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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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Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures on social media. Brother and sister have been fighting all day. Mom has had enough. Mom gets one of dad’s t-shirts and makes brother and sister wear it—at the same time. 

Brother and sister look thrilled.

Some have called this a “Get-Along Shirt.” The funny thing is, while this may be a great deterrent for kids to stop fighting (“If you two don’t stop it, I’m getting out THE SHIRT!”), I’m not sure it does much to help brother and sister get along while they’re in the shirt. In my opinion, quite the reverse: It just makes them want to fight more. 

This is how I picture being in quarantine with a spouse that you don’t particularly like. You feel glued at the hip, but you can’t get away. 

THE SITUATION

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us all to change our way of life. And if there has already been tension in your marriage before this whole mess began, then right now you might be wondering, how the heck do I get out of this giant shirt? 

Let’s think about this situation. Chances are, back in the “old days” (pre-pandemic) one or both of you spent at least some of your day apart, possibly at work. Point is, your regular routine gave you time apart so that when you came back together, your relationship was more manageable. Life provided some ways to cope with the tension.

Not so at the moment in quarantine. There is no coming back together because there’s no time apart. Together is your reality right now. If there was tension in the marriage before, the coping mechanisms you used back then aren’t there anymore. 

And whatever differences were coming between you back then, now they are magnified. You see the differences more. You are in difference-overload. And so the tension builds.

THE CHOICE

Your situation gives you a couple of choices: 

  • You can choose to avoid the issue, be miserable in your Get-Along shirt, and live in increasing conflict, tension, stress, and anxiety. Sounds fun. (See picture above.)
  • Or, you can dig in your heels, be intentional, and decide to do what you can to lessen the tension and improve the situation with your spouse 

Disclaimer★ What I’m about to share with you is helpful, but it’s going to take intentionality and humility. When two people don’t get along, things only get better when pride is put aside. And yes, both people in the marriage need to make the effort, but it takes one person to begin to lead the dance. In other words, choose to be the first person to take up the mantle of humility; more often than not, the other will follow. 

So you first have to ask some questions: 

  • What is it specifically you don’t like about the person you’re in quarantine with? 
  • Do you not like your spouse, or do you not like the situation you’re in? 
  • Does everything about your spouse get on your nerves? Or are there one or two qualities that are magnified by the circumstances of the quarantine? 
  • Could… this… possibly… be…you? Are you stressed, and that affects how you see your spouse? What are you dealing with inside of you that makes you see your spouse in certain ways?

These questions are humbling—they can bring you down a notch or two. But considering sincere answers help you to stop and put the right perspective on the situation. Then you are freed up to make a healthy response rather than a knee-jerk reaction

PRO-TIPS

Having said that, let’s consider some pro-tips: 

  • Choose to see your spouse as a whole rather than one or two negative qualities. When there is something bugging me about my spouse, I have to stop and consider all the things that make up who she is, and I find the positives far outweigh the negatives. I consider all the ways she contributes to the family, what she’s done for me in the past, her background and history, how good of a mother she is. And it minimizes in my mind whatever it was that was getting on my nerves. 
  • Think of five things you’re thankful for your spouse. The next time you find yourself frustrated at your spouse, try this. It’s a way to train your brain—to condition yourself —to see your spouse as a whole. When I’ve done this, I’ve found more often than not that I was frustrated at a molehill rather than a mountain. And even if you are facing a mountain, thinking of why you are thankful for your spouse clears your headspace to approach the issues in calm, effective ways rather than being reactive. Take a few minutes, write down five reasons you’re thankful for your spouse, and read them over. 
  • Take time to decompress and do things to lower the tension. Lots of times conflict with your spouse is exacerbated by the stress of everything else going on around you. Take the opportunity to detach from life for a little while and do some self-care—both as a family and on your own. Go on a walk, meditate, read something inspirational, do some push-ups, cuddle with your cat or dog. Your self-care should be productive and healthy rather than merely an escape. This helps ease the tension and set a healthier atmosphere for communication. (Here and here are some great ideas on self-care.) 
  • Try not to make big decisions during this time. The idea is to lower the potential for stress, not the reverse. If you can help it, avoid making big, life-altering decisions like major purchases or having children (although you need to keep the ones you already have). 
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Prolonged traumatic situations like the pandemic can cause a person to focus all their attention on the negative. This is extremely stressful and adds to the tension in your marriage. Reverse this pattern by thinking of the things you are thankful for at this time. And no matter the situation, there are always things to be thankful for. Make a list. Add to it daily. Gratitude helps lower the tension in the atmosphere and put the issue at hand in a proper perspective. 
  • Put grace into place. Consider that our circumstances are affecting not only your emotional health but also that of your spouse. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand what they may be feeling. Keep in mind that you probably have magnified qualities that get on their nerves right now as well. 

Quarantine has put a strain on all kinds of relationships, especially marriages already under strain. But by being intentional and putting pride aside, the tension can lessen. Putting these practices into place will help you and your spouse get along during this time of quarantine. 

(Get-Along Shirt not required.)

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By nature, I believe we as humans are caring and kind. We like to help and be there for others when they celebrate and when they go through tragedy. For example, we buy gifts when people have babies, get married, retire and reach other various milestones. And we bring food when others suffer the loss of a loved one or lose everything in a natural disaster. We sit close to those who are suffering from a terrible disease like cancer, in the midst of grief or going through a divorce. That’s how we love, comfort, support, and uplift

Loving and caring for others who continue to face many of life’s celebrations and trials has become difficult since the pandemic. Our hearts begin to hurt because of the weddings we miss and the families we can’t mourn alongside. We grieve over the showers we can’t attend and the relief efforts we are limited in assisting after natural disasters. 

The core of our humanity seems to be stripped away from us because of the need to quarantine and stay safe and healthy. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you begin to wonder, is it worth it? Is what I’m giving up to “stay healthy” worth it? What’s the point of being a friend when you can’t do all those things that friends do? I don’t want to miss the birth of my cousin’s baby or the funeral of my neighbor’s son. What do I do?

How to Check In

That’s where we have to be creative. Here are some ideas to support, encourage and love those that are facing life-altering events during this time of quarantine.

  • Arrange for meal delivery and share virtual meals—We love to take food to those who are experiencing life-changing events. Instead, have the food delivered to them. Then, use a video app to eat together while you share in their grief or their excitement.
  • Virtual Photo Albums—Simply going through digital photos to walk down memory lane and using the “share screen” function that many video apps have promotes the bonding and connectedness we desire.
  • Drive-By Parade—Gather some of your friends safely. In your own cars, parade in front of their home with signs of celebration. 
  • Gift-Giving Through Online Registry—Help loved ones set up online gift registries and purchase the gifts electronically. (Don’t assume everyone, such as your soon to be 70-year-old grandmother, knows how to set up an online registry.)
  • Electronic Greeting Cards—Find a ready-made one or design your own. You can send these directly to their smartphone. A sympathy card or one of celebration can offer timely words of encouragement. 
  • Prepare A Virtual Trivia Game Night—Create trivia facts centered around the person being celebrated (TriviaMaker is a good app).
  • Mail a Handwritten Letter or Card—There’s still something that makes me feel special when I receive a letter. Knowing that someone took the time to handwrite something themselves—everything about that says that I am important. Emails or texts can’t match the feeling of a handwritten letter.
  • Attend Events Virtually—Knowing that you took the time to attend an event, whether it’s a wedding, funeral, or party, tells your loved one that you won’t let social distancing stop you from sharing in their moment. 
    • Leave comments on their social media feed when appropriate. We know what it feels like to read our social media comments and feel the love and support of those who couldn’t be with us physically. It uplifts the spirit.
  • Call. But Use Video Calls As Often As Possible—Be available to listen. Allow those you love to vent, blow off steam and complain. You may not be needed to fix anything. Just being a listening ear goes a long way.
    • Note: When someone crosses your mind, call them then. Don’t waitI can’t tell you how many times someone has called me at the perfect time when I was dealing with something. And they often started with, “I was just thinking about you and thought I’d call to see how you were.”
  • Record And Electronically Deliver A Special Video Message—You may be providing a keepsake that your loved ones will treasure forever.

Encouraging, loving and supporting others does make us feel good. It uplifts us and helps us feel meaningful and full of purpose. Ultimately, we have to remember that it’s not about you—it’s about the person on the receiving end

A virtual meal or handwritten letter may not feel as satisfying to give right now. However, it can still help your loved one’s big life moments bring them the joy and peace they may need. That’s one of the special perks of having you in their life.

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Right now, there is a lot of stress, anxiety, and fear going around, and chances are, you’ve experienced it yourself. Whether you’re a parent trying to figure out a new routine with and for your kids, a professional working through the balancing act, a student running into the obstacles of social and academic pressures or all of the above, every person is facing their own challenges in their own way.

There are so many suggestions out there to try and help combat all of the overwhelming emotions: getting enough sleep, setting up a schedule for yourself and your family, eating healthy meals, staying active, talking with friends… The list goes on. But did you know that journaling is another great way to reduce stress and anxiety? And the research is here to back it up!

How Journaling Affects Our Minds

  • According to The University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, cope with depression, and improve your mood by helping you prioritize problems and track your symptoms so you can learn your triggers and control them.
  • Journaling can also enhance your sense of well-being, improve your working memory, and boost your mood.
  • Keeping a journal can help you keep an organized mind and can be helpful when processing information or making sense of trauma.

Okay, so now what? Sure, journaling is great, but it can be hard to get started. The key to making journaling a part of your routine is getting started! So grab an old notebook you’ve got lying around, and choose one, two, or more of the questions below to answer each day. If every day feels like too big of a commitment, start with just three times a week!

Writing Prompts

  1. What are 5 good things that happened today?
  2. What’s one thing you can do differently tomorrow to help it be a better day than today?
  3. What’s one adjustment you can make to your routine to help set up the day for success?
  4. What’s the main source of your stress or anxiety? Can you do anything about it?
  5. What are 10 things that make you happy right now?
  6. What are 3 things you can do daily to be a positive influence for others?
  7. How did/will you exercise your mind, body, and spirit today?
  8. What’s one thing that happened today that you’re still trying to process/understand?
  9. Did you feel anxious or worried today? When did it start? What caused the feeling?
  10. Who are two people in your life that mean a lot to you and why?
  11. What’s one thing that would have to change for you to feel completely satisfied?
  12. Is there anything that is consistently disturbing your inner peace?
  13. What do you not like to talk about? Why not?
  14. What is one thing you learned today?
  15. If you were completely free of fear, what would you be doing differently today?
  16. What’s one thing that you’re proud of yourself for?
  17. What decisions could you make today/tomorrow that could improve your mental, emotional, and/or physical health?
  18. What’s one habit that you would like to correct? What are some steps you can take toward correcting that habit?
  19. What are you most ashamed of right now? Why?
  20. What are 3 things that you did really well today?

Journaling is a great way to understand your thoughts, gain self-awareness, and process the world around you. And now is a great time to start!

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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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In the March issue of The Atlantic, David Brooks writes a provocative and compelling article about family. He thinks the nuclear family is a huge problem.

He summarizes the changes in family structure over the past century here: “We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life to smaller detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familiar system that liberates the rich and ravages the working class and the poor.”

Brooks lists many cons of the nuclear family. Among those are:

  1. The absence of extended family to function as a safety net during challenges
  2. The socializing force of having extended family close by
  3. Lack of resilience

On the surface, one might say that he is onto something. And he may well be. But is the nuclear family really the problem? Or is there something else at play?

Scott Stanley, a research professor at the University of Denver, questions whether the nuclear family is the real villain.

“Disconnection and isolation are his real targets,” writes Stanley. “To me, the nuclear family seems like a passenger along for the ride in a car leaving the scene of the crimes Brooks describes—when the car is driven by us. By us, I mean most of us, motivated for our desires for autonomy and freedom.” He continues, “A lot of the problems we see may be caused by what most people want—even if those things also have downsides for individuals and society.”

In another response, Kay Hymowitz and William E. Simon, Manhattan Institute Fellow, examined the past and found that scholars agree that the nuclear family household has been the “dominant form” in Western Europe and the U.S. since the industrial era. The anomaly was the extended family, not the nuclear family.

“As demographics changed, the dominant family form did not,” writes Hymowitz. “Rising life expectancy and falling fertility starting in the latter half of the 19th century meant more surviving grandparents available for smaller numbers of couple households. But the share of households with extended families stayed more or less the same. It seems that people preferred the privacy and independence of the nuclear form – despite all its disadvantages.”

Bottom line: Brooks seems to be espousing that for children and adults to really thrive, we need to bring back the extended family – related or not.

Brooks suggests plenty of examples of those who have moved from nuclear families to forged families. He gave Common, a real estate development company, as an example. Common operates more than 25 co-housing communities where young singles can live in separate sleeping spaces with shared communal areas.

But… does this really address the problem Brooks’ narrative highlights – disconnection and isolation?

Nothing legally binding keeps the people in these communities from coming and going. People move for various reasons – job transitions, marriage, divorce, etc., so it doesn’t seem to address the root problem.

In general, human beings are relational by nature and thrive on connectedness. Whatever our family form looks like, how do we create an intentional community in a society with a strong bent toward isolation?

Regardless of your situation, you can deliberately and persistently build a support system around you to create the safety net extended families might fill. Communities of faith often help to fill this void. Neighbors can also help create a safety net. Still, one has to be willing to establish and maintain relationships with those around them. School and work present opportunities for connection and networking to build your community, too.

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have vast social capital, but chances are pretty great that others around you don’t. As a part of a larger community, we all have some responsibility to help others connect and help people thrive.

For more family resources, click here.

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