How have your stress levels been lately?
Stress is the reaction that happens when we feel that the demands of a situation outstrip our resources to cope.
So I think most of us can say that our stress levels have been higher than usual at least some of the time over the last few weeks!
Parents in particular have been telling me lately how much being in lockdown reminds them of those stressful early days of parenthood.
Spending a lot more time at home together, being responsible for the kids 24/7, and worrying about money – these things certainly put the pressure on.
The better we understand the impact that stress has on our relationships, the more effective we will be at safeguarding them against its worst effects.
So I wanted to share a few tips to get you through this time. And hopefully they will help you more generally with those moments when it just all feels like too much, so that you can stay close and connected to your loved ones.
Times of Stress: Togetherness or Space?
The first thing to be aware of is that we all have many and varied ways of coping with stress. If you think back over your life you’ll realise that you’re actually very resilient. The chances are you’ve got through many situations despite your first thought about it being “I can’t cope with this”.
Most couples are made up of two people whose main way of dealing with stress is different. There is usually one who seeks togetherness with their partner (or closest attachment figure) when under stress, and one who seeks space. You can see how that might not always work out very well!
Picture the scene: you’re both under stress.
The togetherness-seeker wants to be close to their partner. They like to talk things though and feel like they resolve issues. And if they’re not able to do this, it makes them feel anxious and abandoned. Then they try harder to be heard.
However the space-seeker tends to deal with stress by moving away from their partner. They might appear uninterested in talking things through, or like they don’t take issues seriously. This is because when they’re anxious they need space.
This can become a problem when we don’t recognise that our partner’s need for togetherness or space is their way of coping with stress, just like ours. This can leads us to take their actions personally, or sometimes to criticise one another.
Neither way of coping with stress is better than the other. The first step to stopping this from becoming a problem for you is to recognise the pattern. Try not to blame yourselves or each other for your part in it, but to speak about the pattern and what it’s like for you openly and compassionately.
Stress and Your Mood
Another useful thing to recognise is that it’s natural to be more irritable and maybe even get snappy with one another when we’re under stress.
Lots of conflict can be avoided by us being a bit more thoughtful about our own moods and each other’s.
So for yourself that means taking responsibility for your own moods. And I don’t mean you can’t ever be grumpy – of course not! But you recognise that it’s your job to do things that make you feel good so that you’re a pleasant person to be around.
When you are feeling rubbish, remember that low moods make us lose perspective. So wait until you’re feeling better before deciding whether to address an issue with your partner.
And when it comes to your partner, give them a wide berth when they’re in a bad mood. Remind yourself not to take their moods personally. And don’t raise issues when they seem unhappy, because it’s unlikely to be productive then either.
Speaking of losing perspective, there’s a psychological concept that it’s really useful to know about which is called ‘flooding’.
Essentially what this describes is when we’re having a disagreement or an argument which becomes so stressful that our bodies respond with a kind of fight or flight response as if we’re in actual, physical danger.
So our hearts beats faster and harder, blood pressure rises – it feels horrible!
This physiological response makes is difficult to listen, process information or be creative in problem solving.
So my last tip would be to keep an eye out for this. When you recognise when this is happening, you can take a break and come back to your discussion when you both feel calmer. This way your brains will be firing on all cylinders again too.
You can read more about flooding and how to resolve arguments constructively here.
Love In Lockdown
I have a course out at the moment called Love In Lockdown which is all about how to handle stress, overwhelm and the pressures on you as a couple right now.
It has a section specifically on coping with the challenges of social distancing and being in lockdown. Plus it goes into much more detail about how you can stop stress from causing issues in your relationships.
And lastly it has a section on how you can shift your perspective on your partner’s annoying habits. (If you’re anything like me you’re probably finding those particularly challenging right now!)
The course is made up of videos packed full of practical tips, and PDFs with prompts to help you to process and discuss what you’re going through right now, so that you can get through this as a couple stronger than ever.
And if you are interested in working with me 121 I am currently seeing clients for individual and couples counselling via Zoom. If you would like to arrange a session, or just to discuss how I might be able to help, you can contact me here.