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10 Tips to Prevent Fights With Loved Ones During Quarantine

We need special tools to cope when cooped up.

Now, more than ever, people need tools to handle their emotions. Specifically, we need tools for calming our nervous system and making sure we don’t take stress out on our loved ones. Families are going to fight more when they’re cooped up. The best thing we can do for our relationships is to become aware of our emotions and learn skills to calm them so we don’t behave too badly.

“Every couple I know said they fought after going to the grocery store last week. Even one that went separately. That’s when I picked a fight with my boyfriend. And it makes sense because the grocery store scene right now is really scary and people don’t realize they’re feeling fear, they push it all to anger,” Jessica Hendel, an LA-based screenwriter and my step-daughter, told me. “People are in there fighting each other over toilet paper!”

When tensions run high and we find ourselves fighting with the very people we love more than anything in the world, we need to stop and reflect on what’s happening inside.

When fights break out, try these 10 tips:

1. Call a time-out for reflection.

2. Identify what you are experiencing. Are you scared? Frustrated? Sad? Anxious? Jittery? Feeling sick inside, alone, or uncared for? Whatever feelings you have, just stop and validate them. There’s no wrong way to feel, only wrong ways to behave.

3. Do a self-care check: Ask yourself, am I hungry or when did I last eat? Many of us are on the anxiety diet. But even if we don’t have an appetite, we must eat to keep our mood from plummeting. Am I tired? It’s natural to have trouble sleeping or to sleep a lot when stressed. Knowing if you are tired is important so you can understand your mood. Let your loved ones know that you’re not angry at them and they did nothing wrong. You are just tired.

4. Come into the present moment and ask yourself this question as a reality check: “Am I or is anyone I love in danger right this minute?” You might be afraid of the future, but that is not the question. “Are you physically OK right now, besides feeling scared, anxious, bored, cooped-up, sad, and angry?” Most of us are “OK enough” right now. Just acknowledging this with a nice long deep breath can offer some relief. While we all need to self-quarantine in order to care for ourselves, our loved ones, and to be good citizens, most of us will be fine. Allow yourself to relax into that.

5. Remind yourself and each other, “This situation is temporary.” Because it is.

6. Use grounding and breathing exercises frequently whenever you feel tense, jittery, panicky, overwhelmed, or angry. These days, I ground and breathe at least four times throughout the day to calm my mind and body. Even a little shift for the better is a big deal.

7. Change your environment if possible and adopt a playful attitude. You might not feel like being playful at first. You can try it anyway and see if your brain starts to shift, which it might. Walk, run around, kick a ball, dance, count birds, learn the names of different trees, prepare a garden bed for planting, or simply name colors, sounds, and textures in the environment. If you can't go out because you live in a city, look at photos of the beach, mountains, or any place you love. Imagine you're there and experience it vicariously. Imagination and play go together. They are both great for calming stress and important for well-being for both kids and grown-ups.

8. Make a list of simple things that calm you to try to shift from a distressed state of mind to one that feels better. I call these state-changers. Look at your custom list in times of acute irritability or distress and execute each state-changer one by one until you feel relief. Here are things that work for me and others:

  • Exercise
  • Work the Change Triangle
  • Take a long hot shower or hot bath
  • Make yourself tea. It’s nurturing
  • Listen to music or a podcast
  • Listen to meditation audio on calming fear, self-compassion, and self-parenting
  • Video chat or phone a friend
  • Watch a TV show
  • Read or listen to books alone or with your family

Add your own ideas below:

  • _____________________________
  • _____________________________

9. Drop into your body to work purposely with tense and stressed out parts of you. Then, share how you feel with your loved ones from an authentic place inside you. They probably feel the same way. No need to fix anything. It’s amazing how talking about feelings openly transforms a bad feeling into something better.

10. Each time you want to say something nasty or mean to someone in your family, Don't! Instead validate your underlying fear, sadness, or other emotions. Click here for a list of emotions to help you name them. Then, actively shift into love, kindness, care, and compassion both for yourself and your loved ones.

Adversity provides an opportunity for change. I hope you will challenge yourself to work with your emotions wisely. Don’t take them out on the people you love. You can do it!

More from Hilary Jacobs Hendel LCSW
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