Surviving a pandemic with family

Jocelyn Sandusky, Features Editor

A mandatory stay at home order might have sounded appealing to some at the beginning, but it has become clear that this unprecedented time in history is anything but a vacation. 

Not only has the severity of the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed people with concern and fear, but they also have to face the suffocating reality that comes with practicing social distancing and self-quarantine, which is staying at home with family. 

Not having the option to escape somewhere when tensions are already high can make someone feel trapped, but staying under the same roof 24/7 does not mean peace has to be replaced with anger and hostility. 

COVID-19 disrupted life as we know it. Slowly but surely, businesses, and in some cases, entire industries shut down, and government and health officials urged individuals to stay home, away from colleagues, peers and friends. It forced people to adapt to a new normal quickly and without warning. According to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) Joan Knowlden, people have had to grieve the loss of various aspects of their lives and the loss of control. 

One of the five stages of grief is anger, so it can make for a hostile living environment when everyone is upset, irritable and on top of each other at all times.

LMFT Janelle Goh suggested that instead of focusing on the negative and inconvenient aspects of the situation, families should unite and focus on the positives. 

“Maybe if we see it [the stay at home orders] as a way to unplug, re-prioritize our commitments, etc… it will not have such a strong negative impact,” she said. 

It is all about perspective. Surviving this new normal is contingent upon making peace with the reality of the situation. The sooner people realize that they do not have control of this aspect of their lives, the sooner they can focus on taking care of themselves.

Creating a self-care routine during this time is essential. Many mental health professionals suggest sticking to a schedule. It can help ease the stress and fear of the unknown because it creates structure and shifts the focus onto the tasks at hand. 

Knowlden suggested sticking to a familiar schedule.

“The best way to keep from feeling overwhelmed is keeping to your regular schedule–stay as close as you can to your regular sleep schedule, get dressed every day…, eat your meals at a table–outdoors if [it’s] nice. Regularity amidst chaos calms the nerves,” she said. 

According to Goh, it is simple. If people take care of themselves accordingly, then they can enter a headspace where they’re willing and ready to respect family members to create a civil home environment.

“The best way to respect each other is to take care of ourselves and be in touch with how we are feeling, then we can be more in touch with others,” she said.

But disagreements are still bound to happen. It is best to address any suppressed feelings or emotions as a family to avoid any unnecessary contention later on. 

According to Knowlden, “One of the best ways to handle issues is to have a family meeting. There are rules to a family meeting to keep it a sanctuary. First, the meeting is not a place for discipline. This is to be done at another time. Second, the leader of the meeting rotates. Each member gets to lead the meeting, regardless of age… Third, the meeting can’t be longer than three minutes per person… And fourth, most important of all, no shaming, but end with a positive word from each member.”

In regards to addressing issues of concern that existed before the pandemic, it’s a mixed bag. Goh does not think it is the time to bring up other problems and instead suggests focusing on the bigger picture. Knowlden, on the other hand, thinks addressing deeper issues can work, but only if families follow the correct family meeting format.

If someone still feels attacked by a family member, Goh suggests, “Realizing that this situation is temporary [and] tough for all of us… not responding back with anger will diffuse the situation more effectively than if we escalate it to the next level.”

Goh and Knowlden suggested techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and exercise as ways to calm down to avoid lashing out. 

It is a stressful and unnerving time, taking time and space is essential in being able to engage with others. While some families may strengthen their bond during this time by setting up creative activities such as baking, scrapbooking, drawing, gardening and playing games, some individuals might need to step away to focus on their sanity.

Goh said this is understandable. 

“Taking breaks helps, [let] people know you love them, but [needing] a break is ok,” Goh said.