The world is working hard to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and Singapore is no exception – implementing "circuit breaker" measures where most of us find ourselves stuck at home. This can see an impact to our emotions as well as our relationships.
Dr Alla Demutska, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore, says, “Feeling sad, scared, or overwhelmed is normal in the current situation. A lot of us are worried about our loved ones, the stability of our jobs, our own health and how the current crisis may affect our family life or relationship. Often, the problem is not the feelings themselves, but how we cope with them.”
She adds, “Some of us may be overcompensating as a way to cope with difficult emotions. For example, you might be buying and storing food, creating long task lists or endlessly researching how to manage the current crisis, while others may be avoiding feeling their emotions through numbing: binging on Netflix, overeating, playing computer games all night, avoiding talking about the current situation and your feelings.”
“Another common response is that of defeatism, where you just feel too hopeless to do anything and start believing in worst case scenarios, feeling quite helpless, ruminating and worrying about the current situation.”
These feelings can manifest in unhealthy ways. At times like these, we need to be particularly careful of our own mental health, not only for ourselves, but for the people around us who may need our strength and resilience.
Thankfully, Dr Demutska and Ms Davinder Gill, Associate Lecturer in Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore, have some advice to maintain mental health for people in relationships and families with children respectively throughout this time.
With your significant other
- Touch base regularly with each other. Check what the other person is feeling/needing and whether you can help them.
- If you feel particularly sensitive, let your partner know how you are feeling and ask them to be gentler with you.
- Remember that we all use different ways of coping with stress – overcompensation, avoidance, or surrender, and be kind, understanding and accepting of your partner’s way of coping. No one is unaffected by the current crisis, even if your partner is not showing strong emotions.
- Start some projects together – maybe sorting out old photos or learning skills from each other.
- Rely on friends for emotional support, not just your partner. Be mindful of giving each other space, even if it’s emotional space.
- Make sure you put effort into your hygiene and appearance for each other.
- Walk together, read out loud to each other, watch the sunset together.
- Share knowledge together, watch something interesting and have a discussion about it afterwards.
- Beware of what relationship expert Dr Gottman calls “the four horsemen” of relationship-destroying communication patterns: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.
- Regularly tell your partner what you appreciate about them.
For families with children
- Set up a structure/routine for each member of the family. Write it up on a big board or piece of paper and stick in the family room. Get the kids to help with this. Draw pictures or puts stickers on the roster as visual cues for younger children so that they know what they need to do.
- When trying to balance doing your own work from home and helping your child with their homeschooling, divide and conquer. Get all the adults (parents, grandparents, helpers, older siblings) in the house to take turns to supervise the children’s work. If there is no extended help, each parent can take turns working and supervising the children – for example, one parent works from 7am-2pm and the other works from 2pm-9pm.
- Carve out spaces in the home for everyone. Dedicated work spaces and also a space for your children to study. Other spaces for play, rest and quiet time. It is important to differentiate these spaces so that this can signal to the brain that it is work time, play time or rest time. Give everyone permission to time out when they are overwhelmed, so they can go to a quiet spot and recharge. Please allow your helpers to do this as well. This is a difficult time for everyone involved.
- Use TV wisely. There are a lot of educational videos and programs online. Do some research and pick out ones that your child would enjoy and structure those during the week to occupy your child. There will be days when all the best-laid plans won’t work. On those days, don’t feel guilty about plonking your children in front of the TV to keep everyone’s sanity! This isn’t the time to enforce strict screening rules – we all just need to get through this time however we can! Reset the next day.
- Make sure everyone goes outside to the park for a walk or play once a day or every other day . If a family member cannot go out, sit/stand by the window or balcony daily.
- Make sure everyone engages in some physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day. This can be following an exercise program at home, or going to the park for some outdoor exercise. However, please remember to play your part in maintaining the circuit breaker rules.
- Schedule playdates online for your children if that is something they were doing before the lockdown. This can be organized via any of the online video conferencing platforms. Ms Gill shared, “My son had a really fun playdate with his friends one afternoon where they all set up their train tracks and played with their trains in their rooms, while I actually got a chance to enjoy a cup of tea and read a book!”
- Be kind to yourself and your family members. Tempers will fray as we all learn how to work/school from home. We may not get everything done and some days may be harder than others. Set expectations low and do only what is necessary while you hunker down.
If you still find it difficult to cope and you notice that you are feeling persistently sad, highly anxious, irritable, and hopeless or experiencing a range of strong negative emotions/thoughts that won’t go away, please see a counsellor or psychologist for support during this difficult time. Most mental health professionals have responded swiftly to this crisis and set up online services so it is easier than ever to seek help quickly.
Find out more tips you can carry out on a personal level to get through this difficult time here .
Dr Alla Demutska email@example.com
Ms Davinder Gill firstname.lastname@example.org
Media: Pinky Sibal email@example.com