Sheltering in place can be stressful, even if you’re surrounded by family. This week we spoke with Kirk Honda, a couples and family psychotherapist who hosts the “Psychology in Seattle” podcast, about working through anxiety and overcoming relationship strain.
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What is your No. 1 tip for families tackling work from home & childcare?
We all make mistakes as parents, perhaps more so these days. You’re probably doing the best job anyone can do under the circumstances. With less shame comes more resilience. With more resilience comes more patience.
How can couples diffuse tension that may arise from sheltering in place?
Own your feelings and communicate them in a non-accusatory manner. For example, you notice you are getting easily frustrated by your partner. Slow down. Look inward. What emotions are you feeling underneath the frustration? It’s often hurt or fear. Own that feeling without shame. Tell your partner you feel hurt and afraid without making them feel attacked. Give them the chance to take care of you.
How can couples reignite the spark in their relationship during this time?
This is a tough one. In my practice, it often takes years to reignite the spark with couples. If the spark has dimmed, the couple has probably walked a long, dreary road to cold-ville, full of hurts and resentments. Plus, in our body shaming culture, many avoid physical contact. But have hope. Dedicate yourself to action. Maybe it’s cuddling more. Maybe it’s kissing a little longer. Maybe it’s revealing that resentment that’s been building up. Maybe it’s hiring a couples therapist or a sex therapist. There is a path. You just have to find it and work at it.
How can parents defuse tension with their children, who may be going stir crazy?
Parenting is perhaps the most complicated human endeavor, so I won’t claim to have a universally useful tip. However, there are some themes I’ve been observing recently. If you have to choose between schoolwork and your sanity, choose the latter. Be attuned to your child’s emotions — if they’re being annoying, it’s often because they feel unseen. Don’t feel shame for giving your child a little more screen time to keep the family functioning. Finally, find a way to take a break from your children now and then, if possible — we all need a break sometimes.
What are good family-bonding activities?
Puzzles! Board games! Sidewalk chalk! Mario Kart!
What are some ways families apart can stay connected?
I have found that good old-fashioned phone calls work best. Group Zoom calls are chaotic and it’s hard to hear everyone.
What common themes are you seeing people struggle with during this time & how can people overcome those struggles?
For those with significant trauma in their history, current events can trigger their trauma response. Feelings of danger can remind them of their general lack of safety and result in depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, anger, dissociation, demoralization and so on. For cases like this, therapy with a specialist in trauma is recommended.
Another theme is loneliness, particularly for those who live alone. Some have found success by increasing their phone and video conversations with friends. Others are going on social distancing dates by sitting 10 feet apart and talking. However, some were already experiencing loneliness and the virus has greatly exacerbated their isolation. For these individuals, therapy with a specialist is recommended.
Some people may be experiencing anxiety for the first time because of COVID-19. How can someone safely deal with their anxiety?
There’s really only one responsible answer to this: therapy with a specialist. Many therapists have moved to telehealth options, like phone and video.
What’s the best financial advice you’ve received?
The only way to make money is to make money. There are no tricks. Work hard, save, spend wisely, and before embarking on a career, research the likely income.
What’s the worst financial advice you’ve ever received?
In 2007, I was told that my Seattle house would continue to rise in value. A few months later, my house was worth half as much. I learned that predicting the market is nearly impossible.
What would you do with a $1 million windfall?
Give it to my parents and siblings so they can pay off any debts. If any was left over, I would set up a scholarship for people who make a positive difference in the world — my podcast already does this, but more would be better. The rest I would spend on “Empire Strikes Back” memorabilia.
Any book, podcast, newsletter or blog you recommend to help people be better with money or relationship stress?
For relationship issues, I recommend any book by John Gottman or Sue Johnson.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
With the little power and time I have on this planet, my life mission is to make the world a better place. I am deeply rewarded when a married couple works hard in therapy and reaches out to each other with love and vulnerability. I am rewarded when a trainee truly connects for the first time with a client. I was just rewarded today when a podcast listener commented, “I’ve been learning so much, not only about relationships, but about myself and the many ways I was wrong in thinking everything was my husband’s fault! We had a breakthrough this past weekend because of things I learned from you.”
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko