Schools are closed. Restaurants are closed. Our workplaces have sent us home. We are not even allowed to go to our places of worship. We can use this time to our family’s advantage, filled with fond memories – or we can join the ranks of the complainers, and ensure it is a time we will want to forget.
Humans are hardwired to fall in love with the one person who sees the world from a completely different perspective than our own. That was fun when we were falling in love, and that person seemed like the most fascinating person in the world. But fast forward 8, 12, 18 or 28 years, and those differences that sparked passion may now be grating on your every nerve. The great news is that you have a choice. You can be irritated all the time (which undoubtedly makes you a miserable person to be around, and only exacerbates the irritability of the entire house), or you can choose to be grateful for the differences that make life interesting.
So instead of allowing those differences to “grate” on your nerves, be “grateful” you have your loved ones in your life. A heart full of gratitude that you do have family is much better than a heart filled with raw nerves.
Do you find yourself feeling really frustrated? With your family, or friends, or society, or even yourself? Then I have some really good news for you! You can get rid of your frustration by simply changing your expectations. I heard a very wise therapist say many years ago, that the secret to a life free of frustration was to simply lower your expectations. I put this formula to the test right away, and it worked like magic. We were preparing for a 13 hour car ride to bring our 4 year old and 3 month old sons from Dallas to Mississippi to spend time with my grandmother. Before understanding this formula, I would have spent the entire car ride expecting to be able to read a book or listen to a podcast, and being immensely frustrated by the chaos in the back seat. However, when I expected that I was going to spend 13 hours trying to calm a cranky baby and entertain a 4 year old, I found myself actually enjoying the ride and focusing on ways to calm the chaos rather than spiraling into a fit of frustration that helped absolutely no one.
As we hunker down for 2 weeks, or 6 months, of isolation to do our part in curbing the pandemic, remember to expect that: 1) your partner is going to annoy you; 2) your children are going to drive you crazy; 3) you are going to miss social time with your colleagues and friends, 4) you may be cut off from your support system, at least physically, and 5) you feel like you are going to be swallowed alive by laundry and dishes and a messy house and a schedule that’s been blown to smithereens. Guess what??? When your now lowered expectations are met, or exceeded, you’ll be filled with peace.
Choose Your Battles
Choosing your battles is an important life skill. When you are going to be stuck in the same location as a bunch of other human beings, now might not be the time to criticize and complain about everything they do. In fact, learning to breathe through many battles will mean you spend less time at war.
Does this mean you don’t address issues that need to be addressed? Absolutely not. But being able to discern between the real issues that need to be resolved, and all the things that are done but you simply wish you others would do better, is going to help you survive this period of uncertainty.
Later bedtime? As long as it’s reasonable and they get enough sleep, then sure. Homework done while listening to music? As long as the homework is accomplished and the music isn’t disturbing anyone else, then sure. Dishes not done every single day? Every other day is fine. Decide what issues are so important you’re willing to possibly burn a bridge over, and what aren’t.
You are going to be triggered. Triggers are our brain’s alert system that there is danger, and our hormones trigger our body to run or fight. It’s a great system when a bear is chasing you. It’s a terribly cumbersome system when we need to live in close quarters with one another. Not only will you get triggered, but your loved ones who witness you being triggered will then most likely become triggered themselves. Or they’re being triggered will trigger you.
What do you do? The first step is to be aware that you are triggered. When you feel your heartbeat a little faster, your stomach burn like its full of jalapenos, and you feel the urge to tense up and scream, recognize that: 1) a bear is not about to eat you, and 2) you are triggered. Now is not the time to try to solve problems, because your brain is shut off from problem solving. When you are triggered, you are likely to say some pretty unseemly (and probably regrettable) things to the people you love. Or even physically strike out in anger and frustration. Instead, take a deep breath, and put yourself in time out. You might even want to go for a walk. Exercise and deep, focused breathing help to release the stress hormones out of your body. This is a great lesson to model to your children to teach them how to manage their own frustration when they’re triggered.
When your body has returned to a relaxed state, it’s a great time to look for options to resolve the issue that triggered you in the first place. No one likes feeling like they don’t have options – not even a two-year-old. However, there are often different ways to look at the solution. In fact, when your brain is in a calm state, you’ll find it’s a great time to invite your partner who has a very different perspective to share in the problem-solving mission. By giving yourself, and your loved ones, the opportunity to brainstorm options (even ridiculous or silly options), you open your situation up to unique solutions that can make your life better. Try it.
Laugh Out Loud
One of the greatest gifts we can give our families is to not take ourselves so seriously. Being able to maintain a sense of humor helps put everybody at ease and helps to remind you to not sweat the small stuff. So, when you have an opportunity to laugh at yourself, invite others to join in. Just be careful about laughing at other people, at their expense. Find movies, comedy sketches, or games that make you and your family giggle.
One of the most important things we can do, during this time of family isolation, is to remember our own humanity and to see the humanity in others. When we connect with our own value, we are able to give love, kindness and compassion to our world, including the small world that is our home. While you may not be able to travel to the mountains or beaches in person right now, remember those places where you have felt connected to nature. Plan a virtual vacation with your family. While you may not be able to go to museums or applaud the performers on stage, remember those times when you have been in awe of something created by mankind. Find free online museum tours, national park tours, musician shows. Remember those you love, those who are alive and those who have passed on. Look at family photos of good times gone by, and talk about your favorite memories. Explore your mission and purpose in this world, and take time to expand your own horizons. How can you be of service right now, from where you are? Write letters to those in retirement communities, the military, patients and staff in the hospital. Stay in touch with someone who is sick, or lonely. Now is the time to make this investment in yourself and your loved ones, with your loved ones, which is truly an investment for the world.