Communication is the key to all the relationships we have, which means it is also the key reason that some of our relationships go “wrong”. Going “wrong” can have many different looks too, ranging from explosive to brooding silence, all the way to drifting apart and losing contact. However “wrong” looks for you, this relationship breakdown causes stress and our assumptions that we make of people can be a core factor.
by Jaron Steffens
P.G.Dip Sci (Psychology), B.App.Sci (Psychology)
Dip Child & Adolescent Psychology, Dip Tch (PE & Health)
Pretty weird times we are living in right now. If we were all to be honest, with all the changes we’ve made in our lives due to the Covid 19 lock-down, we all have felt like we have lost control of things at some stage in the last couple of weeks.
Most of us like to feel that we have control over our environment most of the time, so it can be really stressful when we are thrown into a global pandemic and realise that we actually have no control of our environment at all. What we get told during a time like this is to control the things we can, which is great advice. The question, however, is what exactly can we control in a time that is so upside down it feels like total chaos?
The only thing you can truly control is yourself
In any given environment, the only thing you can truly control is yourself. You can’t control your environment, but you can influence your outcomes in a situation by controlling your own actions and challenging the negative internal voice that is telling you that it is time be fearful, or angry, or guilty, or frustrated, or sad. Only being able to control yourself may seem small, but in the individual world of you, this is the biggest thing you have. What happens in life and the world is only a tiny part of the equation when we are talking about the outcome for you as an individual. How you respond, and the meaning you gain from the event determines the outcome for you. This will be different for every person. These different interpretations not only determine the outcome for individuals, but also dictates how each person behaves. We learn from each thing that happens and change our behaviour slightly as a result. This is what we can control.
Every day during this lock-down we are getting new information that changes the way we need to be behaving. Because the pandemic situation is new to everybody, we have no point of reference from our individual past to compare this new daily information to and decide how this is relevant to us and our life. This confusion creates a feeling of being in chaos and out of control. So, how do we filter out what is relevant to us and behave in a way that keeps everyone safe during this time?
Recognising what you can control
To gain control for yourself, you need to recognise what you have control of in the situation you are in. Try to separate what is yours to own, and what belongs to others. The Serenity Prayer has been adopted and popularised by Alcoholics Anonymous and other organisations, but carries a simple message that we could all apply to ourselves; “(Insert deity here) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This is difficult to do when you are smack in the middle of an out-of-control moment. First you need to recognise your own signals that stress levels are ramping up for you and follow through what you need to do to get back into control. Think about things you can change in the situation to get the best outcomes for you. Sometimes this is as simple as acknowledging that this is someone else’s problem, and not yours to control or stress about.
During non-lock-down times
In non-lock-down times, we can start to feel like we are losing control when all the stress factors seem to come on at the same time. Work is busy beyond what you can handle, the house is being renovated, the kids have school holidays, and now you have caught a cold. When things get like this you can feel out of control, so control what you can. For work, list and prioritise jobs to gain perspective on what is important right now and what can wait. You can only do the work of one person, so tick off one job at a time. List and prioritise the jobs that are yours to do for the home renovations and trust the professionals to do the job they are hired for. Remind yourself of what you have organised for the school holidays and trust that you have done well as a parent, so your children do not require 24/7 entertainment. Illness is sometimes your body telling you that you need to rest for a bit. So, take a break when you can to allow recovery to happen.
During lock-down time, we can apply the same approach. We are receiving new information each day, which can be destressing. It is important to stay informed during this time, so choose a reliable source of information, choose what is relevant for you and those in your bubble, and decide how you need to change your behaviour to stay safe. Getting information from social media can overload your stress tolerance by being sensationalised, sometimes contradictive, and sometimes false. Choose carefully which information source you use.
Be box clever!
Often, life is viewed as one big box with all the life stuff chucked into a jumbled mess. We have work stuff jumbled up with family stuff, which is tripping on the recreational pursuits, even though they are trapped in a corner behind the health and fitness pile. Then after the social life is thrown on top of everything, the valued volunteer work falls out the side to give you something else to feel guilty about. We don’t need to gain control; we just need to tidy up. View each aspect of your life as having a smaller box all its own. When you are at work, open the little work box, recognise what is yours to own and control and go to it. If you are working at home and a child (yours, not a random) comes to you with a problem, close the little work box, open the little family box, control what you can to influence the situation, close the little family box, open the little work box again.
Lock-down time is a little different. Our full box has had a few things taken out of it, which you would think would make things less stressful. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Parents who are used to dropping the kids to school before heading off to work have become teachers who also have to find a way to do their jobs from home. On top of this, our usual escapes, the gym, mountain trails, cafes, etc, are no longer available to us. So, life in lock-down times is still an overflowing box of life stuff, it’s just a different box. Apply the same approach. Take one thing at a time from your jumbled box, work out what your role is in this aspect of your life, then place it gently into its own box.
Contrary to popular belief, we are not multitasking creatures. When you catch yourself in a negative out-of-control space, focus on one thing at a time and remember that you have total control over your own thoughts and behaviour, control these two things and you are controlling the universe as you know it.