Communicate to counteract home tensions

Linnea Mayo, Staff Writer

As we deal with the uncertainties of COVID-19, conversations between my friends and family have been focused on dealing with our new home environments. Personally, around my house, everyone seems to be reacting to the pandemic differently. While my brother may be trying to downplay his emotions, my parents are quick to say what’s on their mind without much thought. Such worries and emotions have led to tension within our family, stemming from our stress and fear.  The pandemic has not only affected our individual lives; it has disrupted our family dynamics. 

While government officials are attempting to find solutions, a flurry of news and uncertainty has been flooding our households. The unknowns of COVID-19 is likely to trigger a flight or flight response, since our brains are wired to look for danger.  According to Psychology Today, our sympathetic nervous systems that is responsible for our “fight or flight”  responses have been collectively in overdrive due to COVID-19. With the constant rush of pandemic news and stressors, our bodies are holding cortisol that drives our “fight or flight” response, making us much more aware and focused on the threat surrounding us. This can cause COVID-19 to loom over us and prevent us from solving logical problems when encountering conflict with people in our homes. 

“The unknown factor makes it difficult to plan ahead for after quarantine. It also is just a weird experience, because life is so different and no one knows when it’ll go back to normal. I try not to think too far ahead,” says freshman Ayla Conn. 

Response to this difficult time also depends on other factors. Uncontrollable factors such as being out of a job or not having enough space, food or internet to support the family is a crucial reality for some families as well. We must acknowledge the privilege some of us have, and the difficult situation some of us may be in due to social isolation. While the lockdown has been necessary for people’s safety from COVID-19, the government’s lack of preparation for this situation has made living situations even more difficult for certain homes that may experience even greater stressors like domestic violence that may be heightened during the shutdown. 

Situations like these are likely to intensify anxiety disorders, and even those not suffering with anxiety disorders are likely to experience levels of stress, fear, sadness and loneliness. The National Institute of Mental Health, NIH,  explains how generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can “cause display of excessive anxiety or worry about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances.” 

When individuals experience this range of emotions, they are inevitably going to affect their family members and others in their homes.   Students like myself can cope with our new realities by recognizing that communication is essential. This doesn’t look the same for everyone. This might mean communicating about the need for alone time to avoid creating conflict. This might mean communicating to discuss and express  more depth about your stressors. Or, this might mean collaborating with others, even those outside of your home like counselors or social workers, towards more productive coping strategies. Essentially,  as much as you feel safe doing so, communicate what you need with those around you. 

 “My family and I have all been a little overwhelmed especially because of having to adapt to virtual work. My family and I have conversations at the end of everyday and we talk about whether worrying is really necessary or a solution,” says sophomore Yusra Ansari. 

Our lives seem to have been put on pause, meaning we have to find ways to support those around us and seek support for ourselves. We can choose to let the tensions win and lead to constant bickering, or make use of the moment to rebuild connections with those we care about in the time we have.

“My parents have been using this time for more family bonding experiences. We’ve been having family game nights and movie nights and we take turns cooking dinner and baking desserts. I don’t mind that much but sometimes it gets tiring because we already see each other every hour of every day so it gets a little repetitive,” sophomore Emily Hunt says. 

Considering we don’t know how long this new normal will last, support and communication is needed in home environments. Students like myself are still trying to learn how to work with and communicate with their families. In a community where all you have is one another, we must recognize that everyone is learning how to exist in our new home environments, and also acknowledge that this is yet another valuable learning opportunity this pandemic has created for us. 

Mental Health & Domestic Violence Resources:

Evanston Township’s Health Center Resources

Contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline (800) 985- 5990 that provides 24/7, 365-day-a- year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.

Call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI (6264) Monday through Friday, between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm EST for mental health resources.

Contact the Illinois Department Human Services, Domestic Violence Helpline 1-877-TO END DV or 1-877-863-6338.