LIVING WITH OTHERS? HOW TO LOOK AFTER EVERYONE’S MENTAL HEALTH DURING ‘STAY AT HOME’.
Written by Dr Caroline Marlow, a Chartered Psychologist specialising in wellbeing and performance psychology and Director of L&M Consulting Ltd.
How we interact and live with our families, partners, and house-mates during the corona virus stay at home period can greatly influence all of our mental health, psychological wellbeing and resilience. Everyone in your household may well be experiencing the situation differently, with different concerns, pressures, and maybe positives. However, family resilience and functioning research forwards certain collective beliefs systems as a key component to everyone’s positive coping and resilience. This article outlines these belief systems with the aim of helping you to proactively live, share and encourage them at this difficult time.
What is a Belief? Why are Beliefs Important?
A belief is an opinion or something that a person holds to be true and beyond question. They enable our brains to make energy-saving short cuts in how we collect, evaluate and assimilate information into our understanding, and thus affect our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Most importantly, beliefs are a crucial component of our personality and identity, helping us to make sense of who we are and how we exist amongst others.
Our beliefs also have great influence on others as they define the way others see us and enable shared views of the world. Of particular interest to our living with others, research also shows that our beliefs of others often elicit behaviour from them that corresponds and thus confirms our expectations and beliefs of them. This is thought to be due to how beliefs influence how we understand and behave towards others.
Research supports the following beliefs as important for promoting positive family adaptation, hope and resilience, and for enabling action when we’re feeling stuck. There is no doubt that they and their influence will be familiar to you, but actively consider which are most useful to you now and whether/how you are living, inspiring and reinforcing them in yourself and others. Each are presented with an example, “We are…” belief statement.
Cohesion: We are in this together.
This could well be your strength – Teamwork! If everyone has a common purpose, does their bit, and supports and cares for each other, then everyone gains. Avoid blame; take responsibility for your part and look to help enable and empower others.
Adaptable: We can adapt.
As a species we have a proven ability to adapt and know that adaptability is the key to survival – yet we are typically resistant to change. Yes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but accepting change will ensure that we don’t miss the chance to consider what and how we can adapt now for better current and future times.
Control: We can only control what we can and we accept what we can’t.
Believe in the possible, but be realistic in what you can expect to achieve with the resources available. Focus your energy on what you can change. Don’t waste valuable resources on what you can’t. If you have children, let them know what you as a family are in control of and that you have a plan – even if it might take a while to come to fruition.
Positive Outlook and Meaning: We can usually find positives in adversity.
This can be hard in difficult times, but finding positive meaning in what you are experiencing and focusing on any current and potential future positives is empowering and motivating.
Confidence: We can survive this and even flourish.
Focus on and believe in your individual and collective strengths and abilities. Inevitably you will have exceeded your limits and expectations previously. The circumstances and needs might be different now, but consider how you can do it again.
Gratitude: We can always find something that we can be thankful for.
Gratitude is a state of thankfulness felt most when we appreciate what is valuable and meaningful to us. Adversity can be our friend in that it can encourage us to consider and realign with what is important.
Worldview: We are an important part of a bigger picture.
‘Stay at home’ is based on this. Believing this does not require you to dismiss what you are experiencing, but it encourages finding a personal link to the bigger world to help provide meaning or a sense of belonging. If you have children, explain and reinforce how their actions are making a positive difference for others. For some, spiritual connections provide strong coping mechanisms.
Humour: We can still laugh together.
In addition to the family functioning and resilience research, those who work in the harshest conditions often cite humour as a defining feature in their ability to cope and to maintain bond with others. Laughter serves a social and survival function in communicating that we want to connect and cooperate.
How to Reinforce Beliefs.
It is certainly OK to be feeling worried, stressed or that you are struggling right now. The key when considering which beliefs are helpful to you right now, is to be honest – it will be harder to convince yourself or others if you don’t’ believe it. Typically though, at least some of the above beliefs will ring true for you and those you live with. Consider how they can be conveyed and reinforced around the home. Ideas might include:
- Revisit past difficult times and/or successes. Consider what positive messages you can take from these and how they can help you respond effectively now?
- Approach each day with thoughts and intentions that are aligned to your positive beliefs.
- Notice how you speak to yourself and others. Does it reflect your positive beliefs? Could it be more positive? Actively use “I am / We are…” belief statements to reinforce your, and your house hold’s, identity and to guide thoughts, actions and behaviours.
- Actively use sources that reinforce your positive beliefs, e.g., songs, films, photos, talking to others who inspire you, listening to positive reinforcement from those you trust.
- Reinforce any belief-aligned achievements as you have them.
In Others …
- Acknowledge, accept and be sensitive to the feelings and beliefs that others share with you. Use positive stories and belief nudges gently, not in a manner that dismisses where others are.
- Consider how you role model beliefs. Children in particular will judge a situation by watching and listening to trusted adults.
- Reinforce positive beliefs as character traits in others. Again, this is particularly effective for children.
I hope this article helps you to reinforce the beliefs that will be positive for you at this time and to maintain the resources you all need for any challenges ahead. Remember, these beliefs will also be helpful when communicating with work colleagues, and indeed, within future work environments.
Caroline writes for the FMPA magazine and specialises in providing wellbeing and performance psychology support for organisations, teams and individuals. If you want to get in touch with her, please do so via LinkedIn, Twitter, the L&M website or on email@example.com.