By Armita Hosseini, M.Ed., M.A., C.Psych. Assoc.
19 May, 2020
As we all navigate through such an unprecedented time, there are many unexpected challenges that arise in our everyday lives. Our norms of living, interacting and socializing have shifted significantly. Among these shifts, is the change in our relationships and the challenges of maintaining them during this lockdown. As many of us battle with familial arguments, disagreements between partners, parental and child conflicts and so many other relational challenges at this difficult time , I thought to offer a few strategies on building boundaries during this lockdown. Based on what we know from the psychology literature, below are some strategies that may be helpful for many in managing expectations, coping effectively and building resilience. More importantly, if you feel threatened, in danger or harmed by another person, please refer to mental health resources listed in the resources page or call your local emergency department.
WHY IS SETTING BOUNDARIES IMPORTANT FOR OUR MENTAL HEALTH?
Setting emotional and physical boundaries is important for mental health. Research has shown that individuals who establish boundaries in their relationships, tend to be more clear about mutual understandings, avoid confusion in communication, show gratitude, and respect differences in feelings or opinions. You may ask, how does this help my mental health? Well, when we are self-aware of our emotional needs and directly and respectfully voice them, we can form healthier and more loving relationships. Research has also shown that, the quality of your lives depend on the quality of your relationships. In fact, good relationships have the power to protect your brain and sharpen memory. Despite the type of argument we may have in our relationships, boundary setting helps us bounce back from it with more ease and stability. You can be clear about your needs and also communicate to your partner/family member/ friend that you care about them.
SETTING BOUNDARIES DURING COVID-19:
Setting boundaries during COVID-19 might look different than what we are normally used to. You may ask, how? Before this pandemic, we may have resorted to outside-of-home social spaces as breaks during tense moments in our relationships. We may have used time at work, time with friends or family, or time spent at the gym to draw and define lines between ourselves and people that lived with us. In the midst of a tension, we could have resorted to our physical and external environments as an escape route. Since the start of COVID-19, this is no longer the case for many of us. We are confined in shared spaces. Our kitchens are the place to eat, work, take a break, workout, teach, and parent. So how can we best practice setting boundaries, to not only manage our relational challenges, but also learn to be better communicators?
One important thing you may do while under a lockdown with our loved ones, friends, roommates, families, etc., is communicating and being vocal about our needs. In the process of being confined in one space, realizing and articulating what we feel emotionally (e.g., sadness, hurt, anger, nervousness) and what we need to sooth ourselves, could be key. In situations of conflict, when you feel trapped, ask yourself: “how do I feel and what do I need to sooth myself?” Do I need to put my headphones on to block noise? Do I need to go to my room to have my space? Do I need to respectfully communicate that I am not available right now and will commit to come back to a discussion later? It is important to sometimes say, “I am not available, I need space, and I will come back to you” to your partner, parent, or whoever you are quarantining with. Assessing your needs may benefit you by creating a healthy boundary and helping you to deal with the specific emotions that arise. This rule also applies to those who are alone. For example, if you realized that you have worked nonstop and have not had any space in between, think boundaries and take a break.
WHAT IF I LIVE IN A SMALL SPACE?
Some of us may have been under lockdown in small spaces. It is a sad and difficult reality for many, but, what may help is to build contextual shifts in our day and even in our spaces. For example, instead of eating at your computer, carve out a separate time of the day and eat in the kitchen area. If you are taking a break from work, sit in a different space at home, or if you can’t get outside, take a walk in your living room. Creating contextual shifts in both your space and timetable can create diversity in your space and reduce frustrations. You may have to get creative!
It may be also important and helpful to talk about space. For those who live in studios, lofts or small apartments, defining the meaning of space maybe useful. What does space mean to you? Can it be negotiated? If so, how can it be negotiated? What does it mean to not have your own room alone? What is it about lack of space you are struggling with the most? Negotiating and creating zones for each other to retreat to your own space may be a way to tackle this issue. Again, communication and imagination in order to expand your physical space can be key.
Although this is the time where we need to boundaries set the most, it is also the best opportunity for dissolving boundaries. What I mean is opening room for conversations you would never have otherwise. You have a child at home that is not doing their homework? Think about how you can ask other mothers, family members, or friends in your community who have access to you and surround you to support. Schedule virtual time with another person that might be able to connect with your child, and encourage them to complete work. Are you a new mother who feels depressed and overwhelmed? Think about other new or experienced mothers who can share their stories of motherhood and reach out. This is the best time to be broadening your community networks to beat self-isolation and sense of incompetency. Connect, connect, connect! Use your imagination and get creative in ways to connect (e.g., schedule a virtual girl’s night or virtual brunch date). Although we may often be encouraged to thrive on individuality and self-reliance, this pandemic has taught us the importance of community in improving our mental health. If you have not already, it is time to build a social protective system for yourself, to not only survive, but thrive during times of self-isolation.
Take care and be well,
Armita Hosseini, M.Ed., M.A., C.Psych. Assoc. (Supervised Practice) (Pronouns She/Her)