Relationships can be a source of meaning, joy, comfort, laughter, love, and excitement. Relationships can also be challenging, particularly when we’re in crisis or under increased stress. Social distancing measures necessitated by the COVID-19 health crisis have left many feeling isolated and alone. Others report feeling confused and even surprised by their own emotions or those reactions of their loved ones.
We know that increased social isolation and stress can contribute to and heighten instances of violence and abuse in relationships. If you are in a violent or abusive situation, please review the resources at the bottom of the page; the UO is committed to providing our university community with support even when we’re not physically on campus together. With these realities in mind, it is critical for us to find ways to care for ourselves and our relationships during this time and to identify resources we can turn to access help and support.
Social distancing does not mean that we need to be alone or isolated from our important relationships. You might find yourself asking, where do I even start? What does it mean to care for our relational health? Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
Caring for our relationships begins with caring for ourselves:
- Allow yourself to feel: Navigating a world that feels unsafe, uncertain, and unpredictable is understandably difficult. Feelings of sadness, loss, grief, anxiety, and restlessness are normal and to be expected. You also may be in an environment that is not affirming or may otherwise be evoking difficult feelings. These emotions tend to build up and feel more intense the more we deny or avoid them. Check-in with yourself on a daily basis: How am I doing today? What emotions am I feeling? Emotions are like waves, they ebb and flow. You won’t always feel this way and you can get through this. Taking comfort in this reality can be helpful.
- Cultivate gratitude: While it is important to allow ourselves to acknowledge and feel our emotions, it is also important to not get stuck in them. Consider spending time each day thinking or journaling about what you’re grateful for or go on a walk and find five things that spark beauty or joy.
- Establish a routine: Part of caring for ourselves during this time is recognizing what is in our control and what is outside of our control. It may be helpful to ask, "What expectations of ‘normal’ am I letting go of today?" Accept that it’s okay to not be “productive” or be our best selves during crises. Many folks report feeling better if they are able to follow a predictable daily routine. Don't forget to protect time for work, connection, and self-care.
- Healthy coping: Now more than ever, it is important to practice and make time for self-care. Self-care is different for everyone but can include engaging with various art forms (music, podcasts, crafting, drawing), watching something funny, spending time outside, getting active (walks, working out, or yoga), meditating, cooking, cuddling pets, or connecting with a loved one or therapist. While it can be tempting to cope by over-indulging — be it binge-watching, gaming, shopping, or over-using substances — it is important to recognize that these means of coping, while offering short term relief, often result in long-term consequences of feeling even more depleted.
- Set boundaries around your news consumption, including social media. You might consider limiting your media consumption to a certain amount of time each day and/or pre-scheduling times to intentionally interact with the news (ideally not before bed). While it is important to stay informed and connected, excess consumption of news can lead to increased anxiety and stress, sleep difficulties, loss of concentration, and diminished productivity towards your goals, and feelings of emptiness.
Okay, got it! So, how do I care for my relationships with my friends and family/chosen family during this time?
- Connect with Others and Offer Support: Find ways to make time for others. While we may not be able to share physical space with others, we can send a text, make a phone call, or initiate a video chat. Checking-in on each other can be as simple as asking, “how are you doing…really?” or “are you okay?” You might also set up a movie night using Netflix Party, a game night using apps such as House Party, or sign up for a Zoom workshop, trivia night, or class on a topic that interests you and allows you to connect with others. Check out various opportunities for the UO community.
- Practice Vulnerability: We can mistakenly assume that we’re the only one struggling or feeling a certain way. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with trusted others and express how you’re really feeling often gives other people permission to do the same. Connecting in these genuine and meaningful ways helps you to realize that you’re not alone and that our emotions and reactions are both valid and universal. This provides an opportunity to deepen your connection by supporting each other through current challenges.
- Set Boundaries: Many folks are finding themselves spending A LOT more time than usual with roommates, family members, or partners they live with, which can lead to increased tension, annoyance and frustration. It is important to remember that spending time alone is healthy and often allows us to recharge. It is also important to reach out and maintain connections with other members of your support system, even if the means of connecting is virtual. It can be helpful to have daily or weekly check-ins with those you live with to discuss needs, expectations, and boundaries around time spent together, time spent apart, and how to create a household routine that works for everyone.
- Practice Grace: Finally, remember that during times of crisis, rarely is anyone operating at their best. Practice curiosity when you or a loved one reacts in a way that you don’t expect. Take the space and time you need to thoughtfully respond and authentically apologize (if needed) to defuse sitiations and reduce reacting in the moment. Cultivate compassion, both for yourself and for those around you.
While the recommendations provided above also apply to our romantic/ sexual/intimate partners, here are some additional considerations for navigating romance in the time of COVID-19:
- Be intentional about time spent together. While many common “date night” options aren’t currently available, there are other ways to connect and express care. Explore what is currently available. That might mean getting dressed up and cooking a nice dinner at home (or via video chat if living apart), attending a virtual concert (with accompanying dance party), or touring an art museum online.
- Practice appreciation: Take time each day to let your partner know what you appreciate about them. Appreciation can take many forms, including telling them what they are doing well (verbally or by leaving a note for them to find), doing something nice for them, or surprising them with a small gift. Tip: Start or end your day by setting a timer and share reasons why you love each other popcorn style.
- Ask, Listen, and Respect. Increased stress and times of crisis can affect individual’s desire for intimacy, affection, and sex. This is normal and okay. It is important to have clear, direct, and honest communication with your partners around boundaries. It can be empowering (and decrease anxiety) to initiate discussions to make sure you’re on the same page about what you want and don’t want (which can change day to day). It is important to listen to and respect each other’s boundaries, ensuring that there is explicit and enthusiastic consent before moving forward.
We often think of relational health as just involving those who are directly connected to us, like friends, family members, and partners, but taking care of our communities is equally as important. The COVID-19 health crisis has illustrated just how interconnected we are and how we can make a difference TOGETHER to save lives and support each other. Here are some ways to care about your community:
- Stay home, save lives. Do your part to flatten the curve. While it can be hard to feel like you’re making a difference by hanging out on your couch, know that you are helping to save someone’s life and preventing our medical systems from becoming overwhelmed. At the same time, the ability to practice social distancing is a privilege. Avoid making assumptions or judgments about others’ social media posts or activities – they may be an essential worker (or cannot work from home), providing mutual aid and helping members of the community in need, or navigating other difficult circumstances. Cultivate compassion, both for yourself and for others.
- Understand and act against discrimination and bias. History (past and recent) demonstrates that discrimination, racism, and hate escalate in times of crisis as those with more power and privilege look for scapegoats on which to blame the unexplainable. The present health crisis has led to increased instances of bias and discrimination against international students and Asian-American communities, prompting positive counter messages such as “the virus doesn’t discriminate, and neither should we.” Additionally, messaging about the African American and black community being more susceptible to the worst symptoms of COVID-19 often doesn’t acknowledge how structural racism and oppression have created and led to these health disparities. During this time, it is important to be aware of how these forms of bias and discrimination may be impacting our friends, our community members, and perhaps ourselves. It is also important to identify how you can take action, show up and speak out against instances of discrimination and bias. And, if you are experiencing these realities yourself, please know that you are not alone and deserve support. (Please refer to the resources below as well.)
- Support Survivors: April is Sexual Assault Awareness + Action Month (SAAM). Since social distancing measures have resulted in increased isolation and risk for violence for many, it is critical to support survivors now more than ever. Supporting survivors can simply mean saying, “I believe you. It’s not your fault. You are not alone. I am here for you. You deserve support – in whatever time and in whatever way you choose.” Here are ways to learn more about and get involved virtually with SAAM events.
Finally, social distancing does not mean that you are alone. Outside perspectives and support can help us keep ourselves and our relationships healthy and well-functioning. Here are some organizations that can provide you with the support you deserve during this time.
Care and Advocacy Program 541-346-3216
University Counseling Services 541-346-3227
University Health Services 541-346-2770
University Office of Investigations & Civil Rights Compliance (OICRC) firstname.lastname@example.org 541-346-3123
Student Survivor Legal Services (SLSS) 541-346-4666
Lane County Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) SASS Crisis Support Line: 541-343-7277 Toll-Free: 1-844-404-7700
Rachel Kovensky, Doctoral Candidate, UO Counseling Psychology
Graduate Employee, Sexual Violence Prevention & Education (SVPE), Office of the Dean of Students