Image: Suzy Hazelwood
Part 3: How am I and how does that impact you?
This is the third in a series of blogs prompted by the increase in divorces in China after people have been in quarantine due to the Corona virus. The phenomenon of relationships falling apart in the aftermath of a crises isn't new, but the scale of this crises and the impact on relationships globally might be unprecedented.
Most of us have now been in lockdown for longer than we care to remember and have discovered things about our partners or people close to us that we would rather forget.
Isolation has curtailed our freedom, confiscated our loved ones and friends, removed our sense of security, blurred our boundaries, took away our visits to nature, dissolved our structures, flooded our inboxes with online offerings, closed our escape routes, flayed our sense of self and frayed our emotions.
And the longer we stay in isolation - and in our pyjamas - the less fun it becomes and the more we need some reassurance that we will be ok, whatever that looks like, and that this too, shall pass.
By now you know that your relationships are oscillating wildly between: "Wow, we are so rocking this new normal babe!" to "My first appointment is with a divorce lawyer." Generally landing somewhere in the middle of silence, tears, hugs, comfort and recriminations. As you count the days...
One of the ways in which to minimise friction and create more harmony during this time is to stress test yourself several times a day.
Esther Perel is one of my all time favourite psychologists. The idea of a stress test comes from her. I have adapted the concept to make it easier to implement.
5 Steps to consciously check in with yourself:
1. Find a vocabulary.
Describing how you feel as bad, sad, busy or mad is hugely inadequate. Increase your vocabulary to describe how you feel accurately. I feel.... anxious, terrified, panicky, irritated, melancholy, deeply sad, tearful, aggressive, bewildered, powerless, stressed, ready to break stuff, like curling into a ball and die, calm, at peace, excited, focussed, energised, depressed, lonely, helpless.
2. Do a stress test on yourself several times during the day.
Fist thing in the morning, as you open you eyes, ask: How am I feeling? Give the emotion a number on a scale of 1to 10. One being the lowest and 10 the highest.
Notice how you feel. How do you feel emotionally? How do you feel physically? Is there something you can do to change how you are feeling before you get out of bed?
An example of the first stress test:
I feel anxious. That's about a 4. I feel apprehensive. I think a 6. I am focussed to finish my work. That's a 7.
Do your second stress test around lunch time. By now the world has possibly impacted on your emotional state and this can spill over into your relationship.
An example of a second stress test:
I feel irritated because I couldn't do my work. That's an 8. I feel caged. That's a 7. I am stressed. That's a 7 as well. I miss my friends and a cappuccino. That's a 6.
Do a third or fourth stress test throughout the day. It doesn't have to take more than a couple of minutes. You don't have to write anything down, you don't have to discuss the details with anyone. This your own engagement with your emotional state.
3. The value of a stress test for yourself and your relationships
Being consciously aware of your emotional state and how that impacts the people around you is a critical skill to master.
You do a stress test to acknowledge how you feel and then consciously decide what to do about that, so that you are in charge of your emotions and the physical manifestations of said emotions and not in constant helpless emotional flooding accompanied by destructive behaviour.
Self awareness is the bedrock of all change. You don't do a stress test to negate or deny your emotions or feel guilty because you are not an eternal optimist. You don't do a stress test to discuss why you feel that way in detail with your partner. This is coping, not therapy.
When you are in charge of your emotions it is easier to verbalise what is going on for you, understand the potential impact on people around you and put the necessary boundaries in place to minimise fallout.
Remember, you and your partner will not have the same emotions. In fact your stress test might be completely different. That is ok. There is no right or wrong. Everyone is just doing the best they can.
4. Be conscious of the impact of your emotions on the people around you.
Verbalise what you are feeling clearly and be specific about your needs.
Say: "I am feeling ready to break stuff and kick walls down. Please leave me alone for as long as it takes to calm down. I will let you know when I feel better."
In isolation being left alone might literally mean to sit in a cupboard for a couple of hours, or turn your chair to the wall.
"All I want to do is cry. Please hold me for a bit while I compose myself."
"I am really anxious and worried today. I need a break from all the news and social media. Please don't send me any updates."
"I would like to move and express some happiness. I'm going to dance. Would you like to join me?"
You get the gist. This does not mean that other people must tip-toe around you or adjust their lives to your emotions. It means you are clear about your feelings and your needs and know how to express these. So do they! Encourage all the people who you are isolating with to do the same.
In times of great uncertainty a little clarity and consciousness go a long way to create some structure and comfort.
5. Don't forget to play!
Doing a stress test is not supposed to be one more arduous task to get through. Make your emotional wellbeing fun for everyone involved.
You can have an emotional bar graph on the fridge for all to see and update throughout the day. Your red jersey can be a clear 'not fit for human consumption' sign. A teddy on the couch might mean 'I'm fragile'. Your favourite tune at 4pm could signal hope.
The most important skill right now is the ability to consciously check in with yourself, accurately gauge how you are feeling and minimising the impact of your emotional state on the people around you, while at the same time being kind to yourself. How you do that, is entirely up to your imagination.
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