With home-based learning (HBL) in full swing, have you noticed the stress levels in your household rising?
The pandemic has taken a huge mental toll on all of us. As Singapore enters a "stabilisation phase" to hopefully slow the growth of COVID-19 cases and to build healthcare capacity, the fresh restrictions imposed have led to many families feeling dismayed. The changes have been particularly hard on those of us holding out hope for an end to the pandemic.
Mental health has taken a tumble, as counsellors report a 20 per cent spike in the number of individuals seeking therapy to cope with mental health concerns and stress related to employment and family relationships.
Although useful as indicators, the numbers do not and cannot fully capture the stresses faced by families during this time.
Statistics do no justice to the father who has just been laid off because his company was downsized; or to the mother who has to juggle between work, chores and supervising the kids during HBL.
The fear of contracting the disease; the grief of losing loved ones to Covid-19; the "one step forward, two steps back" dance with an ever-mutating virus – these are extraordinary stressors that none of us could ever be fully prepared for.
Resilience begins with us
Against such a troubling backdrop, perhaps it’s even more important than before for families to learn to communicate how they feel.
Communication doesn’t magically make our troubles go away, but it does allow us to share our burdens, receive comfort, and consider an alternative perspective.
It reminds us we are not alone, and that we have loved ones to count on. It is also a means by which we ask for and learn to show grace to our family members during this season. And it has to start with dad and mum.
How spouses interact with one another during stressful seasons has a direct impact on children.
As our children watch how we handle stress and manage conflict, they are also absorbing ideas and skills on how to deal with stressors in their own lives – for better or for worse.
Here are a few simple ways that we can enhance our communication with our spouse, and help our family become more resilient in the face of adversity:
Make time for conversations
In the midst of everything that is going on, it can feel like there are not enough hours in a day to get things done, or to solve the problems that we are facing. However, I’ve found that even a 5-10 minute conversation with my wife about an issue that I’m facing is immensely more helpful than an hour of wrestling with my own thoughts and trying to find a solution.
These talks might not result in any earth-shattering "eureka!" moments but they help me process my thoughts and take a step back to see the bigger picture. These "oases of clarity" — as I like to call them — help me reframe the issue at hand, and also re-energise me to attack the problem again.
Even a 5-10 minute conversation with my wife about an issue that I’m facing is immensely more helpful than an hour of wrestling with my own thoughts.
Shake a can of Coke hard enough and long enough and eventually it’ll explode. If we keep our fears and anxieties bottled in, the same will happen to us. And the outcome is seldom pretty – more than just some soiled clothes, we will end up hurting those closest to us when we eventually erupt.
In our home, open communication is a given. Whenever we sense that something is not right emotionally with anyone, we make it a point to check in with each other and investigate why we’re not feeling great. Letting our emotions grow and swell quietly is the surest and quickest way to Boomtown, so take the lid off regularly, and release the pressure building up within before everyone around you smells like Coke.
Recognise that we are on the same team
This is crucial when it comes to stress management and conflict resolution. Unless we can see that we are on the same team as our spouse, we will end up attacking each other instead of facing the enemy together.
In a tense situation, it can be easy to see our spouse’s shortcomings and their differing opinions as offensive. But when we understand that we’re in this together, and our spouse is just as eager to solve the problem as we are (and very likely wants the best for us at the same time), then our perspective shifts.
In a fight, it’s better to have an ally than another enemy. Let’s remember the vows we made – "till death do us part" – and remember that we’re not in this alone.
Positive words have the power to create a positive environment in our homes – inspiring everyone in the family to live and love well.
Encourage each other
Our words have weight. They can either pull the other person down, or they can propel them forward. Even though we may feel stressed and burnt out, let’s try to only speak positively with each other. Resolve to never put your spouse (and your kids) down.
Positive words have the power to create a positive environment in our homes – inspiring everyone in the family to live and love well. It is this positivity that is the bedrock of resilience and hope.
I’ve framed these 4 simple points to make the acronym M.O.R.E. to remind us that together, we are more. We are more than the sum of our individual, stressed out parts. We are more than the sum of our wisdom and abilities. And together, we will be more than able to handle any stressful situation that comes our way.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Elvin is one of the Founders and Directors of The Treasure Box Singapore, a products and services company that equips and supports families on their journeys. He has been married to Esther for 13 years, and is the proud papa of 2 beautiful children.
Life can be overwhelming. Having a listening ear can bring relief, help you feel supported, and improve relationships. Make an appointment with a counsellor today.
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