our country running, the stakes (and consequently, the stress) immediately go up.

My husband Bobby, for example, works as a FedEx Express driver. For him and millions of couriers around the nation, not only is it actually still just business as usual during this pandemic–it’s a crazy whirlwind of employees calling out which creates a shortage of workers. And since we are all at home, ordering our essentials online, there is an increase in packages to deliver as well. For those who take on the extra load, like my husband, it means long hours and late nights. It’s job security at its finest (yay for overtime pay!)… but an awful lot of anxiety for the family he leaves at home every day. 

The Process of Figuring Things Out

I’d like to say we have it figured out, but let’s be honest, it’s week 2 of our social-distancing adventure and things seem to be changing every single day. Currently, I’m working from home and watching my two daughters (who are under 5 yrs old). Oh, and I’m 5 months pregnant. Bobby leaves before any of us get up in the morning and is usually home right as I’m getting the girls to bed. That means my day consists of all meals, diaper changes, snacks, naps, playtime, mediating quarrels, kissing boo-boos, calming meltdowns, baths, bedtime, laundry, dishes, washing hands, cleaning/sanitizing and trying to work the best I can at my kitchen table, on my laptop, in the few minutes my children are occupied by Frozen 2 or when they can actually get along and play nicely together. It makes my head spin just typing it out.  

Suddenly, I feel like a single parent and it’s HARD. (Seriously, single parents are superheroes.) Not only is the sheer exhaustion enough to break me, the effort it takes to not let resentment build up or let the anxiety over whether Bobby will become infected and unknowingly bring home the virus weighs like a ton of bricks on my shoulders every single day. So how can we navigate these murky waters? 

Arm Yourself With Knowledge and Safety

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a billion times, but the recommendations from the CDC are imperative to follow. In our unique situation, we’ve struggled to know how far to take it. Should Bobby self-quarantine and sleep alone in a separate room? Keep 6 feet away from me and the kids? Wear a mask, even at home? The resounding answer to all of these questions continues to be, “We don’t know.” In times like these, all we can really do is look at the data we do have and factor in our unique preference and comfort level. Ultimately, decisions like these come down to what works best for your family. 

For our family, the stress of trying to do it all on my own was so much greater than the stress of the possibility of contracting the virus and the uncertainty of how it would affect me during pregnancy. Since we do know that stress has a very negative impact on pregnancy and is not good for the baby, we decided to choose the option that created the least amount of stress for me. I have no other health issues, eat a vegan diet and (try to) exercise regularly. Plus, currently there is no data that suggests that pregnant women are more susceptible or even at a higher risk for severe symptoms. There is also no evidence that the virus affects the fetus in utero. (Sources: CDC, NPR, YaleMedicine)

So, after a very long, emotional conversation, Bobby and I decided that we would follow these precautions:

  • At work, he asks permission to sign for anyone he delivers to, in order to eliminate multiple hands touching his power pad screen and uses hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Upon coming home, he strips down in the basement, throws his clothes in the washing machine and comes upstairs to immediately shower.
  • Before he showers, we sanitize ever surface he touches.
  • We continue to diligently wash our hands and try really really hard to not touch our faces.
  • Physical touch is limited. (No kissing and minimal hugging/touching.)

Of course, if he knowingly is exposed to the virus, we will reevaluate and implement a complete self-quarantine for him at that time. But for now, this is our new routine! It means he still gets to help out with the kids and the household, sleep in the same bed as me and enjoy family time when he’s home. The stress of feeling like a single parent is minimized (at least on the weekends and days when he gets home early.)  

Protect Your Marriage (Especially From Resentment) 

It would be easy to slip into resentment during these times. Working from home and taking care of the kids is no joke. All the stress and anxiety of life is quadrupled, and who ends up getting the backlash? Our spouse. Bobby and I have already had our fair share of arguments since this quarantine began, all exasperated by the current circumstances. So we have to intentionally work at keeping our marriage strong and healthy. Some of the easiest ways to do that?

  • Acknowledge each other’s sacrifices. We are both putting forth an extra amount of effort and there isn’t one that is better than the other. We both feel seen and cared about when we’re speaking words of affirmation and appreciation for what we’re doing daily.
  • Communicate your feelings. For some people, talking through their feelings comes easier than it does for others. But it’s so important to have that self-awareness and let your spouse know what’s going on inside your mind. (Remember, none of us are mind-readers!)
  • Actively listen to one another. Part 2 of communicating your feelings means that the other person actively listens to you. Passive listening (when someone is listening without really reacting or interrupting) is really just one-way communication. It doesn’t make the person talking actually feel heard. Actively listening (when someone responds and shows that they genuinely understand the message being conveyed) creates a safe space that allows both people to connect on a deeper level. It builds trust and respect, especially in the midst of tension.
  • Remember, you’re on the same team. Fighting against each other instead of for each other can happen in the blink of an eye. Suddenly your argument turns into subtle (or not so subtle) jabs because you know exactly what buttons to push and where your spouse’s Achilles’ heel is. But remember, your spouse is NOT the enemy. COVID-19 is.  

Connect With Each Other Daily

As you read this, we are currently significantly limiting our physical touch. And yes, it’s tough. Bobby’s primary love language is Physical Touch, so it makes it much more difficult to show that I love and care for him when we are purposefully maintaining our distance. Although it’s not ideal, we both recognize that this isn’t for forever. It’s just a season. We are determined to get through it together. And we will be stronger for it. So, while we may not be able to touch each other… We can still connect through quality time, conversations, little gifts, notes and meeting each other’s needs the best we can right now. 

The Four Points of Connectedness

Our connection has grown tremendously over the past couple of years because of this amazing concept I learned. According to studies done by relationship researcher Dr. Linda Duncan, there are four powerful points of connectedness between couples during the day. When you are intentional about connecting at these times on a regular basis, they can increase the intimacy in your marriage. Yes, please!!

How you wake up.

Figure out a simple, loving way to say “good morning” to each other. It’ll set the tone for how you engage with each other until you part for the day! If coffee is your love language, it’s a no-brainer.

How you part for the day.

Parting is such sweet sorrow these days, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Take some time to talk about what the day looks like and be sure to leave on a positive note… (“I love you” and “Thank you for working so hard!” are great parting words.)

How you greet each other.

After being apart all day, the way you greet each other when you get home really matters! Even if it can’t be a big hug and kiss, you can still express excitement with a warm smile and a genuine, “I’m so happy you’re home [sappy nickname here]!

How you say goodnight.

When the day is done and you’re ready to call it a night, take some time (just the two of you!) to debrief on the day. Even though you’re probably not going to bed at the same time, getting “tucked in” isn’t just for the kids! These sweet moments before bed can actually impact how well you sleep that night!  

The bottom line is that having a spouse who is still working adds a level of complication and stress into the mix of an already difficult situation. But just remember… this too shall pass. In the meantime, while you’re taking all the necessary precautions, don’t forget about keeping your marriage healthy as well. Eventually, when all the dirt settles and the waters are clear again, it’ll be so refreshing to know that your relationship is even stronger for it!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! This course includes exclusive access to:

  • 5 downloadable relationship-enhancing PDFs
  • Videos full of easy-to-use communication tools
  • Questions to ask each other to spark a deeper connection
  • Fun activities to guide you through each of the concepts discussed

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