I think most of us are tired of reading about all things COVID-19. I know I am, but this experience has changed us. At least it’s put us under chronic stress, which has impacted how we show up in relationships with the ones we love the most. I have to tell you, I don’t like some of the things I’m seeing in my home.
Most of us are spending more time than ever with our kids and spouses and tensions are rising. As therapists and coaches, we are seeing your struggles. We are also dealing with the same stressors in our own homes. The people we live with are getting on our nerves and we don’t always handle it the way we should. Many of us are apologizing almost daily for the things we’ve said or the ways in which we’ve said them.
What is your quarantine self?
I’m calling this phenomenon “your quarantine self”. This new self is not how we normally function. We are off-balance and our nervous system is overloaded from chronic anxiety. We are worn down and worn out.
This morning I had to call a family meeting. We have done pretty well for the past four months, but this last week we’ve shown considerable deterioration. There has been some door slamming, more sarcasm than I like, and some fairly disrespectful behavior. John and I were sitting in the den trying to have a conversation and I heard my 23-year-old son yell out a word we don’t use in our home. In a flash, John was up and marching toward my son’s door. The result was two very angry, defensive men yelling at each other. This is not normal behavior for either one of them so I called a meeting. You know, one of those meetings – the family meeting where you want to clear the air and try to come to some kind of understanding about what just happened and what can be done to improve. Turns out, no one had anything in particular that was bothering them other than frayed nerves. There wasn’t any air to clear. We just needed to reset ourselves and apologize (again) for things that were said. We recognized our quarantine selves were to blame.
Turns out my quarantine self is easily irritated, exhausted from lack of sleep, bloated from binge eating, hot-headed and defensive. This shadow self is much less sure of herself and is questioning decisions and feeling more vulnerable than usual. She sometimes feels lonely and disregarded, but more often than not, she feels suffocated and wants to find one corner of the house where someone won’t come looking for her. She spends way too much time in front of the television at night (my Netflix queue is almost empty) and eats junk food that will continue to fatten her up like that puffy purple kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
What does your quarantine self look like? Go ahead…take a good look. Give this some thought and write down some of the things you are seeing and feeling.
Then do this really important step:
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
Do this as often as you need.
Now, drop every ounce of judgment you are formulating in your mind about how awful you sound or look or behave. This doesn’t mean you don’t try to do better…or to be better. It means you don’t crawl under the rock of shame or add the burden of guilt to the already heavy load you are carrying right now. Give yourself a break. Give your family a break. Your quarantine self is a temporary houseguest. This, too, shall pass and we will have normalcy again. In the meantime, we just need to hold it together.
Now, do one small thing that will remind you of your real self. Just one thing. Take a walk. Call a friend. Dress in something other than pajamas. Eat vegetables instead of potato chips. Just one thing.
Then, go and apologize to someone you have offended if you need to. Forgive them. Forgive yourself.
Reset. Refresh. Re-engage.
That’s my plan today, folks.
We’ve got this!