How to Better Manage Stress in Your Relationships While WFH

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COVID-19 is causing a lot of change, stress, and anxiety. And for many, the pandemic plus other events, and all of the challenging emotions and experience, can lead to an increase in conflict with partners, children, and loved ones. If you’ve been finding yourself more prone to arguing with your partner or snapping at your children, it’s okay—you’re not alone.

“It is totally normal and common for people to find they’re more irritable and prone to fighting when stressed,” says licensed clinical mental health counselor Katie Lear. “This is especially true right now, when we are being bombarded with information about COVID-19 and the effects it is having on health, the economy, and our daily lives.” 

“Stress impacts our levels of patience and tolerance, especially if that stress is due to events that we feel we are unable to control,” says Florida-based licensed clinical psychologist Kahina Louis

But as we navigate today’s uncertain terrain, how can you find ways to better manage stress with the people you love, and find a sense of peace for yourself? Keep reading to find out.

Let’s say you and your partner are both WFH 

If you and your partner have both been working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the excess of sudden and unexpected together time could be putting a strain on your relationship. “It’s healthy to have . . .  both couple time and individual time while in a relationship,” says Dr. Paul Puri, co-founder of online mental health community OOTify. “With everyone being forced to work from home, there’s simply less space to have your individual time.”

If you find yourself at odds with your partner more than usual, it could just be that you feel like they’re invading your space or your “me” time—and vice versa. That’s why, no matter what your home and work set up looks like, it’s important to create boundaries and find a way to get some space from your partner. “Finding a way to have space daily is paramount,” says Puri.

Ideally, you and your partner would work in different areas of the home. But if that’s not possible, creating space could be something as simple as popping in headphones while you work or going for a solo walk during your lunch break.

In addition to creating boundaries around space, it’s also important to create boundaries around your time. If you and your partner aren’t respecting each other’s work hours or are letting work impede on your personal life and together time (like at-home date nights), it could lead to conflict. “Try to keep boundaries in place around time: if possible, don’t allow your workday to creep out past the 9-5, if that’s your typical schedule, and make sure your partner knows exactly when you will and won’t be available to avoid miscommunication,” says Lear.

Even if you’re both working hard to respect the other person, tensions are still running high with everything going on—so it’s important to make an extra effort to communicate your feelings and talk things through with your partner. “Make extra efforts at communication,” says Puri. “Being cooped up together just means that [conflict] may get amplified. So it’s important to communicate about what you’re feeling and thinking.”

When the kids are at home instead of school 

If you have children, chances are that both you and your kids are accustomed to the structure and schedule of the school week. But with many schools around the country closed and now on summer break, that structure is no longer there—and it’s been tough on parents and children alike.

“Kids are out of sync with their normal routines, which can lead to increased anxiety, clinging, tantrums, and other stressful behavior,” says Lear. “Parents are suddenly tasked with being on call for their kids 24/7, often while trying to hold down a full-time job and also learn how to homeschool.”

There’s no denying that this situation is challenging. But keeping a routine can be a gamechanger in keeping conflict at bay—both for yourself and for your little ones. “Try to keep a consistent routine for your kids at home,” says Lear. “You don’t need an elaborate, minute-by-minute routine with a rotating series of daily science projects, but set times for sleeping, meals, school work, and playtime with a parent can go a long way in helping a child to regulate their feelings and behavior.”

If you’re stressed about returning to work

With stay-at-home restrictions being lifted across the country, many people are now heading back to work. And for some, the thought of going back to work at the office can feel stressful—and the more edgy or stressed you feel, the harder it can be to keep the peace with your loved ones.

If you want to manage your stress about going back to work (and better manage conflict as a result), it’s important to remember that anxious feelings are not facts. “It’s important to remember that just because we have a thought does not necessarily make it true,” says Louis. “Often, when we are anxious, we anticipate the worst possible outcome, without acknowledging that this worst possible outcome may not even happen. We’re essentially putting ourselves through the very troubling emotions that this outcome would induce, without it actually happening.”

If you’re feeling fearful or worried about going back to work, Lear recommends “letting your decisions be guided by facts and data—not by news reports, social media posts, or even rumors from well-intentioned friends.” It can also be helpful to focus on what you can control—and the steps you can take to keep yourself safe as you transition back into your office or place of work. “Remind yourself of the proactive steps you can take in order to stay safe: wearing PPE, for example, or showering upon returning home,” says Lear. 

Managing stress overall 

The less stressed or overwhelmed you feel, the better you’re going to be able to navigate conflict and keep the peace—which is why taking care of yourself has never been more important. “Pay attention to your needs, especially your body’s needs, and take care of them,” says Puri. “Eat healthy food. Get sleep. Exercise. Connect with other people to the degree that you can. Relax in whatever way you can.”

If you’re looking for a concrete practice to help you better manage stress, try meditation. “Meditation can be so helpful during times like this, when we find ourselves stuck in a difficult situation that we don’t have much control over,” says Lear. “A regular mindfulness practice can improve our mood, increase our sense of gratitude, and even help with physical health problems such as chronic pain.”

To help you find your rhythm, try Fitbit’s on-device guided breathing experience called Relax. Exclusively available on Fitbit Charge 3, Versa Series, and Inspire HR, Relax helps you find moments of calm with a personalized guided breathing session based on your heart rate.

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