Let's explore the theoretical “talk.” You’re starting to brainstorm what that conversation you’ve been thinking about having for months will actually look like. All of a sudden, your stomach turns, your throat becomes tight, and your breathing quickens. Ah yes, you know that these physical responses are your body’s way of showing you that you’re anxious. The familiar feeling washes over, and now you’re feeling a ton of pressure.

Master of all...usually, but lately, nobody is feeling on top of their game, in their home, as homeschooling support, or as partners. The idea of spending all of your time cooped up in your home with your kids and your partner is simultaneously making you want to cringe and jump for joy. Your patience is running thin, and you’re wondering how you’re going to make your relationship feel special when everything is driving you a little nuts. Good news is that there are small things that you and your partner can do to keep the love alive and revived, as things feel like they are boiling over. Here are some tips on exactly how to keep connected even with tension:   1. Start with an Appreciation Party If you’ve ever seen a therapist, you’ve probably been told to try to practice gratitude. Research has shown that expressing gratitude, especially to people you love, makes you feel good, strengthens your relationship, and leaves your partner feeling happy, too (see this article to learn about some of the effects gratitude can have on you). Use this awareness to your benefit! Be sure to remind your partner how much they mean to you, and all the things they typically do (both prior pandemic and during the pandemic) that you are so appreciative of.   2. Set ground rules- Solidify the “You’ve gone too far” line It is really easy to feel irritable, anxious and sad during times of chaos and confusion. Soon enough all the distractions add up and your bickering is escalating much more quickly than it has in the past. Now, you’re both on edge and communication is not the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, the cold shoulder or yelling ensues. Let's avoid this and make it simpler. At the start of your week (or day), sit down and review the lines that cannot be crossed with your partner. Maybe you or your partner were laid off or furloughed, and while you normally would love to dive into how to fix this, you agree that there is not much to be done right now. Instead, you would prefer a distraction over rumination. Quick bonus tip: before you sit down for this discussion, have a pre-planning meeting with yourself. Decide what lines are absolutely not okay to cross between you two and/or in front of the kids. Knowing your own boundaries and how to express them is a skill that can not only increase relationship satisfaction, but can also impact your overall quality of life.   3. Find your huddle Remember when sports were a thing? Huddles during football are an essential moment that allows the team to connect and communicate about the strategy they need to be most successful. Believe it or not, even non-NFL stars need this check in too! Being able to communicate with your partner about your stress levels and how you need each other’s encouragement can be a game changer. Have a plan for how to subtly have periodic two-minute moments (I'm always a big fan of a small hand signal), and use the time to express gratitude, vent, reconnect and support each other. You'll be an MVP in no time! Quick bonus tip: Check in on both you and your partner’s love language to better attune to each other’s needs in the moment.   4. Decompression success party More gratitude, please! Starting and ending your day or week with your own decompression party can help the two of you unify your team mentality, and can allow you to have a little release moment. After all, helping each other cope with stress can strengthen your relationship as a whole. After you've gone through another tough week, spend some moments with your partner doing what the two of you love. Carve out at least 30 minutes to an hour reconnecting and rejuvenating together. That could look like a small walk together outside, finding a funny show or play list to dance and laugh to, and/or enjoying laughter and connection with some privacy.   In conclusion… Gratitude, boundaries, moments of joy and connection, and more gratitude. And here’s a quick secret: This is essentially what therapists will teach during their sessions. Show your partner how much they mean to you and relish in their company. In turn, the trickier and less comfortable parts of a relationship should get at least a bit easier. This may sound simple, but sometimes couples need a little extra push. If this is the case, reach out to a couples therapist! We are here to help, and the vast majority of us are providing virtual therapy during the quarantine.​  Mollie Eliasof, LCSW  

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Why is the pandemic making me feel “crazy”?​

You may have noticed that, during the quarantine, you’ve felt a little…regressive. Everything your partner is doing is making you irritable or weepy, you’re either extra tired or extra energized, or you’re acting slightly sillier than usual. Don’t worry-- you’re not losing it. For lots of us (read: most of us), times of chaos and confusion can elicit childlike responses that helped us cope during our younger years. Afterall, think of the last time your physical and emotional safety existed entirely in the hands of someone or something outside of yourself? You got it- childhood.

 

 

 

What do you mean “regressive”?

 

Let's think of children in general. They are entirely dependent on their caregivers. Babies and kids are defenseless to the world around them, and would not be able to survive without a caregiver feeding them for nurturance, changing their diapers to avoid infection, and providing shelter to stay safe from storms, hurricanes, and other people/animals. Because of this, they have next to no control over their lives and are solely dependent on the human(s) that care for them. For the majority of children, this is comfortable and elicits feelings of safety and security.

 

No matter how reliable your parents were, all childhoods are littered with moments of slight panic when the trust you have for your caregiver is inevitably ruptured, if only briefly. Reflect back to a time when something unpredictable happened. Maybe you got lost in a supermarket, or your parents were arguing in a way that felt scary, or maybe one of them got really sick. How did you respond in these moments when it felt like there was no one to turn to for emotional comfort and direction on what to do next? Did you cry or yell? Isolate? Or maybe you played the role of comic relief?

 

 

 

What does this have to do with me and the pandemic?

 

In comes adulthood. You’re free, in control of your day to day, and safe. You know what tomorrow morning will look like. In your moments of insecurity, you have either internalized enough of your parents to feel competent, or you have people to turn to. Yes, you lose control by drinking too much or feeling a little off kilter every now and then, but your pattern has been to hop back on the horse, partially because you have faith that your immediate environment is consistent and predictable. You manage to find some sense of control again, because control makes us feel safe.

 

Then hits the coronavirus… oof. All of a sudden you don’t know what your days are supposed to look like. Your routine has been taken from you, and there is no one who can tell you what to expect for the foreseen future (similarly to how a child would feel if he was lost in a supermarket). The people who were there to reassure you in past moments of insecurity are feeling equally as scared and confused. This could manifest in trouble sleeping, increasing arguments, or with silly Facebook posts about binging on Netflix and snacks.

 

 

 

The connection between childhood, fear in adulthood, and regression

 

So, why is everyone entering this place of regression? According to Steve Sisgold and various other researchers, regression is a very common response to stressful situations (check out his post here). It is a (typically) unconscious defense mechanism that is designed to elicit responses from others, and engage them to take care of the fearful child that exists inside of all of us. The scary thing about the coronavirus, however, is that most of us do not feel taken care of because no amount of caregiving from our loved ones will alleviate the uncertainty of our futures.

 

The essential underlying emotions typically associated with regression are anxiety and/or fear due to lack of predictability, lack of control, and feelings of chaos. You may regress when you are worried your partner is leaving you, when you are scared of losing your job, or when you feel unseen or unacknowledged. You regress when your first line of defense, your conscious social engagement system, is not working well enough to help you feel safe and secure. After all, acting like a child is all a child really has to get their caregiver to pay attention to them.

 

This makes the coronavirus quarantine ripe for regression. At this point, we are all a bunch of kids and teenagers responding to the unpredictability with excessive amounts of toilet paper, increased media consumption, and other varied actions that help us feel as though we can exert some minutiae of control.

 

 

 

So, how can I use this to help me?

 

The goal here would be to find the part of you that is fearful of the present and future, acknowledge it, and soothe it (check out our fleshed out post on how to soothe your inner child). Remember, the anxiety you are experiencing is just a way for that fearful kid inside of you to gain a little control. So instead of wishing it away, numbing it out with substances, or pretending it doesn’t exist, show it some love! Follow these steps to soothe your inner child.

 

Step 1: Name the feeling, and acknowledge its right to be there.

 

Step 2: Visualize your inner child (How old are they? What are they wearing? What do they smell like, what do they like to do?)

 

Step 3: Ask your child what they need from you (Reassurance? Support? Validation?)

 

Step 4: Do activities that your inner child likes/that you liked when you were little (Color, read, take a bath, listen to music, etc.)

 

 

 

In conclusion...

 

The coronavirus makes us feel like children because it subconsciously reminds us of moments when we did not have control, and there was no one safe available to help us feel secure. Control helps us feel safe and helps us feel connected with the fact that there is nothing lurking around the metaphorical corner to hurt us. When control is taken from us, we regress to a period in which this was a consistency, and we find other childlike ways to regain control. We yell, we cry, we make jokes, and we find ways to cope and to elicit safety responses from the people around us. Don’t forget: it’s adaptive. This has helped humans survive since the pleistocene era, and will continue to help us survive for years to come. Remember to be patient with yourself and your inner child.​

 

 

Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW

 

 

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