Dr. Liza Sanderson
My name is Dr. Liza Sanderson with Expansive Horizons Counseling. I’d like to talk to you about strategies to maintain healthy individual and family practices during these historic times of the COVID-19 crisis. Many individuals and families have moved from working out of the home to working in the home alongside, spouses, significant others, and children. This is a large change and can be difficult to find balance. In order to strike a well-balanced home and work life it is necessary to establish clear and healthy boundaries.
The first topic we are going to highlight is working from home alongside your significant other. As business owners and therapists, my husband and I have worked alongside each other for many years. However, it has never been seated across the table or desk from each other with our children present as well. So this adjustment has been different and challenging. He might need to make a phone call while I am working on a report or participating on a conference call. To address issues such as this, the first boundary is to establish a work schedule. Work around each other to the greatest extent possible. Maybe from 2-4 you may be making phone calls and please do not disturb during this time and he may from 10-12. It is important to identify needed resources that maybe limited and find creative ways that allow both of you to utilize them. As you may not have dedicated work spaces such as multiple home offices, respecting each other’s space is very important for both parties to feel valued and important during this time. Along with structuring work schedules, structure regular office hours so you know when you are off work and it is time for family time. This boundary will not only assist you in maintaining a work-family balance, but it will also help your family members recognize when you are officially off work and available. Along with establishing regular office hours, don’t forget to maintain your self-care. I like to define self-care as enjoyable activities that are not associated with obligations or responsibilities. Self-care may include reading, doing a project, exercising, or spending time outdoors.
The second topic I want to discuss is one of the most important, and is healthy communication. When a conversation is necessary, I like to teach clients a 3 step process: (1) Begin communication with “I feel” followed by the feeling word that best describes how you are currently feeling. Feeling words such as “frustrated” or “sad” are a couple among many words to describe your emotions for this first part of the statement. (2) Follow the first part of the statement with “because…” This helps establish why you are feeling word you just stated. For example, “I feel sad because you have not scheduled any time with me today” is a description of why you are feeling the way you are feeling. (3) The last step is an “I need…”statement. What are you needing from your partner? “I feel sad because you have not scheduled any time with me today and I need you to schedule 20 minutes for us to decompress at the end of the day.” This three-part communication process helps you clearly communicate with your partner or family members.
The third boundary I want to discuss is related to parenting. Children are not only home from school throughout the day but we as parents are now responsible for assisting them in their education. Children need structure and routines with a mix of education, physical activity, and fun. It does not have to be extremely structured, but establishing a clear timeframe for each of these things is important. First and foremost make sure children feel loved, safe, and their basic needs are met. For educational needs, you don’t have to replace the school but need to assist in their education. For children ages 2-5, screen time should be limited to 1 hour daily and kids older than 6, should set consistent reasonable limits for daily screen time use. This is a great opportunity for family time—cook together, tell stories, build Legos, play outside, and learn hands on skills such as baking, building, and gardening. Have kids go outside and play when possible. Most importantly, it is okay for children to become bored – this assists in encouraging them to be creative about play. They can make blanket forts, play board games, or create new games – their options are only limited by imagination.
For some worry about the stress of the situation of isolation and the virus may be causing unwanted anxiety —money, kids education, and health concerns. Remember anxiety is not a feeling, but a reaction to worries about the future. Since we cannot control the future, try to stay present. During this time, have a balance between being productive and relaxation. Make a list of projects you would like to complete-crafts, cleaning, classwork, home improvement, learn a new language. Use social media, texting, video chat to make connections with friends and family. Spend time outside in the fresh air-go for walks, bike rides, work in the yard. For those with the weather not cooperating, get bundled up and get a few minutes of fresh air. When you are at home, listen, read, and watch uplifting music, books, and television. If you are experiencing anxiety about events in the news, take a break from the news and talk about how you are feeling with family members, friends or a therapist. If you are feeling suicidal or need further assistance, call 911.
Finally, for some, the isolation means they are alone. Reach out to those who are alone via facetime, phone, or drop something off. Human beings are meant to be connected. One of my favorite terms is limbic resonance. An example of this is if you strum a C chord on a piano in one corner and have a violin in the other corner, the C chord will also resonate on the violin. This connection is often resonated in human brains with our emotional response systems and is necessary for an individual to thrive. Even if we can’t be connected physically in our communities, we can continue to relate to each other through kindness, social media, and the human spirit. Although these are trying times, we as a whole can be better people and better communities if we utilize our strengths. This will end and blue skies are always on the horizon even in the scariest of times. Hang in there and we are all in this together.