Stressed About Coronavirus? Make These 4 Mental Shifts

cornovirus

It seems like every few minutes there’s another alarming headline about coronavirus. Perhaps, worries about the virus have you constantly reaching for hand sanitizer and steering clear of anyone you hear coughing or sneezing in public.

While it makes sense to follow precautions recommended by the CDC and other trusted organizations, did you know that there are some other potent ways to stay healthy? I’m talking about taking steps to boost your mental health.

Normally, I discuss these steps in the context of improving your marriage. But the same strategies that benefit your relationship will also boost your physical health. And in stressful times like these, we could all use a boost! The mind-body connection is powerful. Here are four mental practices that will enhance your physical wellness.

1. Lower Your Stress

There’s really nothing in your life that reducing your stress levels won’t improve. Stress takes a toll on relationships. But it also damages your health in myriad ways, including weakening your immune system.

Chances are you were pretty stressed out even before this global crisis. If coronavirus has you even more anxious than usual, it might be time to put some limits on your news and social media consumption. When you do seek information, turn to sources that are reliably accurate and that take a calm and measured tone instead of a sensationalistic one.

You can also bolster your immune system by making sure you are getting enough sleep and eating healthful foods, especially those that feed the gut bacteria that protect your body. Meditation, yoga and qigong can help turn the volume down on your body’s stress response.

2. Make a Point to Connect

Just like stress, loneliness is bad for your immune system. And it’s an epidemic in its own right. Almost half of all Americans report feeling lonely and left out.

As coronavirus spreads, we hear a lot about keeping up our physical distance from others. Universities are canceling classes. Companies are telling employees to work at home. And members of vulnerable groups are being urged to self-isolate.

At the same time, though, we should be making an extra effort not to be emotionally distant. Get in touch with people you don’t see regularly. If virus precautions have changed your routines, don’t let important people fall off of your radar.

When you are stressed and sad, share your feelings with someone you trust instead of just soldiering on. Even spending time with your pet helps. We are all social beings who need a rich network of relationships.

 3. Keep a Positive Mindset

Decide right now that you are in good health and that you are going to stay that way. Constantly call to mind mental images of yourself as strong and healthy. Positive emotions and visualization improve physical wellbeing in a very real way.

Regularly remind yourself of everything that you are grateful for. Gratitude is a powerful weapon against the negativity bias in our brains. We do a good job of remembering dangers and threats, but we have to intentionally focus on and savor positive things in order for them to register.

4. Let Go of Negativity

Elsa from “Frozen” was really onto something. Letting go and forgiving improves our health. If you are carrying around grudges and resentment, you are making it harder to keep yourself healthy and to heal from any illness. If everyday annoyances are really setting you off lately, that can affect your heart rate, blood pressure and immune response.

These four tips will help you bolster your health amid the anxiety about coronavirus. And, as a bonus “side effect,” they will also improve your marriage and other relationships. Please care for yourself well, both during this challenging time and well beyond.

What Meghan and Harry Teach Us About Marriage

As Valentine’s Day gets closer, no love story has the world’s attention right now more than the one between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Of course, the Sussexes have been a magnet for headlines ever since they were dating. But the fascination with them jumped up to a new level after the two announced they would “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family” and divide their time between England and North America.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about “Sussexit.” Some are critical; some are supportive. As a psychologist who’s worked with countless clients on their marriage issues, I see two people that are making choices to protect their relationship. Although it might not seem like Harry and Meghan have much in common with the rest of us, they’re actually experiencing the same things, in their own way, that many other couples do.

They’re Under Pressure — But So Are You

As Meghan and Harry know all too well, outside factors can have a huge effect on your marriage.

Those factors can include societal pressures. Meghan and Harry have broken tradition for how they are “supposed” to behave as royals. For that, they’ve faced a lot of criticism.

You and I don’t know what that’s like, of course. But I bet you and your husband have defied expectations in other ways and caught flak — in ways large or small — from others. For example, maybe you make more money than he does, and your friends and family make passive-aggressive remarks.

Some pressures that Harry and Meghan have faced will feel more familiar to other couples.  They’re still new parents: Baby Archie was born last May. They have had (or are rumored to have had) difficult times with both sides of their family. And talk about work pressures! How would you like media attention on every aspect of how you did your job?

There’s also a compelling case to be made that scrutiny of Meghan has a racist element. And, as anyone who’s experienced racism knows, it’s a profound source of stress that damages our physical and emotional health.

How Stress Hurts Your Marriage

Meghan and Harry move in a different world than we do. But stress is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or famous you are. Constant, intense stress will take a toll on your relationship. That’s just how our brains are wired.

When you are under great stress, your brain goes into fight-or-flight mode. You are definitely not in “let me connect with my partner” mode! Under stress, you might …

  • Have trouble processing information.
  • Not really hear what your husband is saying.
  • Lack empathy.
  • Become defensive and have difficulty being open
  • Get “stuck in your story” and keep repeating your position.
  • Experience tunnel vision.
  • Have trouble solving problems.

When you and your husband are constantly stressed, you will regularly behave in these destructive ways. And that will alienate you from each other. Your relationship will get stuck in a negativity spiral.

What If You Stepped Back, Too?

Based on Harry and Meghan’s public statements, it’s clear that their stress has been building and that they felt their unprecedented move was necessary to protect themselves and their son.

I believe that we can all learn something from that. If outside pressures are causing extreme stress in your marriage, you have to make easing those pressures a top priority. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it feels like you’re breaking a norm. Even if other people don’t like what you’re doing.

So what would create the space for less stress and more connection in your own marriage?

  • Can you take some things off of your jam-packed schedule so that you have more breathing room and time for each other?
  • What if you stopped trying to match your friends’ lavish lifestyles so that you could finally pay off that debt that’s been stressing you out?
  • Do you need to start limiting time around people who don’t support your marriage (even if they’re family) and find a new community that will validate and celebrate you?

Meghan and Harry show us that real love is very different from what we learned from fairy tales, even for a prince and a duchess. But they also show us we must take a stand for our own happily ever after.

If you’re ready to prioritize your relationship, I invite you to pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It has lots of practical advice for busy couples who want to maintain their bond amid all of today’s stresses and outside pressures.

Following up with Your Husband is NOT Nagging!

It’s happened to any woman who is married. You ask your husband to do something — for example, take care of a leaky faucet — and he says he will. You wait for it to happen. And wait. And…

Nothing.

That dripping faucet is still driving you crazy. And now your husband is too.

You could handle the problem yourself. However, that adds one more thing to your already-long task list, and you know you’ll feel resentful. Or, you could remind him and maybe get accused of nagging.

Neither option feels like a good one.

OK, let’s set one thing straight. If the two of you had a discussion and came to an agreement that he would do something, it’s not nagging to check in if it didn’t get done. It’s simply “following up.” You follow up effectively with people at work all the time. And it’s possible to do the same with your husband. Here’s how.

Decide Whether to Follow Up

First, decide whether this is a conversation you really want to have. There’s no right or wrong decision here. Think about how important the request is in the big picture. Is following up on it the way you want to spend your energy right now? If it is, that’s fine. You can use the rest of the strategies in this article. But if it’s not, are you OK just letting this one go? I mean truly letting it go without being mad.

Give Him the Benefit of the Doubt

If you do decide to follow up with your husband, here’s how NOT to lead off:

You said you would fix the faucet, but you still haven’t! Why can’t you just get things done without my having to ask you AGAIN AND AGAIN to take care of them?!!!

No doubt, he’ll probably get defensive if you come at him that way.

Instead, you want to take an approach more like this:

Honey, I know you’ve been busy, so it may have slipped you mind, but the faucet is still dripping. I know you told me you were intending to take care of it by last Friday.

Use a neutral tone of voice, not a blaming one and just state the facts. Remember, you’re just checking in, like you would with someone at work.

Listen to his response and then make another specific request, making sure you highlight the importance to you:

It’s really important to me. Would you please take care of it today?

Now please know that this is not some magic formula that will keep your husband from getting irritable or defensive. Some guys will still be reactive no matter how you follow up with them. But others will mirror your respect and courtesy.

Increasing the Odds of being Heard

There are a few ways to increase the odds that your requests will not be overlooked:

1. Connect the Request to Your Needs

One thing that can keep your request on his radar is to clearly connect it to a need you have. Sometimes husbands don’t follow through on requests because they don’t see why they’re important. Maybe he’s not as concerned about the water bill or conservation as you are, so that faucet isn’t bothering him. But it would bother him if he understood how much it was stressing you out. So try saying something like this:

I’m kind of at the end of my rope right now with Mom being sick and work being crazy. So that leaky faucet is just adding to my stress.

2. Treat Him Like an Adult

You don’t belittle or disrespect your colleagues and friends. (At least I hope you don’t!) So don’t treat your husband this way. Give him the respect you would any other adult.

But while you’re both entitled to respect in the relationship, you’re also both entitled to some degree of accountability too. That’s part of being an adult, too. Adults do the things they say they will do.

If the request you made was important to you, stand your ground. Just always do so respectfully and kindly.

3. Show Appreciation

If your husband regularly ignores your requests, make sure you’re not committing this common mistake. One of the reasons men say they stop stepping up in their marriage is because they truly believe no matter what they do, their wife will never be happy. So they just stop trying.

If that’s the case in your relationship, the easy fix is to consistently thank your spouse just like you would a friend or coworker if they did the same task.

Start changing the atmosphere in your relationship by looking for opportunities to show more respect and appreciation. More often than not, your spouse will do the same.

Got more questions about communication in marriage? Pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love

Best Marriage Advice from 2019

Over the past year, I’ve covered a lot of advice about keeping your marriage strong even when life is busy and stressful. Some of my marriage advice has delved into tough topics. In other articles, I’ve aimed more to provide inspiration for improving your relationship.

If you’ve missed any of my marriage articles from 2019, you can catch up by reading this roundup of the year’s most popular posts.

He Cheated — Should You Leave Him?’ and

Is It Time to Leave Your Husband?

Both of these articles were about the most serious juncture you can experience in a marriage: whether to continue it. In the first article, I looked at whether you should leave a partner who cheated. Of course, there’s no single right answer about whether you should stay with or leave a cheating spouse. But in this article, you’ll find a list of questions that can help you make the right decision for you if you’re ever in this painful situation.

The second article can help you figure out whether your marriage is irretrievably broken or whether it can be saved. Again, everyone’s situation is different. But whatever your decision is, this article can help you be at peace with it.

‘If He “Needs Space,” What Should You Do?

It isn’t just women who are seeking some distance in relationships. That’s demonstrated by another one of my most popular marriage articles from last year. “I need some space” can be an alarming thing to hear from your husband. And you might spend a lot of time wondering what he really means by that statement. But, as I explain in the article, there can be any number of reasons behind your husband’s need for space, and it’s usually not a red flag in your relationship.

How to Cope When You Love Him But Hate His Politics‘ and

‘How to Respond If Your Husband Likes to Argue

If anything, political divisions in our country have only gotten deeper since the first article was published. So I have the feeling it will remain relevant for a long time to come! If you haven’t read the article yet, I offer some tips to keep your marriage from feeling like one of those cable news shows where ideological rivals just keep shouting over each other.

And if your husband seemingly loves to pick fights about politics or other subjects, you’ll want to check out the second article as well. In it, you’ll find some tips to help you decode what his argumentative behavior is really about.

How to Make Date Night Better With One Easy Shift

But you weren’t just thinking about disagreements in your marriage in 2019. You were also looking for ways to make the most of your time together. To that end, I went below the surface of a familiar piece of marriage advice: Have regular date nights. Unfortunately, that advice can do more harm than good if it becomes just another area where you are putting pressure on yourself to do things perfectly. As I wrote in the original article: “The point of having a date night isn’t to do something you can brag about on Instagram. It’s to connect with each other.”

How to Stop Being Too Controlling of Your Husband‘ and

How to Make Friends With Your Anger

Speaking of pressure, these next two articles speak to some feelings and issues that emerge because of all the responsibilities and expectations on us as women.

If your husband has said you are controlling, or if this is something you’ve noticed about yourself, I’m willing to bet it’s because you have so much on your plate, and sometimes it feels like your husband is slowing down your efforts to get all those things done. The best way forward is to have an open and honest discussion about household responsibilities — chores, childcare, emotional labor — and how the two of you can divide things more equitably.

Meanwhile, anger is an emotion we are often uncomfortable with as women. We may worry that anger makes us a bad person or believe that we shouldn’t get angry at all. When you can’t process anger in a healthy way, that can lead to destructive behaviors in your marriage, like complaining or withdrawing. But when you listen to your anger, it can guide you toward positive change in your marriage.

The Four Agreements in Marriage

I want to conclude with an article that is great to revisit (or read for the first time) as you think about what you want for your marriage in 2020.

The personal development classic The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a surprisingly effective guide to a good marriage. How can you apply each agreement in your marriage next year?

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

Thank you again for reading in 2019! I’ll be back in January with more insight and advice to make your marriage stronger than ever.

One Small Shift That Will Improve Your Marriage

If you’re looking for ways to make your marriage better, there’s a strategy you may have never considered. It’s surprisingly simple, and it addresses a common point of tension. Yet very few women use it.

Ready? Here it is: Give partial credit.

That’s it.

What do I mean by partial credit? Let me explain by giving you an example I hear about all the time. A wife asks her husband to take care of some things around the house while she is out. He accomplishes almost everything she wanted him to do. But maybe he doesn’t do the job exactly as she would have.

What do you think she focuses on? That’s right: the fact that the task is not finished in the way she defines it. She’s only giving credit if everything is done and done right according to her standards— which doesn’t help anyone. The husband loses his motivation to do more around the house, and the wife loses out on the work he could be doing.

Giving partial credit works out a whole lot better for everyone. Let’s look at why that is.

Why We ‘Grade’ So Harshly

I don’t think women intentionally avoid giving partial credit. It’s just a function of how we are used to doing things and the stress we are under.

Women are taught to look for ways to be helpful without being asked and to go the extra mile. If one woman is doing a task, another will typically jump in and try to help if she can. Men, on the other hand, won’t usually insert themselves into a task another man is doing unless he is asked to do so. Men consider that being respectful.

In general, men also approach delegated tasks a little differently. They will usually strive to do exactly what is asked, and only that. So, if you’re mad at him for not doing more, he’s not really going to understand that. For example, if you asked him to run the dishwasher and he did that, he might be frustrated when you’re upset he didn’t also clean the kitchen counters because it was so “obvious” they were dirty.

Women are often multitasking and juggling more than men, thereby carrying a larger mental load. We want tasks to be completely done, with nothing left to address or worry about, so they can be totally off of our minds. There’s a psychological phenomenon at play here: the Zeigarnik Effect. Our brains remember incomplete tasks more readily than those that have been completed. Having too many loose ends can literally create mental stress by nagging at us.

What’s the Real Issue?

Shouldn’t he just know that the rest of the kitchen needed cleaning? Well, yes, but is that what you specifically asked him to do? If the only thing you did in response to the work he completed is to complain about what he didn’t do, he’s going to feel discouraged and micromanaged. He’s also going to eventually feel like nothing makes you happy.

Instead, try giving partial credit. Just say, “Thanks so much for loading the dishwasher.” This doesn’t mean you are giving up on his helping to clean the rest of the kitchen. But instead of implying he “failed” at the task you asked him to complete, make a more specific request next time: “Would you mind loading the dishwasher, cleaning the countertops and emptying the dishrack please?” Trust me, he’s not going to be offended by this level of detail.

The other important thing you can do moving forward is having a farther-reaching discussion about how the mental load of the household is distributed. This is especially important if you’re the one with a to-do list a mile long. At the end of the day, the problem isn’t really that he didn’t clean the rest of the kitchen, it’s that you are managing far too many details in your household, and that’s exhausting. Open his eyes to this so that the two of you can work out a better division of both physical and emotional labor.

Extend More Credit

Especially this time of year, partial credit is a useful concept to remember in your other relationships too. The holiday season brings a lot of expectations — and hurt feelings when those expectations don’t get met. How would it feel to give partial credit to your sister for at least waiting until after dessert to start complaining about her ex? Or to your in-laws for not overspending as wildly as they used to on the kids’ gifts even though they didn’t follow your wishes exactly?

I’m wishing you lots of peace and joy in all your relationships this holiday season. For more advice on better communication in marriage, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.