By now, we all know that voluntary social distancing is key to mitigating the spread of Covid-19. In the grand scheme of things, lying low for a little while is a small sacrifice to make for the increased safety of all, though it certainly will pose challenges, not least of which being to our relationships.
“It will become easy to think of one another as a burden,” writes the Atlantic’s Helena Fitzgerald, “especially when we are cooped up together or when isolation breeds feelings of abandonment.” This raises the question: how can we best manage the unusual social circumstances we’re in?
What if I’m stuck with my roommates?
In 2017, engineer Ansley Barnard spent eight months living in an isolated dome habitat with five other scientists as part of Nasa’s Hi-SEAS program, which was developed to simulate the experience of traveling to Mars. During that time, she learned several lessons applicable to anyone living with roommates.
“Talking about a potential conflict early on prevents things from getting worse,” says Barnard. “Our strategies in the habitat were to be open about our feelings and avoid blame. It can help to carve out private places in the same home so that you can decompress alone if you need to,” she says.
Barnard and her team ate dinner together every evening, using that time to set aside any issues and work on their relationships with each other. “I think having a positive attitude and looking at your situation as a temporary opportunity instead of a setback can help keep you moving forward,” she says.
What if it’s just me and the kids?
According to Joshua David Stein, editor of the parenting publication Fatherly, if you’re practicing social distancing with your kids, now is the time to readjust your rule structure.
“Just like how when you take kids on a plane they can watch as much TV as they want – it’s kind of the same, at least for now,” he says. Fatherly has compiled a list of at-home activities for bored kids, the internet abounds with kid-friendly podcasts, museum tours and educational videos, and Stein notes that it’s a good time to get outside and take advantage of local parks, too.
If your kids are worried about grandparents they’re unable to visit during the pandemic, Stein suggests: “without lying, frame it in a way that will assuage their worries as much as possible. Like, ‘Grandma is doing fine, for her safety and our safety, we’re going to rely on FaceTime for now.’” It’s also to be expected that your patience will wear thin at times. “You’re going to freak out at your kids a little bit,” says Stein. “It’s not the best thing in the world but it’s not the end of the world, don’t beat yourself up about it, try to do better next time.”
What if I’m suddenly spending a lot more time with my live-in partner?
“This is a situation where you kind of know what is going to happen so you have time to come up with a gameplan,” says Erin Davidson, a couples and sex therapist. “Chat about what to do in moments where things are stressful – normalize that it’s OK if you get on each other’s nerves, and decide on a signal that means ‘OK, we need to take a moment in separate rooms, or recognize better communication is needed, or perhaps someone needs a hug or to talk about emotions that are coming up.’”
Davidson says both partners should get comfortable asking for – and giving each other – space. While it may be a tricky time to date, low-risk, symptom-free partners living in relative isolation together can certainly use this time to have more sex. “There’s a website called MojoUpgrade.com and it’s fun because both of you fill out ‘yes-no-maybe’ questions about sexual things you want to try individually, and then it only emails you with the things you both matched up with a ‘yes’ on,” she says. “It’s a low-pressure fun thing you can do.”
For the last three years, writer and musician Kristal Jax has been making ironic, Barbie-heavy memes about coping with mental illness, trauma and social issues, which she posts to her Instagram account @Dyingbutfine. Several of Jax’s recent posts have centered on Covid-19, including a “quarantine bingo” meme and a multi-post filled with ideas for how to distract yourself while home alone, such as by crafting, cleaning or making your own memes. “I find humour is a way to connect and let off steam when you’re really upset or anxious – just have some kind of catharsis,” she says.
In addition to taking on domestic projects, Jax says reaching out to offer support to others, if you’re able, is a good way to feel less alone. “I find helping people during times of crisis really helps you control your own anxiety, because you’re like, ‘Oh, I have a purpose,’” she says. “If you don’t know someone well enough to know how they would feel about you checking in on them you could still send a message to them saying, ‘Hey, I’m checking in on friends right now, do you need anything?’” And if you’re completely cooped up, “know that you staying home is you doing something,” says Jax, “even if you feel powerless.”