Love in the time of COVID-19
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Written By Miranda Filamini - Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapy Associate
Recently I got the chance to chat (virtually) with Kathleen Brinch, owner of Shred415, a unique fitness studio known for its intense sweat sessions and positive sense of community. In addition to teaching killer fitness classes, Kathleen hosts “Mental Health Monday” talks, which are live discussions with local mental health professionals designed to answer community members’ burning questions about how to take care of their minds, emotions, and relationships. Kathleen is passionate about engaging Louisvillians in discussions about mental wellness, and I was so happy to be her guest last week.
For anyone who missed our talk, I compiled a few high notes from the Q&A portion to catch you up!
Question: Have you noticed any changes in what clients are wanting/needing to talk about in therapy in light of COVID-19 concerns?
I’m seeing people isolated in a way they have never been isolated before. For a lot of people, isolation is hard because it forces you to be alone with just your thoughts. Many of my clients are getting acquainted with true worry, sadness, and anger for what feels like the first time. The virus has eliminated many of the things we usually reach for to silence—or to at least muffle—that noise in our heads, from our small talk at the office to dinners out with friends, from hitting the gym to wasting time and money at Target. People are looking for help coping in new ways because they’re learning just how busy their minds are without these distractions.
If you feel like your mind is busier than usual or that your emotions feel a little more uncomfortable for you, I think it’s an excellent time to reach out to a mental health professional. Even with all the restrictions on gathering, therapists are working harder than ever right now to meet with clients using some great technology.
Question: My husband and I have been around each other nonstop for 3 weeks now. We’re used to going out to cool restaurants and hanging out with friends. Any tips on how to keep things fun and exciting while we’re stuck at home?
First, I’m begging you to put your phones, Netflix, and videogames away and tackle something interactive. Pull out those board games you got as Christmas gifts or get creative with other forms of play. The other night my husband proposed a game of capture the flag and even found a way to include our dog in the fun (she lost). I was shocked at how much I laughed and enjoyed my husband in a new light. A couple I counsel told me last week they are having nightly Rummy tournaments each night after the kids are in bed.
Next, I challenge you to recognize one new thing you didn’t notice or appreciate about your partner before and recognize him or her for it. This might sound like “Wow, I had no idea how fussy the kids get around 3pm and how well you handle them,” or “I didn’t know so many of your coworkers depended on you for advice throughout the day.” This will support a culture of appreciation that is crucial to keeping your relationship healthy and buffering the impact of those times when you’re inevitably going to argue.
Question: My in-laws don’t seem to understand “social distancing.” They are giving us a guilt-trip for not letting them visit with our daughter. How do we explain that it’s not personal?
You’ll hear me say this a lot in my practice—start with gratitude. This might sound something like, “It means a lot that you love our daughter so much and I can tell how hard it is to go weeks without seeing her.” Now you will need to state your boundary clearly. There’s an equation of sorts for this:
[Your feeling or need + what you need the other person to do or not do about it + what the outcome will be if they don’t follow through]. Sprinkle in a calm demeanor and a confident tone, and you have a healthy boundary:
“We need to keep our family healthy during this uncertain time. That includes you guys! We ask that you be patient and understand that we are not going to be visiting with any family or friends until we know it is safe to do so. If you keep bringing this issue up, we won’t respond to those texts.”
I also suggest you propose an alternative, such as setting up a time to FaceTime when they can read a bedtime story to your daughter. People are anxious right now, and they are hearing a lot about what they cannot do. Change it up and offer something they can do instead.
Question: How do I explain COVID-19 to my children? They’re already anxious
Honesty truly is the best policy. That said, it is crucial to keep explanations and answers in terms that are developmentally appropriate. Think about how you would explain a scary movie to your child. Depending on his or her age, you might give different layers of detail and use different vocabulary. You’re not going to use the word “pandemic” with your 5-year old any more than you’re going to provide them with a step by step recounting of that gruesome scene from the latest season of Ozark. You’re going to use references they already know—coughs, sneezes, doctors, medicine, responsibility.
More than anything kids want to know if they’re going to be okay, so I would suggest keeping much of your focus there. Let them know, ‘Here’s what Mom and Dad are doing to make sure our family stays healthy,” and cite real examples of changes in routine they might be questioning. Giving them tasks to help with can also help them feel included and lend a sense of understanding over what’s happening. Be vocal in encouraging handwashing, sanitizing, coughing into the elbow, giving people their personal space, etc.
Question: Quite frankly, my partner is getting on my nerves. It makes me anxious about retirement! What if we don’t get along?
You have to remember this current climate isn’t indicative of retirement, or of any other event you have faced or will face in the future. People aren’t relaxed—people are really tense. Try not to judge your partner right now. Practice patience, curiosity, and appreciation. I even wonder if some of the behaviors or traits that are annoying you are actually based in his anxieties about all these changes. I encourage you to ask him how he’s doing with all the uncertainty. You might learn something you didn’t know about his feelings and find some empathy where the irritation used to be.
Quote from the author: “I believe that the best path to happiness and fulfillment is through human connection. We are relational beings. We smile more and laugh harder when our relationships are full of trust, affection, and play. I am passionate about helping couples find and restore these elements in their day-to-day lives.” Learn more about her mental health services here.
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