It has been a year since the start of the pandemic. “COVID 19” a small minute virus which is not visible to our bare eyes but only breathable to get entangled in our human body has wrecked worldwide havoc.
It has also caused much turbulence in our family relationships. The once stable environment where most adults in the family will go out to work in offices and back only after work has to adapt to a new work arrangement in order to survive this world economically and maintain one’s physical health (to avoid the virus and stay healthy). However, there is a part of us which has been much affected and has come to the forefront since this pandemic i.e. the mental health.
Mental health is defined as the ability to manage how we think, feel, act with respect to daily stresses. It includes psychological, social and emotional health.
In an article written by Douglas La Bier, Ph.D., he has defined psychological health as “for individuals, institutions and public policies, is grounded in explicit values: Building and creating for all, rather than consuming and taking for the benefit of the few.”
In this pandemic era in a family, if we don’t build our psychological health with similar explicit values in the family to build and create for all in the family, it will be very stressful to live in a house as compared to a home. During the pre-pandemic years, most of us will be very busy with work and have little time for each other in the family, most of us may only have “talk time” within the family after work and before bedtime. Some of us may not even know what each of the other family members is doing during those non-contact times. Outlook and values in life will drift apart as there is little alignment. With the pandemic, with such existing differing outlook and values; out of a sudden, a married couple has to change their way of thinking and operating in their own lives. This is a good time in these highly volatile days to think how to build psychological health together as a couple or family.
What can we build and create in this highly stressful environment?
Some of us may not have thought of it. A family is supposed to be a safe place to be in. However, with some misunderstanding and hurts in the family, it may hinder the effect of building “transparency” in the home environment. It is an ideal position to be in, but it will be heartening to see each family member to want to commit to create such an environment so that the whole family will thrive in this volatile environment and learn to work with and love each other. To begin, one must learn to have mutual respect.
Tammy George has defined social health as “one’s ability to interact and form meaningful relationships with others”. It is increasingly challenging to do this during this pandemic year where social distancing is paramount to one’s survivor even after vaccination. To stay safe, some of us would rather stay home and not socialize as much. Some of us will feel “emotionally pant up” because we cannot socialize as much due to “social distancing” and whether the person you talk to is “safe” . As humans, we are all social creatures, need friends and community to stay healthy. Therefore, we should keep ourselves socially healthy by exploring ways to still interact with our friends within safe distance or through a phone call. There may be part of us who is grief over the loss of freedom to interact in person. On a brighter note, we can learn and adapt to a new way of communicating and socializing although it may be less personal. How can we be intentional to create this space to be socially healthy? Perhaps carve out some time other than family time to reach out to another family, couple or individual to have a meaningful relationship in the current environment.
Julia Fraga, Psy D, sees emotional health as being “in tune with our emotions, vulnerability and authenticity”. She also views emotional health as fundamental in fostering resilience, self-awareness and overall contentment.
It is crucial during this pandemic times that we learnt to be more aware of ourselves as what triggers us? How can we manage this trigger point and help your partner/spouse or family member be aware of this? This will help your partner/spouse know you better and help both of you manage the relationship. It is imperative to start sharing your own feelings so that they can and are able to empathise with your current emotional state. Healthy boundaries are needed to build a safe environment at home. The only challenge one may face is if the environment one currently in is unsafe. You may want to talk to a counsellor/therapist about this. Else, one would like to take up certain strategies to regulate one’s emotion. Some of the examples can be a hobby, meditation, listening to music or journaling. This can help in observing and organise your thoughts, increasing your ability to reflect and express to your loved ones.
We are living in a disruptive world where many things happen in a split of a second. It is of importance that one can be the observer of this ever evolving and changing world to slow down and take stock of our own mental health. Relook to align our values, able to adapt and adjust with authenticity in our relationship with others. Ability to live moment by moment, be self-aware and create opportunities to contribute to your relationship instead of taking from it. Lastly, being intentional to reach out to friends in a non-conventional way.
Written by Cheong Mun Yee, Relationship and Family Counsellor