At this point, there is no doubt in our minds that we will never be the same as a society after this pandemic. There are aspects of our way of life that have abruptly stopped. We are learning to live without certain things, and we are discovering we didn’t really need them in the first place (e.g., activities every night of the week, daily trips to the grocery store, purchasing clothing at boutiques, or getting our nails done). There are other things that we are desperately missing and can’t wait to get back to (e.g., haircuts and color, massage therapy, and great restaurant meals). As a mental health therapist, my job involves considering how a pandemic like this could impact the mental and emotional health of individuals. A large concern of mine is in regard to the way that we are changing relationally as we are in isolation socially.
During the stay-at-home order, many people notice that they are enjoying more leisure time, getting out in nature, and spending quality time with the people they love. The flip side of this is that having this kind of time, either in isolation or within painful relationships, could cause a shift in the way that we relate to others when all of this is over. Our human tendency is to either get more anxious/desperate or more angry/avoidant in terms of how we interact with our family and friends. If unhealthy connection occurs in our relationships during this time, we could learn habits that will cause us painful disconnection relationally over the long term.
I would like to discuss in this blog series the importance of and ideas for how to stay interpersonally connected in life-giving ways during this pandemic. I truly believe that we can be better and stronger as a result of having this quarantined time. If we can find a way to view the lockdown as a gift, we can focus on changing ourselves and investing in our relationships in a way that bring life and positive energy to ourselves, our homes, and our loved ones.
Let me begin by talking about belonging. The feeling of belonging that is created through connection to another human is the most important part of being human. In my past blog series on the Beauty of Belonging, I discussed what it means to belong to yourself, others, and God. In this series, I will discuss connections in marriage, parenting, and family, as well as connection in friendships/community.
A colleague of mine mentioned to me recently that there is an expectation that divorce will be at an all time high as a result of the pandemic. Marriages are suffering because of this. If there was even a hint of strife in your marriage before all of this, the stay-at-home order is likely amplifying it. If you had already felt disconnected from your spouse, you may feel that even more acutely as you are in the same home, yet not talking or experiencing quality connections.
Parenting is super complicated right now, too. Whether you are parenting an infant, toddler, elementary-aged child, adolescent, or young adult, there are various challenges presented in each scenario. Parents are now required to not only parent but also educate their children. Many parents never expected to find themselves in this position and are overwhelmed by this task. If you are a working parent, this may be causing severe complication to your ability to provide for your family. This kind of stress is vast, and the strain on your parent/child relationship takes a toll on building love and trust between you, which are two of the main ingredients for healthy connection.
Children, no matter the age, are taking in the pandemic experience in a variety of ways. It’s hard for adults to understand what is happening, so explaining this to a child in a way that he or she can understand presents a unique complication. Children and adolescents were already spending too much time with technology. Parent/child relationships were already strained, complicated, and confusing in the 21st century. If your children are experiencing negative emotions such as fear or sadness, you may be concerned that they will develop long-term issues with anxiety or depression as a result of the pandemic’s uncertain ending.
Families who are accustomed to seeing grandparents on a regular basis, or familiar with planning trips out of town to visit family members, are feeling the acute disconnection that the pandemic is causing. We are thankful that technology allows us to connect visually and verbally in real-time. However, it’s not the same as being in-person with loved ones and feeling the freedom to show physical affection, share meals together, and have togetherness that we all crave.
Those who are single or alone in their homes are experiencing the pandemic in ways that otherscan’t even imagine. Is it better to be frustrated and confused by “too much” together time than be stuck inside by yourself without connection to another human being. Those who find themselves alone during this time may experience an increase in depression and anxiety symptoms. Thoughts of the past or fears of the future may crowd into your mind. There is no doubt that this is very overwhelming. As therapists, we at the Center for Family Transformation (CFT) want to help.
It is proven that joyful connection in relationships provides deeper and more lasting satisfaction than any other things, substances or experiences we can have. Addiction, mental illness, relational struggles, depression, and anxiety can all be treated most effectively by healthy connection and belonging in relationships.
On that topic, I would like to provide some initials tips for adjusting to the pandemic in terms of healthy connection. In later posts, I will go into much more detail in terms of how to create these connections in marriage, with children, and in families, as well as with friendships and in your community.
To get started, think or journal about the following concepts:
- What do I want out of my relationships? What is getting in the way of this?
- What do those around me want to experience with me? Am I able and willing to provide this for them?
- How can I communicate what I want in healthy ways?
- What are some creative ways I can implement these desires?
Stay tuned for my next blog post when I will discuss more ideas for changing the confusion, concern, and chaos in your relationships to life-giving connections. This will hopefully offer deeper meaning and purpose to your experience during the 2020 pandemic.