Cabin fever. Some feel it more than others.
And with cabin fever comes conflict, the result of being cooped up with your family nearly 24/7.
There’s no question the Covid-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges to our relationships. That's why, in between balancing work, financial strain and/ or childcare demands, protecting space for family bonding is vital to maintaining healthy relationships.
While our workdays are full of conference calls and our children’s school days are packed with Zoom classes, we need to create special moments: time dedicated to focusing on our partners and children without the demands of deadlines.
- Scrapbook. I recommend starting a picture book to record this historic time in our lives. Though it is fearsome and uncertain, it doesn’t have to overwhelm us. You can reframe this period by taking photographs and documenting each day in the life of the COVID-19 experience. This can be a way to journal your worried feelings, but also a way to write about gratitude for the things you do have. Your children can contribute by taking pictures of each other, writing their own notes, and everyone can contribute to this book in a joint effort. Best of all, it is a historical piece you can share many years later with family.
- Play board games and work on puzzles. These team activities can bring out your competitive spirit (board games) and enable you to work together as a family to complete a challenge (puzzles). You can play a deck of card games as well to relax. It gives you a chance to be silly and talk about lighter things. It’s nice to do anything that brings the family together.
- Cook together. Trying a new recipe can be a lot of fun for the whole family. The adults or older children can research ideas, and the younger children can help with meal prep. Get creative and find unique ways to use the ingredients you have in your pantry.
- Get artsy. Art and drawing can be excellent ways to de-stress, especially for children. Art is a way to channel creativity -- and is a nice break from screens. A lot of families are playing with sidewalk chalk now to lift up people’s spirits when they are out on walks.
- Exercise together. Go on a bike ride, find a new walking path or hike. These activities foster family togetherness while giving everyone a dose of fresh air and Vitamin D, both of which are essential to brightening our moods. Just remember to practice social distancing guidelines, so aim for less crowded parks and avoid playground equipment.
Enjoying Your Partner
It’s also important for partners to set aside time to connect with each other: We’re seeing news reports from China that the divorce rate is increasing as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
At work, you would be hesitant to use harsh language with a co-worker. At home, however, there is a sense that filters can be lifted, and anything goes. While one should feel comfortable enough to be able to express oneself, be particularly mindful with words and tone. Take this time to actively soften the approach you take with your partner and use kinder ways of expression.
In addition, you may not be accustomed to spending this time much time with your partner, and it is inevitable you might notice things you don’t like. Remember that stress can make us rise to the occasion, but it can bring out the worst in us too. When your partner becomes a snapping turtle, take a deep breath and gear yourself towards a balanced approach. Make a conscious effort to recognize there are also good times that you enjoy with your partner too and this time will pass.
Intimacy can be difficult when routines are disrupted. To keep the spark alive, consider having a date on the front lawn by bringing out a sheet, dinner and candles – or transform your kitchen counter into a private table for two, with a simple meal or takeout from a neighborhood restaurant. Switch out of loungewear and dress up!
Or once the children are tucked in bed, pop some popcorn and watch a movie or binge watch a television series.
Go back to simpler methods of courtship. They will work the same as they did 100 years ago -- and might bring you closer because you are tapping into a connectedness that comes with no other expectation than to just be closer.
How do you do that?
Partners can cook together, leave each other hand written love notes in the home, and find ways to be intimate, whether by sharing a hug, a shower or a massage.
However you decide to keep the spark alive, remember that date night doesn’t mean you have to literally leave the house, and keeping intimacy a part of a conscious activity during this stressful time can boost your relationship and your mental health.
Respect Each Other
Realize that you, your partner and your children likely have different coping styles for dealing with stress and uncertainty, and that everyone may have different perspective on how to handle the covid-19 precautions.
One person may be overly cautious, and another may be pushing the other direction by taking a laid-back approach. Understand that the person being overly cautious is probably feeling helpless and may need reassurance and collaboration from the family. Also know that a person who seems not to take the threat seriously may be compensating for the reactivity of others and may need to project themselves as the one to keep the calm, though they may feel just as worried.
Try to honor those feelings even if you don’t agree with the way it plays out in actions. Instead, find ways to understand the facts about how the virus spreads and explore how you can meet in the middle.
And remember the most important ingredient to healthy relationships: communication. Listen, share your feelings and be patient. Working together, you and your family will get through this.
Humaira Siddiqi, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. She sees patients at the Kaiser Permanente Burke Medical Center. Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, P.C. (Permanente) is our network of over 1,500 physicians who practice in our medical centers located in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia.