Thursday May 6th, 2021
Over the last year, the pandemic has impacted our well-being and the well-being of our loved ones. One of the underlying reasons for the high levels of stress endured over the last year can be attributed to transitions. Transitions are defined as the process of changing from one state or condition to another. The reason that therapists work closely with couples to focus on their transitions in the therapeutic process is because transitions are stressful (Note: even the positive events such as school graduation, purchasing a home, wedding planning, etc.). Remember, when we are stressed, some of our unhealthy habits, tendencies and behaviors start to resurface. As this pandemic continues, there is a good chance that many more transitions will come our way. It is critical for couples to keep these three skills in mind and work together to reduce relationship strain:
- Identify Stress Triggers: It would be helpful for you and your partner to open up and honestly identify recent triggers that have caused stress. Sharing this information prevents each partner from feeling alone when trying to manage stressors. Your partner becomes aware of how the stress is affecting you emotionally. As for the triggers that may relate to the relationship and/or parenting, when identifying your triggers, share them in a non-judgmental way, express how the trigger is impacting you by using descriptive feeling words, and share what you have been doing to cope. Trust me, that amount of information is helpful and allows your partner to empathize and work together with you. That’s teamwork!
- Use Stress Management Techniques: Even outside of couple therapy, both partners should take advantage and utilize the basic techniques of stress management. These techniques include: sleep hygiene, nutrition, exercise, deep breathing, meditation (and yoga), relaxing activities (e.g., reading, coloring, aromatherapy), etc. I know reading this, most folks are confused, as in “tell me something I don’t know.” I am not sharing these techniques to insult anyone’s intelligence, but basic techniques tend to be often overlooked. These techniques are sometimes more accessible and effective in stressful moments than trying to implement all-out clinical interventions.
- Implement Stress Check-In: This is an idea that I have stressed (no pun intended) when working with my couples. The idea of a stress check-in works similarly to a couple emotional check-in. A stress check-in during a transition allows you and your partner to gain insight as to where each partner may be on the stress scale. There is no uniform scale to use. Whatever method you want to use to identify your stress level during a check-in is fine (e.g., numbers, colors, weather reports, etc.). During a transition, check-in more often than not and make sure there is space for each person to identify where they are on their scale. Follow up by asking them “Is there anything I can do to help relieve stress?” Reply with something basic for your partner to do. It’s a win-win!
Handling abrupt and stressful transitions can be quite overwhelming. Especially during the pandemic, it is important for couples to have a plan for how they want to remain emotionally transparent with each other and handle the stress using a team-based approach. Let’s make handling our life transitions less stressful and lean on each other to make it happen.
by Jannel Thomas, LGMFT
April 1st, 2021
You may be asking: what is a support system and why is it important to have one? Well, a support system is a network of people who can provide you with emotional and overall support. Research has shown that having a strong support system can have many positive benefits including better physical and mental health, the reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms, and a decrease in stress. A support system is important because it can help you manage everyday stress, combat loneliness, assist with making difficult decisions, and provide hope to find solutions for problems you may be experiencing. If you struggle to understand what your support system should look like, here are a few ways to build and strengthen it:
- Identify family and friends who you can reach out to. Think about people who you love, trust, and care about as well as the people who feel the same about you. These are the friends and family who can provide you with emotional support. Feel free to send a simple text message or video call to get the conversation going.
- Connect with people who share your interests. Consider volunteering or joining a club that highlights your interests and hobbies. This can be a great way to meet and interact with people who enjoy the same likes and interests that you do. There are many virtual, online, and/or COVID-19 friendly options for you to explore.
- Find a mentor. Mentors can be helpful in significant areas of your life including religion, finances, relationships, etc. Mentors are great people who can help guide you and provide you with advice as you navigate through life. For example, contact someone who is highly experienced in your professional field or reach out to a local faith leader and ask if they have the availability to be your mentor.
Having a strong support system is extremely beneficial to your mental health and everyday life. It is important to strengthen and utilize your support system during times of crisis, like now while living in a global pandemic when it can be easy to self-isolate. So, feel free to tap into any aspect of your support system whenever you feel the need to. Chances are that you’ll feel better after doing so.
March 4th, 2021
As human beings, we are social creatures and need relationships to thrive. With social distancing becoming our way of life, many of us have turned to social media more often than not for social interactions. Unfortunately, excessive social media use has also been linked to anxiety and depression. If you notice that you are spending more time on social media than with your friends, comparing yourself to others on social media, experiencing sleep problems, or are distracted at school or work by your social media use, you may want to consider making modifications to your screen time.
- Reduce Time Online: In order to reduce your social media use, it may be helpful to use an app (Screen Time for iPhone users and Digital Well-being for Android users) to track how much time you spend on social media each day. These apps help you to set goals and find ways to reduce your usage. Additionally, the apps will help you to set limits on how much time you spend on other apps. You can try turning off your phone at certain times of the day, not bringing your phone to bed (or to the bathroom), disabling social media notifications, setting specific times when you will check social media, and even removing social media apps from your phone altogether.
- Improve Social Time Offline: While social distancing makes this a little more difficult, you can still connect with your friends. Fun things to try at home may be hosting a virtual cook-off or taking an online class together. For outdoor socially-distanced activities, try walking or running, having a picnic, or doing an outdoor fitness class. Try limiting phone use as much as possible while engaging with friends.
- Express Gratitude: Excessive social media use can often lead to feelings of discontent. You may begin comparing yourself to others and holding yourself to unrealistic standards. Taking time for reflection and practicing mindfulness daily can decrease the negative impacts of social media use. Expressing gratitude will help you focus on things that are going well in your life and mindfulness will help you be more in the present moment.
February 4th, 2021
Experiencing hardship is almost like a right-of-passage for every relationship. Even the healthiest marriages encounter very dark times during which the relationship is jeopardized. Most relationships experience challenging moments where partners might feel that it would be less painful if they just called it quits. Although this is the time of year that love is in the air, we are also living through unprecedented times that drastically exacerbate the stress placed on our relationships. What should we do when partners feel that they are at their wits’ end?
- Disrupt Your Cycle: Usually when partners are experiencing difficulty, it becomes even more challenging to communicate effectively. This is the point at which couple therapy is most helpful. It provides partners with tools to disrupt unhealthy communication patterns that leave both partners feeling unheard. The goal is not only to have your thoughts and feelings heard, but also to understand where your partner is coming from. This often requires taking a time-out, regulating your emotions and coming back to the conversation with a new way of thinking and talking. This is a healthier method of relaying your feelings and receiving the feelings of your partner; even if they are negative. In order to feel heard, you must also be willing to objectively listen without internalizing your partner’s negative emotions.
- Don’t Wait Too Long: Unfortunately, some couples wait to begin couple therapy after the relationship has already suffered extensively. Explore couple therapy as an option before the relationship gets to a place of no return. Some partners make the mistake of refusing to attend couple therapy after their partner has requested it. Be open and flexible to learning something new that can assist your relationship in growing over time rather than becoming stuck in a rut. There’s nothing wrong with getting help and support.
- Break Up Monotony: In some cases, our relationships suffer from the reality that things have become monotonous. This is especially true during the pandemic during which coping is very limited. Routine is incredibly important especially for those couples with children. However, sometimes it becomes necessary to break the routine in order to gain perspective on the relationship. Break routine for a breakthrough! Our relationship can be rejuvenated in many ways, whether through a small trip, a creative date night, a weekend at a hotel, virtual yoga, a picnic or simply doing something out of the norm. The relationship is much less daunting when we are able to connect emotionally and spend time enjoying one other. In those moments, we are reminded of why we are together.
Most couples recognize that love is not enough but it is a foundation. Love requires maintenance in addition to respect and willingness. These two components allow us to give our partners the benefit of the doubt, gain perspective and realize that we have bad times. However, bad times do not necessarily equate to a bad relationship. Happy Relationship Wellness Month!