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Defusing family tension and conflict during the COVID-19 pandemic

Advice to help you watch for signs of stress among family members and techniques to defuse tensions and conflict during coronavirus isolation.

They might be the people you love most in the world, but living in close confines 24 hours a day can be stressful. Especially when many are facing economic pressures and fears about the virus.

These tips can help you keep your sanity but also manage some of the more serious conflicts that can arise in this situation.

You do not have to cope alone. There are strategies and supports that can help.

Anticipate

Anticipate it’s going to get stressful and think about how you will react to the stress.

  • How do you usually react to highly stressful situations? Think about how you might feel and what others might be thinking. 
  • Common feelings include anxiety, fear, general stress, uncertainty and helplessness. 
  • Although these reactions are very natural, they may stop you from preparing or acting so it’s important to acknowledge them and manage them better when they happen. 
  • Often in stressful situations we don't think as clearly.

Identify

Identify your feelings and thoughts and watch for signs of stress and tension among family members.

  •  The way you address your physical signs of anxiety and take control of the thoughts running through your head, strongly affects how you think and act in stressful situations, which can influence those around you.
  • We experience anxiety in a variety of ways, including upset stomach, irritability, headaches, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. For children it might include anxious behaviour, such as excessive clinging.
  • Try to identify any frightening and negative thoughts you or your family members might have. Do those thoughts help or hinder? Some typical, but unhelpful thoughts include things like: “I can’t cope,” “I’m so scared,” “We’re all going to die,” “I don’t know what to do”. 

Manage

Manage your feelings and thoughts with techniques and strategies.

  • Do things together that you all enjoy.
  • Set up weekly family meetings to calmly talk about problems and come up with solutions.
  • Talk about how you are feeling without casting blame.
  • Humour is a great tension release. Try telling jokes, watching something funny, playing silly games.
  • Pick your battles and have a constructive discussion about one issue at a time. Don’t try to solve everything at once.
  • Take time to look after yourself. Stay connected with friends by calling or video chatting.
  • Do something nice for yourself and each other. Banana split night or run your partner a warm bath.
  • Let different members of the family make decisions about the household. A week of the kids deciding the menu or what you watch together.
  • Practise calming techniques, such as deep, relaxed breathing or mindfulness (use a smart phone app such as Smiling Mind to help you get started) 
  • Replace frightening thoughts with more helpful ones like: “Breathe calmly,” “I can handle this,” “I’m coping”.
  • Try not to focus on the bad things that might happen, but instead tell yourself that the calmer you are, the better you’ll be at managing exactly what needs to be done.
  • Replace negative thoughts with 'I've got this', 'I am not alone', 'I'm empowered to reach out to others for help', 'I will find out how I can help others', 'This will pass'.

Get help if you are experiencing family conflict

Need further help?

It may becomes more difficult to manage family tension as people cope with all the changes. Family members might feel anxious or even unsafe in these circumstances. We know this happens in all disasters. To seek help, use this postcard from the Gender and Disaster Pod for referrals to support agencies.
 

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