Relationships During Quarantine

We play this fun game during quarantine, it’s called “Why Are You Doing It That Way?” and there are no winners.  

Relationships can be hard in any circumstance, but the current quarantine can make relationships with our loved ones more challenging. Most of us have acknowledged the dramatic change in our daily routine, but we may not have considered how our relationship has also lost its routine. Just like an individual, a relationship benefits from routine and care. It needs to be given attention and can benefit from structure. A relationship needs to be heard and it might make itself increasingly known until it gets your attention.    

The quarantine has had a major impact on our relationships. Some of us are experiencing a massive increase in the amount of time we spend with our partners, children, or siblings. Others are experiencing a painful separation from loved ones or managing a romantic relationship at a distance. When at a distance, relationships can benefit from stepping up your game. It is important to actively stay in touch in order to maintain your sense of connection. It is also helpful to be creative and possibly introduce new routines in these relationships, such as video chats or screen sharing movies. In contrast, some relationships have become a 24-hour affair in a shared  household.  

One of the most helpful things we can do is to simply acknowledge that our relationship has lost its routine. Consider your relationship with your partner or spouse, children, or siblings. Take a moment to pause and bring to mind a few major ways that your relationship has been impacted. Have you spent more time actively engaged in the relationship or avoiding your partner or other family members? Have you noticed things you never realized? Do you find yourself more reactive to others or more judgmental? Are you increasingly short on patience? If so, you are most certainly not alone.  

One of the biggest parts of our relationship routine that has likely been lost for many people is personal time. Having personal time allows us to focus on ourselves so that we can give more to our relationships. When we lose this time to ourselves, we set up a competition between our relationship needs and our own personal needs. In this regard, it is helpful to think of your relationship as a person or individual. You cannot simultaneously meet all of your needs and the needs of others. Therefore, it is essential to find time away from others so that you can show up for your relationship. Take a walk or drive by yourself, listen to music or a book with headphones, find a space in your home where you can be alone to read. Start a project that is exclusively yours. Opportunities to meet our own needs were inherently part of our old routine and we must meet our personal needs if we want to continue to meet the needs of our relationship.

5 Tips for relationships during quarantine 

Ask yourself, “what it is like to be with you?”  Focusing some attention on how other people are experiencing you can help you take a step back and be more intentional about how you approach interactions with others. It can also help increase empathy and understanding in your relationships.  

Me time. Don’t feel obligated to spend more time together than usual. Although it is likely a great opportunity to share more time with your loved ones, it is also okay to ask for space, and this will more likely make the time you spend together more meaningful and enjoyable for everyone.  

Avoid mind reading. Communication is key to making a relationship work and a cornerstone for healthy relationships. One common problem in relationships involves a lack of communication combined with attempts at mindreading. It is normal to try and understand things by filling in the blanks, but we can quickly get into a negative mindset when we make assumptions about others. Instead, try assuming that you can only get what you ask for and that your partner or loved one only knows what you clearly communicate.  

“I” Messages. Another strategy that can be helpful for communication includes using first person language or “I messages,” such as “I feel ______, when you______.” Rather than simply accusing, this communicates your feelings and provides information that the other person can use to change their behavior. It is also helpful to avoid judgmental words or global labels such as “childish,” “stupid,” or “selfish.” Focus on describing your feelings and providing a clear statement about the situation. It can also be helpful to share what you appreciate about the other person when providing feedback.

Collecting annoyances. Be mindful of your self-talk around little annoyances and don’t let little things build up. Often without notice, we can begin to collect annoyances and build an internal experience of another person that is colored with irritation and negative judgements. Our self-talk can become increasingly centered around these annoyances and the assumed poor judgement or lack of caring of the other party. As these annoyances build and as we repeatedly find confirmation of our annoyances, it becomes difficult to continue positive and supportive relationships. We may also begin to harbor resentment – a well established relationship red flag. When we do manage to contain our annoyances and avoid acting out towards others, the annoyances get back at us and we can end up turning against ourselves, becoming increasingly self-critical or depressed. Notice where your attention is and how often you find yourself feeling annoyed by your partner or another family member. When you catch yourself feeling annoyed, take a minute to step back and recall the bigger picture. What are you telling yourself?  Are you building up a collection of annoyances without realizing? Are you able to let this annoyance go? If you can, connect with feelings of compassion, understanding, and acceptance as well as your sense of caring for your partner or other family members. 

Express appreciation and give compliments. Try complimenting your partner or loves ones three times this week and see if you notice any differences in your relationships. This simple act can shift the communication away from noticing an annoyance and generate positive feelings. It can also provide a needed boost to your partner or loved ones and shows that you are noticing and caring about them. It might even change the atmosphere in your home as you begin to pay more attention to the things you appreciate in those you care most about.  

Relationships are both challenging and essential to our well-being. In many ways, this might be most apparent to us now as we face both separation or the near constant presence of loved ones. Therapists dating back to Freud have reflected on the philosopher Schopenhauer’s porcupine fable to describe our problems in human relationship and intimacy. To paraphrase, a group of porcupines huddle close together on a cold day in winter, but soon they begin to poke each other with their quills. This causes them to separate and spread out to get relief. However, once separated, they begin to shiver in the cold, which causes them to return again to one another for warmth, and the cycles repeats. The porcupines are a great metaphor for our relationship dance as we navigate boundaries and work to find a balance with those in our lives we care about. It may also encourage us to be compassionate toward ourselves and others, knowing that such a balance is not always easy and that we will occasionally poke one another despite out best efforts.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at http://www.lindquistpsych.com

The Mindful Reframe: A Basic Practice

Have you ever found yourself looking for a new picture frame? Perhaps you are giving a picture to a loved one or framing an art print. There are many options you can choose from and each can have a subtle, but definite impact on the image or artwork. We might take a significant amount of time to consider various frames or try out different frames to see how they look.

Just as we frame a picture, we also frame our experiences on a daily basis. We frame larger experiences and major life transitions as well as small or momentary experiences. However, unlike going to the frame store and diligently considering the options, we often frame our own experience without even realizing it or noticing the frame. Likewise, we often return to similar frames again and again, depending on our personality, mood, or current levels of stress. This makes a lot of sense because we tend to stick with the frames that have worked for us in the past, even if there are better options out there.  

Reframing is a useful concept and a common intervention in counseling. Although simple, it can be incredibly powerful. Reframing can provide a greater sense of agency and help broaden the possibilities for how we respond to challenges. When combined with mindfulness, reframing can also become a way of increasing our awareness in the present moment as we become increasingly aware of the frames we hold. 

The following steps can be used to practice mindful reframing

1. Notice the frame you are currently using.

            What is your current perspective?  

2. Consider other frames that might fit. 

            Is this perspective helpful?  How else can you view your circumstances?

3. Select a new frame and see how it looks.

            Does this new perspective provide more options?  

4. Notice how the new frame impacts your experiences and mood.

            Do you feel differently when looking at things from this new perspective?

5. Notice how you are thinking with your new frame.

            How are you thinking about your experiences or circumstances now?

Reframing can also be viewed as shifting to a more optimistic perspective. This is seen in the long-standing notion of viewing a glass as half empty or half full. If you find a useful or widely applicable frame, you might consider writing it down and returning to it again. Below are a few examples of reframing or reframes to help you get started.  

Examples of reframing:

A problem as an opportunity

A mistake as a chance to learn or grown

A delay or cancellation as an opportunity to practice patience or mindfulness

A rejection as evidence of having courage to take a risk

Missing a loved one as an opportunity to appreciate having someone to miss

Chaos or a busy schedule as a reminder that we are fully engaged in life

Sadness as an opportunity to practice self-compassion 

Quarantine as a chance for self-refection and personal growth

Mindful reframing can be a helpful practice or tool for increasing your attention to the present moment, shifting your perspective, and considering alternative ways of viewing your experiences. It can be particularly helpful when faced with challenging experiences or feelings. Remember, we are not trying to change our experience or dismiss the difficulties we face. Rather, we are simply taking a moment to acknowledge our current frame or interpretation, consider alternatives, and move forward with more options for understanding day-to-day challenges. As the psychiatrist and Nazi Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at http://www.lindquistpsych.com

Finding Your Wings at Home: Tips for Motivation

Motivation has been defined as the process by which activities are started, directed, and sustained to meet needs and accomplish various tasks or goals. The study of motivation is nuanced and complex, but several key ideas are helpful for a basic understanding. It is important to recognize that motivation is both conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit), suggesting that motivation can be influenced by things outside of our awareness. Motivation can also be influenced by both extrinsic (external) means as well as intrinsic (internal) means, such as internal values, ideals, or inspiration. Intrinsic factors are often most powerful and long-lasting, making it important to stay connected with your internal values and sources of inspiration. Lastly, social interest plays a role in maintaining our motivation and has the added benefit of supporting the larger community. 

Motivation can be difficult at any point in our lives, but it is especially difficult when dealing with increased stress and the loss of a daily routine. Furthermore, when we feel the tasks ahead of us are very difficult or somehow less important given all the changes happening around us, we can struggle to get started and experience frustration or feel helpless. We may also experience a strong desire to retreat or isolate ourselves through avoidance or distraction. However, as is true with most mental health hurdles, withdrawing or getting by with minimal effort can lead to further problems and will most likely decrease our motivation. For example, just getting by on a project can lead to negative self-evaluations and doubt, self-criticism, or feeling disconnected from the meaning or purpose of our work. Although we cannot simply flip a switch to activate our motivation, there are a number of things that can be helpful to improve motivation and get the ball rolling. 

Tips for improving your motivation:

Get started somewhere. It is often helpful to make a first step on a project or just getting the day started. Take a shower, get dressed, or write an email. Getting started somewhere can help to build some initial momentum and shift your attention to the task at hand, leaving less room for the negative thoughts that can fuel low motivation. Getting started somewhere also opens the door for a boost in your mood and provides an opportunity to see concrete movement forward and some sense of accomplishment. Pause and say, “I did it,” no matter how small it might seem. 

Find and organize a work space. If you have lost access to your work space, it is important to establish a new space. If you are limited, try to find a place you can set up each morning such as a small desk or table. Getting your things organized can also decrease the chances that you will feel overwhelmed or lost when getting started. 

Sit at a desk and avoid the couch. When possible, try to recreate your physical work space and avoid getting overly comfortable. Although it is good to enjoy some increased comforts, avoid siting on the couch with your laptop or lying in bed.

Make a schedule and write it down. Many people have lost the typical schedule that might be expected in a work or academic setting. However, this schedule can be very important for motivation, so it is important to create your own schedule as a way to reestablishing a routine.

Get up at your usual time. It is tempting to sleep late, but your body and work mind are not used to this change. By sleeping late, you are sending yourself a vacation signal and moving further away from a routine that will help improve your motivation.

Incorporate daily rituals such as lunch or other breaks. Adding breaks and enjoyable activities will help make your schedule more enjoyable. Don’t just stop working, but try taking an intentional break.

Work in chunks of time or chunks of a project. Breaking things down into smaller tasks helps us to experience the tasks as more manageable and achievable. This is especially helpful when the larger task seems daunting or out-of-reach. Take a short break after you accomplish each chunk and acknowledge your progress.

Closing time. Plan to end your work day at a typical time. It can be tempting, but you will likely be more productive if you stick to typical hours and use your other time for personal tasks and self-care.

Limit your time online. Connecting online is important right now. However, be aware of your media consumption and how it is might be impacting your stress. It can also be easy to escape reality through the internet, which can ultimately make it more difficult to engage in your current tasks and goals. Research also suggests that you will be more motivated if you see others enjoying and benefiting from productivity, so consider who you are following during your work day. 

Congratulations. Take a few minutes to review what you have already accomplished today or this week. Tell yourself you did a good job.

Self-care. Get outside for fresh air and exercise. Find a funny cartoon about motivation and share it with a friend. Find small things to look forward to in the short-term.

You are not alone. Finally, recognize that everyone is probably struggling with motivation and show some compassion towards yourself. Do the best you can right now and avoid dwelling in the past. Focus on what you are currently accomplishing, not what you wish you had accomplished. Every new moment is an opportunity. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at http://www.lindquistpsych.com

  

Coping and Mental Health during the Pandemic: Acceptance & Self-Compassion

March 27, 2020

Recognizing and acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on our psychological self is essential to coping with stress and maintaining calm in our relationships.

Coping with the ongoing stress and uncertainty of today can lead to a number of symptoms that can impact our daily functioning and relationships. It is important to recognize and acknowledge such symptoms and work to take an accepting approach to ourselves and our loved ones. We are all going to be at least “a little off.”

Common reactions you might experience to varying degrees include:

• Difficulty making decisions or concentrating

• Feeling numb or emotionally detached

• Reoccurring thoughts about the pandemic

• Intrusive thoughts involving worst-case scenarios

• Derealization or a sense that you are living a dream or movie

• Irritability or anger

• Grief about what is being missed or lost

• Loss of control and disconnection

• Feelings of powerlessness or helplessness

• Sudden or unexpected waves of emotion

• Sadness or depressed mood

• Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep

• Increased alcohol or drug use

It is helpful to recognize if you are experiencing these reactions and realize that you are not alone. It is likely that most people are experiencing at least some of these reactions to varying degrees. In addition to acknowledging and accepting your reactions, there are some things you can do that can be helpful:

• Ask for support and talk about how you are feeling

• Find others who can provide empathy, rather than problem-solving or giving advice

• Practice self-compassion and give yourself time to adjust to the many changes that continue to occur daily

• Focus on the present moment and practice mindfulness throughout the day

• Take it one-day-at-a-time or one-hour-at-a-time

• Do things to take care of yourself and find time to exercise or get outside

• Look into a new interest or take time to do things you enjoy

• Engage in the arts by creating art and playing or listening to music 

• Incorporate elements of your previous routine when possible; such as taking a morning shower, getting dressed for work, eating a particular weekday breakfast, or exercising at a certain time of day

• Take time to imagine what life will be like when we are able to spend time together again; imagine yourself going to a move, eating out with friends, or shopping in your favorite stores 

• Seek professional support through online counseling. Many therapists and psychologists have moved online. Some may even offer reduced fee sessions or pro-bono counseling services for first-line medical professionals and busy workers in life-sustaining industries. 

Social support is key. We are social creatures and our mental health is largely connected to a sense of social connection and social interest. Be creative with technology and use online video chats to connect: 

• Start a support group amongst your friends

• Screen-share a movie together with family or friends

• Begin an online chat or group text message with your close friends

• Have an online social hour and share a glass of wine together

• Share jokes via text 

• Think about what skills you can share with others online

In review, it will be helpful to acknowledge your reactions, practice acceptance and patience, and creatively engage in self-care and social connection. There is a lot happening in our world today and nobody can be expected to handle it perfectly. Show yourself the same compassion you would show your best friend, your grandmother, or your own small child.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at www.lindquistpsych.com