We find ourselves in strange times, in which we are experiencing something that very few of us have ever experienced. It struck me recently the unusualness of our current situation when our neighbour in their mid seventies stated that she has never seen anything like this before.
It has been a very difficult time for many, in different ways from finances, work, relationships, uncertainty about our futures etc. People with their usually busy lives in which they can go about their business are now housebound and not able to do the things they once took for granted.
However, in the midst of not being able to do all the things we once used to do, how do we redefine our lives when it has changed so radically?
There is a Chinese proverb: “In the midst of crisis comes opportunity.” How many times are there things in our lives when we say the following catch phrases “If only I had more time, I would …..!, One day I will., When we have time we will….”. But that time never seems to emerge.
Often we put off spending more time with our families or loved ones, hoping that one day we will fix or improve those relationships, or engage in those bonding activities. But it never seems to happen because of not having time!
In our current circumstances we suddenly have more time by not having to travel to work or activities that we once used to, but have an abundance of time with our loved ones, or those we live with. Often this abundance of time amplifies the stressors or problems that have existed, but were never addressed, but are now becoming more evident and can drive us to despair due to more conflict, resentment etc., in addition to our current predicament.
Abundance is a great amplifier. You can see this in many places, such as 44% of lottery winners will go on to lose their fortune within 5 years. It was not that having the money was the problem, but that they may have had poor money management skills prior, that have become more evident with a large fortune.
So too is having more time. We can squander it through neglect or doing what we have always done, or invest it wisely in the important things in our lives that could pay dividends in ours and those around us with joy and satisfaction.
These things could be spending more quality time with our partners, children, housemates, health or certain activities we have wanted to research or experiment with (within our constraints of lockdown off course).
So what could we do with our newly acquired excess of time, that could potentially enrich our lives? One way is by investing in our relationships, which could also help to mitigate the impact on our mental health.
- Apportion the time we normally would have in travelling or going to certain places such as work and convert it to quality time at home to enrich a relationship or doing an activity that gives meaning (exercise with family, doing something fun or meaningful such as play or activities, or an appreciative act towards your partner/family/friend – preparing a special breakfast etc).
- This time can also be used for reflecting on the more difficult issues in our lives that we would like to work towards.
Acknowledging and developing a strategy:
- Try to have a meaningful conversation about underlying problems or difficulties with a partner or family member, and work towards remedying the difficulty. It may be a difficult conversation as we may not find the right time or our busy lives aren’t conducive to having the conversation, and it is uncomfortable. But this will take self reflection on how we have previously communicated and it’s effectiveness, where we need to look at how both parties interact on “hot topics”, but there are strategies that you can explore while you have the time.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What are our “hot topics” (topics that create a strong emotional reaction from either party – e.g. anger, pulling away, avoidance, sadness etc.)?
- How have we usually discussed it? (Yelling, name calling, avoiding it, accusing or blaming the other person, guilt trips, aggression).
- Has it been effective? (Did things really change? Was it for the better? Did it make it worse – e.g. did we drift further apart?
- When we have had effective conversations how did that work? (Asking more questions and listening to their answer, timing, acknowledging their feelings etc).
- What areas do I/we need to develop to meet each other’s needs and do it better (managing anger, listening skills, compassion etc)
What can you do when it doesn’t work or identify a deficit?
- Draw a timeline of an unsuccessful conversation and where it starts to fall apart.
- Do your research on those areas where it falls apart – e.g. managing anger, active listening etc. There is lots of information in books, the web or professionals.
- Discuss your observation with the person, and listen to their perspective as to what they think the discussion falls apart, but do not raise the topic at this point, it should be more focused on improving the interaction. Use “I” statements rather than accusations and fault finding.
- See if you can use an agreement to avoid the maladaptive strategies and preface it with the intent of improving your relationship and working out the issue for a win/win solution.
- If these strategies have not helped it may be time to seek professional help – i.e. counsellor/psychologists.
We may not have much control over what has happened with COVID-19 and how it has impacted our lives, but this may be the opportunity you have been waiting for to invest in your relationships with partners, children, families, housemates or friends. Who knows, this small investment in time and effort may yield future dividends in better quality relationships, as relationships have been shown to be integral to our mental wellbeing. So why not take the opportunity, what have you got to lose but time.
By Amit Pearce, Clinical Psychologist