Coping with stress and uncertainty during coronavirus lockdown: thoughts from a mediator
PUBLISHED: 13:10 13 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:10 13 May 2020
Nicky Gough from Lighthouse Mediation spends her life mediating with couples who are experiencing difficulties and going through divorce or separation proceedings. Here, Nicky offers some thoughts for any couples or families who are experiencing increased stress or conflict in this unprecedented situation
No one has much experience of this strange situation we’re all in. There haven’t been any studies to tell us how to behave in a coronavirus lockdown. How do we make the most of this time? How do we even survive, never mind prosper? No one knows how families, and particularly children, will emerge from it. If you’re finding that you’re arguing a lot more than usual within your relationship or family unit, here are some ideas as to how you might go about improving your situation.
1 Start by acknowledging how weird all this is, and how difficult we are all finding it. These are unprecedented times, and everybody is in uncharted territory. Remember that everyone else is experiencing the same feelings of loss, and of their life being effectively put on hold.
2 Even before you consider the conflict itself, it’s important to look at yourself as an individual. Your relationship with yourself is the most important one you will ever have. The first person to be generous to is yourself. You need to be as comfortable as possible within yourself before you can effectively help anyone else.
3 Try to spend your own time as productively as you can. That doesn’t necessarily mean being busy all the time; make time for relaxation and enjoyment. The world has slowed down, and it’s okay for you to slow down too. Develop some specific pandemic activities that bring you joy, which you can do on your own. These will be ‘safe places’ you can retreat to if things are starting to get stressful.
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4 Are you finding it difficult to make any decisions? Start anywhere; don’t look too far ahead, and don’t seek perfection. We often don’t make that first step because we think we’re doing the wrong thing. Start small: you might not write a book, but perhaps you might just tidy the garden shed or some kitchen drawers. It can be something relatively trivial.
5 So, you’ve taken the time to look after yourself and put yourself in a calm and positive mindset. How can you actively make things better for yourself and those around you? As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It really matters how we make each other feel, so be careful with the feelings of the people in your life.
6 Resolving conflict isn’t easy. Don’t expect instant results, and don’t jump to conclusions. It’s important for both parties to speak about how they themselves feel, rather than projecting how they think the other party might feel. Don’t presume other people’s motives; instead of saying “you said that to make me feel bad”, instead say “when you say that, I feel bad”.
7 If someone is saying things that hurt or annoy you, as well as calmly telling them how the words make you feel, it’s important to reflect on why they make you feel that way. For example, does it remind you of being told off by a parent or teacher as a child? Things that trigger bad memories can feel patronising or even frightening if they trigger bad memories.
8 Listen mindfully. Much as it’s important for you to share your true feelings with the other party, it’s vitally important that you listen to the other party’s responses. Put some time aside to talk, so you’re in no rush to conclude the conversation. Listening doesn’t just mean keeping quiet until the other person has finished; we often have a tendency to think of something we want to say in reply, and then zone out until there’s a gap to interject. This could be an opportunity to start communicating in a more structured, deeper and more meaningful way.
Nicky Gough is the founder of Lighthouse Mediation www.lighthousemediation.co.uk
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