LIVING WITH OTHERS? HOW TO LOOK AFTER EVERYONE’S MENTAL HEALTH DURING ‘STAY AT HOME’.
Part 1: Day to Day Organisation
Written for the FMPA by Dr Caroline Marlow, Chartered Sport & Exercise Psychologist and Director of L&M Consulting Ltd., this is Part 1 of a mini-series of ‘how to’ promote #mentalhealth whilst living with others during the #coronavirus #stayathome period.
We often consider resilience and psychological wellbeing from a personal perspective, but in fact, both are greatly influenced by our experiences with, and of, others. This ‘how to’ mini-series is based on family resilience and functioning family research and gives ideas for those living with house mates, partners and families.
Living With Others Part 1: Day to Day Organisation.
You may have some big concerns right now, but if everyone pulls together to reduce daily hassles and to get the small, day-to-day aspects of living with each other right, it will help you all maintain your reserves for when you need them.
- How Are You All? Just because you feel OK and everyone looks OK, doesn’t mean that everyone is OK. Have regular opportunities to talk, listen and discuss how ‘staying at home’ is for you all. Keep a respectful, solution-focused, ‘in-this-together’ mind-set throughout.
- Who Does What? Together consider what domestic and household tasks are required on a daily and weekly basis to keep everything running smoothly for everyone. Do roles need reallocating for the current times? Who is happy to do what? Are roles distributed fairly? Can you rotate/share the less-desirable jobs? Be aware that someone might feel overburdened, out of control, left out, etc.
- What Does Everyone Do? Have clear house rules that are agreeable to everyone. This might include respecting social space, e.g., acceptable noise levels at key times, not dominating the TV, clearing up after one self. Or how you are going keep the Corona virus away. If new wellbeing needs arise however, you should all have the flexibility to adapt these to find a new balance.
- Respect The Basics. Respect everyone’s right to, and need for, personal time and space. You may not have equal personal space, e.g., in size, light, warmth, peace and quiet. Maybe you don’t have any personal space or personal space is now also work-space. How can you help each other? For example, daylight is key for mental health, maybe someone would really appreciate being alone in a sunny spot for a while.
- Have Fun. Look for opportunities to relax, have fun, be spontaneous. Share jokes, play games that made you laugh as a kid, cook together, create new memorable moments and funnies (remembering that fun has to acceptable to all). Find things to celebrate together. Not just birthdays and anniversaries, but past happy experiences, such as reliving a gig you went to, or small successes like finding loo roll! You might not be able to celebrate as usual, but get creative.
If you have children at home:
- Maintain Hierarchy. Ensure that the parent(s) remains at the centre of the family. If there are two parents, ensure you have equal and dual responsibility so that you pull in the same direction and stay in charge.
- Have Regular, Quality Family Time, Preferably all together, e.g., play a game, watch and talk about a film together. Ask the children for their ideas. Encourage sibling acceptance of other’s preferences and ensure that everyone has their turn. This not only passes the time, but creates opportunities for the family memories, in-jokes and stories that build family bonds.
- Have Regular One-to-one Time with Each Individual Child. Give them your full attention. Ask questions. Follow their ideas. Aim to learn more about them. This will strengthen your relationship and promote your awareness of their strengths, ideas, concerns and worries, all of which will have benefit for their and the family’s future development.
- Valued Roles. Ensure everyone has a role(s) in the family’s functioning and reinforce that each role plays a valued part in family life. This could be a good time to teach even young children basic skills, e.g., dressing themselves, putting toys away, laying the table, or encouraging teenagers to step up, e.g., cook a meal one night a week, wash-up.
- Family Values. Discuss how you should treat each other. The children might well have a school value system that you can use and fun ways to reinforce your chosen values.
- Nurture Sibling Relationships. Encourage siblings to play, work, problem solve, and talk together. This can help take the pressure off you now and build bonds that will last.
- Let Children Grow. This could be an ideal time to let children grow, redefine themselves, become more independent. Reduce the stress on yourself – let them have input into all of the above. Look for and reinforce new positive characteristics. With older children in particular, remember that being a parent is different from being a friend.
- You Time. Make sure the children know that it is important that you have time to yourself (and with your partner). Protect it.
- Don’t Stress Yourself About Getting It All Right. Do what you can and forgive yourself for what you can’t: It will be healthier for everyone!
It will probably seem strange to give proactive thought to how you live with people. But everyone experiences daily hassles at home, it is just easier to avoid or gain distraction from them in normal life. I hope the above helps you to find your own way of living together well and to maintain the resources you need for any challenges ahead.
Caroline writes for the FMPA magazine and specialises in providing wellbeing and performance psychology support for organisations and individuals. If you want to get in touch with her, please do so via LinkedIn, the L&M website or on email@example.com.