Stress and Relationships

As of November 2020, it has been eight months since a global pandemic forced our nation to shut down, altering our lives in unforeseen ways. Jobs, education, sports, religious attendance, shopping, and social get-togethers have been halted or shifted to accommodate social distancing, a phrase we have all come to know very well. Change of any kind creates stress in our minds, bodies, and homes that affect the way we interact with each other.


Stress types during COVID-19

This stress comes in two forms: spillover and crossover. Spillover happens when external demands or financial burdens spill over into a person’s other areas of life (1). We see this in our families when people experience financial or work stress, and they become too overwhelmed to be compassionate to their family’s needs. Crossover stress is experienced when the stress of one family member increases the stress levels of another family member (1). An example of this is when a teenager is frustrated from not being able to spend time with his peers, so he takes out his frustration toward other people in the home, causing parents’ and siblings’ stress levels to rise.


Managing the mayhem

Learning to manage stress and regulate emotions are important parts of promoting domestic peace. Whether you live with a roommate, spouse, family, or young adult, it’s important to know when your emotions are interfering with how you interact with others. Your ability to stay anchored and present while interacting with others is connected to your brain’s relational circuitry (2). It’s like having a switch in your brain that turns on and off, allowing you to stay joyful in relationships when it’s on or shut down and frustrated when it’s off (2). 


Taking time out to calm down and return to joy is an important part of turning your relational circuits back on. Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to a song, go for a walk, take a bath, practice deep breathing/mindfulness, or spend time praying. It can be difficult to identify when your relational circuits are off. The following behaviors are usually present when your relational circuits are off. One can remember this using the acronym CAKE (2): 


  • You lose all Curiosity about the other person. You don’t care how they think or feel. You create a narrative of how she/he always acts.
  • You aren’t able to feel Appreciation.
  • You aren’t able to be Kind.
  • You stop making Eye contact.



If you have found yourself losing your cool more frequently because of the added stress from 2020, you are not the only one. Forced togetherness at home can feel overwhelming while managing external stress. Be kind to yourself and take the time to learn the rhythms that turn your relational circuits back. If you have a difficult time doing this on your own, there are many professional counselors ready to help you learn the needed skills. 




  1. Liu, Cindy PhD, Doan, Stacey N. PhD. (Published May 28, 2020). “Psychosocial Stress Contagion in Children and Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic” Sage Journals. Retrieved from


  1. Warner, Marcus & Coursey, Chris. (2019). The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages: How 15 Minutes a Day Will Help You Stay in Love. Northfield Publishing: Chicago, IL.



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