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Deep breaths. We will get through this. It can be really wonderful to have someone beside you right now, but also very frustrating. You’re so glad your partner is there, but they’re also driving you a bit nuts. We get it, and we want to give you some tips on how to manage this!  I can’t tell you when this will all end (really, the only answer anyone can give is “I don’t know”) but I can give you some hope within your relationship. Take this time to regenerate the love you may have forgotten to prioritize pre-pandemic! Here are some quick but deep tips on how to both maintain boundaries and feel close/loved during your extra time together.   Name and share feelings Like in the winter, being cooped up at home can lead to increased arguing, weight gain, and feelings of frustration and irritability. You and your partner may be quick to forget that you are both likely experiencing the same exact thing- fear and confusion.  A typical response to a partner’s concern is often to “be strong,” or to tell them that “everything will be okay.” While this can be helpful much of the time, it can also feel isolating and dismissive at other times. Feeling mirrored in relationships in general is a beautiful way to strengthen your relationship, build connection, and feel empathy.  So, when you are feeling irritable or scared, name it. Tell your partner, so you both know you are not alone in your fear. If verbal expression is hard for you, find a hand gesture that can express a need in the moment (i.e. hand on heart means “I need a hug”). Your partner can help you cope and co-regulate, and you can do the same for them.   Make your lives more predictable During times of increased unpredictability, the best thing you can do is set tangible predictability with a schedule in order to generate some semblance of control. Predictability makes humans feel safe, and is beneficial in various facets of life. Start with creating a layout of what you are going to cook over the next week. You and your partner can try to brainstorm meals with what you have in your home, and you can use this as an opportunity to get creative!  You and your partner can also make the housework a little more predictable by either setting up a schedule or, if this is not your cup of tea, at least figuring out which responsibilities each partner will be taking on.  Take turns planning activities of what you will do each night. Board games? A romantic dinner and wine? A movie? This will both keep things a little more exciting, and will give you both a sense of control in terms of deciding what to do each night.   Keep it fun and spicy As stress at work or relationship turmoil increases, the first things to go are fun, exciting and team building activities. At first glance, this makes sense- you need to meet your basic needs (i.e. safety) in order to be able to lower stress enough to participate in and enjoy fun activities. However, in the case of the coronavirus, this philosophy is a bit deceiving- you actually need to engage in fun distraction activates in order to generate enough energy and motivation to manage more stressful situations (See this article to learn more about how stress impacts your productivity). Because it is hard to feel physically safe from illness in a time like this, no matter what your approach, it is important to make sure you and your partner are getting an extra dose of fun to keep you at baseline contentment. Try these apartment and outdoor activities to keep your energy up!  Set up sex dates. Find a time to have a midday quickie to spice things up. Treat it as it is: exciting and new! I mean, how often does midday work week sex happen?  Try a new activity. This could mean inside and/or outside of the bedroom. Is there a new position you’ve wanted to try? Or maybe your partner has never tried yoga, and you want to teach them some empowering moves?  Add small surprises. This is especially important if you two will be grounding yourselves in routine for the coming weeks. Small surprises (i.e. a love letter or a photo album you made) are great ways to add in a little positive excitement during your quarantine.  Plan a future outside of the quarantine. What have you two wanted to do, but just haven’t found the time to plan and execute? Planning a trip, window shopping on Zillow, or brainstorming other futures together are a great way to generate an escape- even if only in your minds and hearts for now.   In conclusion Yes, this is a scary time, and yes, your control and predictability is limited. Instead of trying to control what you cannot control (i.e. you can’t stop the coronavirus, and you can’t learn absolutely everything you can in hopes of staying safe), focus on what you are able to control in order to make yourself feel better. Check out Katie Lynch’s post on how to manage heightened relationship difficulties during a quarantine here. If this feels absolutely impossible for you, teletherapy is always an option! Therapists across the city are switching to teletherapy to help their clients feel a little more in control during this time of increased need.    Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW   ​

Ah, March. Temperature begins to hike up into the 50s, it starts to get occasionally sunnier, and you finally find yourself heading towards that spring boost to go outside and participate in society. The end of March and the beginning of spring is such a lovely concept, unless you’re stuck still dealing with residual winter blues.   Winter can come with some really frustrating and seemingly insignificant annoyances. Weight gain, lack of daylight, and feeling cooped up in your apartment are just some reasons tension can increase between you and your partner. On top of this, the perpetual ennui that comes with spending all your money on food and alcohol because it is too cold and wet outside to leave the apartment can be weighty. And finally, the layered results of having nothing to do other than eat and drink also start impact your body and mind, and can make you feel stuck, not sexy, and lonely. Don’t fret- it happens! There are definitely ways to avoid this in future winters, but for now, allow me to focus on stepping out of this cycle and into spring with your partner.   Switch It Up During the spring, summer and fall, it is so much easier to plan small day trips and get out of your apartment. Dips back into routine feel like welcome old friends, and are there to help ground and stabilize you.  During the winter, and especially after the holidays, all most of us have is consistency. After the holidays you avoid traveling due to the long awaited decrease in chaos, the flu season, and the potential for ice. The outside world seems a bit overwhelming, so you stay home. At first, this feels comfortable and much appreciated after a few busy seasons of travel. But eventually this can become monotonous and featureless, and turns into feeling stuck and bored.  So, my suggestion? Disrupt your routine! Find a way to get out of the city and spend some time outside, even if it is cold. An article by Florence Williams in the Wall Street Journal explores research that has found that people are generally happier when: 1. They are with friends and lovers, and 2. They are outside. The true takeaway from this research is that people did not realize how much happier, healthier, and more creative they would be when they are in nature.  Grab your partner and bundle up to go for a walk on the highline or on Brooklyn Bridge. Make a day out of it! Get some hot chocolate and gloves and walk around Central Park, even if only for 30 minutes. If you have the time and money, try to make a day trip upstate or to somewhere in Long Island. You and your partner can even get a hotel room for one night just for something a little extra special. You two deserve the strengthening of a bond that comes with marching out of a difficult time together.   Eat Well and Exercise The dreaded suggestion that is applicable for just about every ailment is equally as relevant when alleviating your winter blues. Ironically, struggling with weight gain and feeling sad can make eating well and exercising more difficult than it already may be. I’m sure you can only imagine the cycle this creates! But, according to this article (and many others), research has shown that diet and exercise have such a significant impact on mental health that they can actually treat depression.  To motivate yourself to exercise, try going with your partner. Make it a team activity and do some research on exercises that require two bodies (such as throwing a medicine ball back and forth). You can also try writing down how you feel after you exercise so you can refer back to it during moments that feel a little less enthusiastic. And don’t forget to add some variety to your workout- if you cycle and your partner does HIIT, try trading off every now and then and see how you feel! As for eating well, find a cookbook with your partner and commit to making dinner together two to three times a week. If cooking is a comfortable topic for you two, do a cooking competition! Cook for each other and/or your friends and family, and embrace the small healthy habits your partner shows you (maybe they add a little less butter to a recipe you already love). Don’t forget to send each other motivating messages throughout the day to help you connect and remember that you are in this tricky time together.   Spend Some Time Apart I know this may sound counterintuitive for a couples therapy blog, but a hugely undervalued piece of information is that a healthy relationship balances both time together and time apart. If you and your partner have spent the last 4 out of 7 nights arguing about what shows to watch or what to eat, try spending an evening apart doing something fun. This means avoiding working late or a work happy hour, and instead going out with some friends you haven’t seen in a while.  Space is not only for when you are upset with one another! This article emphasizes just a few of the many reasons why time apart is vital for any relationship. This can be extra hard to snag in the winter, and may have to be planned out a bit more consciously (especially if you and your partner live together). Set a reminder in your phone or ask your friends to hold you accountable for a couple nights together a month.  Now what?  Get to it! Find ways to motivate yourself to take the steps towards the actions mentioned above. Leave sticky notes around your apartment, send yourself voice notes, and remind yourself that you are more than your winter lull. We have faith in you!  **A caveat: Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real. If you think what you or your partner are experiencing is more than just the “winter blues,” reach out for help! Seasonal Affective Disorder can impact your relationships and overall functioning, and you truly deserve to have this addressed if it is happening to you.   Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW  

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How to get yourself through the coronavirus cabin fever​

For the past two weeks, session after session, my clients and I have been processing the coronavirus. 

 

Amidst sorting through my clients’ anxiety, the biggest question I am hearing is this: How can I manage my mental health and my relationships when my whole life has shifted, and I have no way of knowing when it will go back to normal? The only true answer anyone can give at this point is “I don’t know.”

 

If this leads to panic, allow me to help you readjust your thoughts so you can learn how to cope with the chaos a little more effectively. 

 

 

 

Stop scouring the news

 

This is easily my first tip. The impulse you’re feeling to scrape the Internet and learn absolutely everything you can about the coronavirus is essentially your brain trying to understand what is going on. It is normal, and dare I say it, adaptive to feel a drive to search for information in the millions of articles that are popping up. Your brain is looking for answers and direction on how to proceed. Anxiety is, after all, just your emotional, physical and mental drive for survival.

 

While this drive experienced as anxiety can be helpful at times, it is not particularly helpful when there is such a surplus of contradicting, confusing, and potentially inaccurate information. Your brain wants an answer, yet there is none. 

 

So, instead of rushing towards panic, try redirecting your urge to find answers for something more productive, and something you can realistically work towards controlling. One good option is to explore articles and blog posts focusing on managing your mental health within the context of the coronavirus (try this one, this one or this one). 

 

 

 

Get dressed like you’re going to work

 

This one might sound silly, but if you’re working from home, the two worlds can easily start to blend. This can leave you feeling like you’re at work when you’re home- except the reprieve of actually going home is no longer a thing. Instead of having your day arbitrarily switch back and forth from work life to home life throughout the day, try to create a definitive beginning and end. 

 

Keep to your daily routine. Wake up at your typical time, and follow your morning routine, work out at home or go for a run, and break out your computer at your kitchen table fully dressed and ready to go. Move to the couch for lunch, and go back to your kitchen table for work. At the end of the day, follow your evening routine as well.

 

Of course, this cannot and will not feel exactly the same. But setting the boundary of changing out of your work clothes allows your brain to understand that once they are off, you are done working. This is actually a practice we should be engaging in year round, but is extra crucial during this time of chaos, confusion, and blurred boundaries (See this article on why redirecting your brain after work is important, and how to do it). 

 

 

 

Practice acceptance

 

*Rolls eyes.* I don’t mean acceptance in the “this doesn’t bother me” sense, or even in the “I am grateful for what I have” sense (though this latter sentiment can be achieved, too).  If I could translate my suggestion into a sentence, it would be, “Well, I guess this is what I have right now.” 

 

Notice how many of your thoughts are thoughts about wanting to be somewhere else, stressing about what you cannot get done at work/in life, or about what you’re missing out on. Notice what you feel after having all these thoughts. My guess is, you are not feeling better. You’re all sorts of worked up and frustrated about how unfair the situation is. 

 

The “what ifs” and “if onlys” are your system’s response to a situation in which you feel stuck. Your brain and body are trying to come up with a way out. Once your brain sends the signal to the rest of you that you can take a break from brainstorming because you’re safe, but temporarily stuck, the rest of you can relax. So much of the anxiety you are experiencing is yes, warranted worrying, but also an attempt to control what you are worried about. Relieve yourself from the pressure of trying to solve yours and everyone else’s problems. Take a deep breath, and state out loud where you are and the situation you are stuck with. Now, think of something you can do. A facemask? A puzzle? Call to check in on your elderly loved ones? 

 

 

 

In conclusion

 

Boiled down to one sentence, my suggestion is to control what you can, and let go of what you cannot. I do recognize this is a lot easier said than done. Start by organizing your concerns into two columns: what is within your control, and what is out of your control. Focus on the column you can do something about, and do it! You may just start to go back to feeling productive, competent, and a little more like yourself. 

 

If you are struggling in a way that feels unmanageable, reach out for help! The coronavirus is scary because no one has any answers, but is also uniting because everyone is in the same boat. This means you are not alone in your suffering. Therapists all over the city (including yours truly!) are increasing their use of teletherapy to help you manage your experience. 

 

 

 

 Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW

 

 

 

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