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We are now weeks into Coronavirus social distancing. That’s just long enough for everybody to get some extra shuteye and accomplish some things around the house. And it’s long enough for everyone to admit they’re 100 percent ready for this to be over.

Even the couples and families who usually get along just fine are reaching their tolerance limit. Because let’s face it: being around each other 24/7 is hard.

A lot of positives can come from having what feels like someone ripping the rug from underneath us. Yet at the same time, we’re going to have to be on our guard for how social distancing has the potential to negatively impact our relationships in at least five ways:

If youre an introvert who married an extrovert.

You, the introvert, are probably livin’ the dream. You may think you just died and went to heaven, being forced to hole up in your house until further notice. Meanwhile, your extroverted spouse feels like they’ve been sentenced to the ultimate punishment—not being around others (which is what energizes them). That face-to-face human interaction is their lifeline. We all know that opposites attract, but this may be a moment when you aren’t feelin’ the love quite so much.   

The amount of time everybody now has on their hands as a result of social distancing could also negatively impact the relationships in your home.

Some children and adults who usually have a packed schedule are suddenly trying to figure out what to do with themselves. This right here will test the best of families when it comes to patience, adaptability and willingness to take it one day at a time.

Expectations of how things will go in the coming weeks is a thing, for real.

If spouses aren’t on the same page about social distancing, finances, family schedules, help with household chores and such, it can create a lot of angst—not only between the two of you, but in your family relationships as a whole. 

No matter how much space you have in your home, so much togetherness can make it feel claustrophobic.

Differences become magnified, too. What seemed like “not a big deal” before manages to get on your last nerve. 

Spending so much time and energy on the relationships in your home that you don’t have time to connect with relationships outside your home.

Unfortunately, this can make you resent the people in your home. 

So how can you counter these potential toxins in your relationships caused by social distancing?

Ask Some Questions

A great place to start might be to ask some questions such as: What does my spouse need? What do I need? What do my family members need? This could actually be a conversation between you and your spouse and/or your children. The goal would be for everybody to understand that each person probably sees this COVID-19 experience from a different perspective. All your introverted family members may be hyped up about being closed off from the rest of the world. They’re probably struggling to understand their extroverted family members who are feeling the significant loss of being physically around others. Seeking to understand each other’s perspective can go a long way toward creating a calm and peaceful home.

Talk About It and Make Some Decisions

When it comes to time, it may be helpful to talk about how frustrating all of this is. Then make some decisions as a couple or family about how you’ll actively plan to deal with it. I know in my home, we constantly talk about how if we had more time we’d do this or that project. My husband actually started painting a room we’ve said we needed to paint for forever. I’ve been going through photos from two decades ago in preparation for our daughter’s wedding that might not go as planned. 

If your children say they’re bored, it might be good to make a list together of things they can do—both fun and the helpful things—like spring cleaning. Some family members might want to start a new hobby like reading, an exercise plan, baking bread or learning how to play new games like checkers or chess. This could be the perfect time to go through those fall/winter clothes. Or purge the garage in hopes of having a yard sale sometime in the future or donating to charity. 

This break is also an opportunity to realize that it’s really ok to be bored and do absolutely nothing sometimes. If schedules are usually so full that you throw rest out the window, don’t feel pressured to fill all the time with activity. Give yourself and others in your home time to do absolutely nothing. (And be willing to overlook things that get on your nerves from time to time.)

Creatively Connect

Now’s a great time to connect with extended family members and friends by phone call, text, video chat or a letter. It’s also a chance to help others out from a distance by helping them place a grocery order or making sure they’ve got what they need during this time. Older people who live alone would probably really appreciate hearing from you. (The extroverts in your home will probably be all-in on making those connections.)

When it comes to expectations, getting creative about things could save the day. Instead of one person doing all the cooking, you can have a cooking competition with what you have on hand. Each family member could be responsible for creating a menu and either preparing or helping to prepare the meal. Divvy up the chores that need to be done. Have a poetry contest. Put “dress-up” or theme days on the family calendar. Try to make things FUN. Focus on the positives. For example, every time you think a negative thought about your situation, think of something positive related to it.

One last thought. Many of us, including our children, have questions. How long this will last? Are we going to have enough money? What happens if one of us gets sick? And the list goes on. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I can tell you this: You’re not alone and I’m rooting for you—and for all of us—to come out stronger.

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“Am I happy?” Some questions have their answer firmly embedded in them. It’s kinda like, Well, if you even have to ask… This can be super convenient if we don’t stumble over the simplicity of it, but sometimes the most obvious things in life are the ones we miss.

When I’ve been happy, I don’t ask myself if I’m happy- I’m busy just enjoying being happy. If I’ve had to pause and ask myself if I’m happy, if that question has somehow bubbled up to the surface, if it continually pops up in my quieter moments, well, if you even have to ask…

I don’t even know how to define “happy.” You’ve never wondered if you were happy and reached for a dictionary. You’ve got your own lived definition. I think the best I can do is that, for me, it typically is the absence of other negative feelings- it’s when I don’t feel anxious, stressed, sad, angry, lonely, bitter, or jealous.

That’s actually a huge disservice to happiness. (Sorry, but as I said, when I’m happy, I don’t think about being happy.) How do you define it? Like most people, I kinda know it when I feel it. But I really know it when I don’t.

Oddly enough, we’ve formally studied depression, anger, loneliness – basically, the absence of happiness – for centuries. Plot twist! It has been relatively recently, only in the past couple of decades, that we have turned a scientific eye toward studying happiness itself. Turns out that happiness isn’t just the absence of other, negative feelings, but happiness actually is a thing in and of itself! Best of all – happiness is a HABIT!

If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, you know the power that habits can have over us. But that power can also be used for GOOD! Below are some research-tested ways to make a habit out of happiness.

Cultivate the habits of…

  • Sleeping Well. Most adults need between 7-8 hours. (I know, I laughed, too.) We are so busy, we believe we can’t afford to get 7-8 hours of sleep. The reality is that sleeping is when our brain does important stuff and we can’t afford to NOT get good sleep.
  • Eating Right. This can be a tough one because eating is one of many people’s Unhappy Coping Mechanisms. Remember, we are a walking chemistry set. Our brains need GOOD food to help it make Happy Chemicals. Junk food makes us feel good for a bit but then we crash. Go with complex carbs like veggies, beans, and whole grains. Foods high in protein boost our dopamine and norepinephrine levels and give us energy, help us concentrate, and help us feel happy. Highly-processed foods, deep-fried foods, and especially skipping meals, make us feel blue.
  • Being Grateful. A two-part study showed that taking time to quiet yourself each day and rehearse just five things you are grateful for will boost the Happy Chemicals in your brain.
  • Helping Others. Another study of happiness showed that helping someone else feels good! More Happy Chemicals! (And it helps us from fixating on our own problems for a bit.)
  • Exercising. Don’t let this one intimidate you! According to research, it can be as simple as a walk around the block during your lunch break or after dinner. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and many symptoms of depression.
  • Getting Outside. You can combine this with exercise or literally just sit outside a while. Fresh air, sunlight, and getting into nature have all been shown to boost our Happy Chemicals.
  • Acknowledging Unhappiness. Nobody expects you to plaster a big fake stupid grin on your face when you find out that you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. There is a big difference between acknowledging an unhappy feeling and choosing to camp out thereChoose to lean into Life’s setbacks and turn them into motivation for something positive.
  • Calling in the Professionals. You’ve just read a lot about Happy Chemicals in your brain. One happiness researcher claims that happiness can be up to 50% genetic. If you are cultivating happy habits but still not feeling it, that might be a signal to call in the pros. Talk to your doctor about your overall health and don’t be afraid to set up a counseling appointment to explore other approaches.

Happiness isn’t just something that happens to some people and it is way more than just the absence of negative feelings. Happiness is a habit, one you can start TODAY! Am I happy? Glad you asked!

Image from Pexels.com

I had this idea. A fun, whimsical baking sesh with my uber-helpful daughter, Jackie, baking a beautiful, homemade, delicious, vegan Frozen-themed cake for her 4th birthday party. I was determined to make it happen. I was going for “super mom” status as I prepared for a small family get together that became an elaborate Frozen-themed birthday extravaganza. I’d already sent out the FB event invite. This was Jackie’s “un-FOUR-gettable” birthday. It was too late. I had to make it unforgettable. 

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I remember when I was in the awkward teen stage of life. It was so difficult to navigate my way through high school. Unfortunately, the internal criticism didn’t stop when I turned 18; it followed me into adulthood.

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The YMCAs and Planet Fitnesses in town and all the other gyms are packed full this week with all those that made New Year’s resolutions to lose some pounds, to better their physiques, and to get more healthy. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Did you set some goals for 2020? I hope they weren’t all about diet and exercise! Did you make some Relationship Resolutions for 2020?

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Perhaps you’ve seen the story on social media about a couple who fled their war-torn village in Sudan in 2012 trying to get to refugee camps in Africa. While fleeing, Dyan and Alik became separated, and evidence of their marriage was destroyed.

Alik was processed into the camp as a single mom. Dyan was processed as a single man, making him a very unlikely candidate for resettlement in the United States.

Alik arrived in Fort Worth, Texas with her two children and their third child on the way, not knowing if she would ever see her husband again.

Enter Molly and Mary Claire, two moms who were looking for a way for their families to serve others. These two families were paired with Alik and her children. As they developed a relationship with Alik, she shared with them about her husband being stuck in a refugee camp in Egypt.

When Alik spoke with her caseworker about what she could do to get her husband to the States, the caseworker gave her very little hope. Molly and Mary Claire spoke with immigration attorneys, members of Congress, and anybody else they thought might be able to help them in their relentless pursuit to reunite this family. They also were told time and again it would be a real miracle for Dyan to join them.

After four long years, and reams of paperwork, Dyan was reunited with his family. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth searching for and watching.

As you enter into this new year and new decade, perhaps you are dealing with a situation that seems hopeless – unemployment with no possibilities on the horizon, a persistent illness, marital strife or a family member dealing with addiction. Sometimes it’s hard not to give up hope. If you find yourself in this space, here are some suggestions to help you keep going.

  • Find a community to engage with. It is likely that while both Dyan and Alik kept hope in their heart, there were probably plenty of days when they thought their efforts were futile. Their friends helped them keep going.
  • Be aware of your own self-talk. Negative thoughts will almost certainly lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset” points out, self-talk is very powerful. Statements such as, “It hasn’t happened yet, I will eventually find a way,” “This is temporary,” and “Even in the midst of the storm, I am learning,” are very different than giving up hope.
  • Do something. Maybe you aren’t able to do what you planned, but you can do something else while you wait. Alik did not stop living her life while she was pursuing getting Dyan to the States. While she may have begun to doubt she would ever see her husband again, she made friends with Molly and Mary Claire, cared for her children and participated in activities.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” So often people decide to throw in the towel just before things start to turn around.
  • Phone a friend. Sometimes it helps to talk with someone.
  • Volunteer. Using your skills to help others while you are in the midst of waiting will help you feel better about yourself and your situation. You never know who you might meet while volunteering, and you might be able to encourage someone else. Or, you might work alongside someone who can help you with your current circumstance. Either way, it’s a win.

Desmund Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” It’s a new year and a new decade. If you are still on this earth, you can still have hope.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 4, 2020.

Image from Unsplash.com

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Let’s be real, there aren’t too many people in this world that would choose to actually be lonely. We as human beings thrive off our interactions and connections with other people. We are usually our best selves when we have people who care about us in our lives.

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