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.

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

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.

Vulnerability: The Best Gift for Anyone

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, you are probably starting to kick your holiday preparations into high gear.

But amid your shopping, decorating and travel planning, I want you to steal a few moments for one simple activity that will set the stage for a more meaningful season.

Now is a great time to watch or rewatch Brene Brown’s seminal TEDX talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” It will take you only about 20 minutes.

The holidays can stir up all sorts of feelings and expectations that make you feel more vulnerable this time of year. You may already be feeling some anxiety and stress in anticipation of all that needs to be done before year’s end. Of course, looking cheerful while trying to tame your perfectionism over every detail makes this a much harder task!

Some of you are anticipating sadness and heartbreak about loved ones who will not be with you this holiday. All these emotions can be so powerful that it can be tempting to hide from them through overeating, overdrinking or overspending.

The gift we all really want is to be able to share our vulnerable feelings with others and still feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, many of us — even kids — have had experiences that make us feel unsafe being vulnerable.

Making Space for Vulnerability

You can’t make people be vulnerable with you. But you can create an atmosphere of love and security that encourages vulnerability. What might that look like during the holiday season?

  • Deciding to skip a party you had planned to attend because your husband is at the end of his rope with end-of-year work stress.
  • Not telling your shy kid they “shouldn’t feel that way” if they voice nervousness about seeing their raucous cousins.
  • Taking a timeout from holiday activities to be with a friend who’s grieving or going through a crisis like divorce or a family illness.
  • Giving your aging parents some one-on-one time to just talk to you instead of getting lost in the busyness of the season.

When you show up for others in ways like these, you build trust and intimacy in your relationships which is necessary for anyone to be vulnerable.

Of course, you also need relationships where you can be vulnerable yourself. Before things get too stressful, think about who gives you a sense of safety and acceptance. Who can handle it when you’re not feeling merry and bright? Who would take it in stride if you need to express sadness that your budget is smaller this year or that your parents are having some health troubles?

If you feel that you and your husband are not open and vulnerable enough with each other, think about some small steps that might help bring you closer. You can’t just go from closed off to totally vulnerable overnight — and neither can he. Instead, think about a low-risk way you can test the waters. Maybe that’s something as simple as asking for his help wrapping gifts when you would usually handle the job yourself. You could use that opportunity to connect and find out how he’s really doing. Slowing down your flurry of activity and engaging creates opportunities to share any vulnerability either of you are experiencing.

I hope that this holiday season brings you closer to everyone you care about, especially your husband. To keep strengthening your relationship together, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Women, Men and the ‘Breadwinner’ Stereotype

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Couples tend to underestimate how much what’s going in our society as a whole affects their marriage. Cultural norms and expectations about men, women and families play into our relationships, whether we agree with them or not.

And sometimes those norms and expectations change more slowly than the realities of our lives — which gives today’s busy couples yet one more thing to navigate.

Take family income, for example. In 2017, Pew Research Center found that in almost one-third of U.S. cohabitating couples, women brought home at least half of the earnings. That’s a big leap from 1981, when that figure was just 13%. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 38% of wives earn more than their husbands.

While women’s earning power has increased over the years, there’s been less change in our perceptions of who “should” be the breadwinner.

The Pew Center also reports that 71% of adults believe that a good husband or partner should support his family financially. Only 32% say the same of women. On top of that, a study by a Harvard professor found that couples are at a nearly 33% greater risk of divorce when the husband doesn’t work full time.

All of this is important information to be aware of if you make more money than your husband does. The two of you could face criticism (veiled or otherwise) from friends and family, especially if your husband stays home with the kids — which means the two of you are breaking another norm.

You might also discover that the income disparity brings up some surprising feelings for both of you. In theory, both of you may have always supported the idea that it doesn’t matter which spouse makes more money. But, in practice, you might run up against some ideas about men and women left over from the way you were raised — ideas that you weren’t even aware affected you anymore!

None of this means that there’s anything wrong with how your family’s income breaks down. It’s up to you and your husband to decide together how much money you need and what you both want from your careers and your work-life balance. The important thing is just to understand the power of these entrenched expectations, how they might play out in your relationship and how you can manage these challenges together.

For more tips on negotiating all of the expectations and pressures of marriage today, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Is It Ever OK to Gossip About Your Husband?

You’ve met some friends for a glass of wine. Or you’re grabbing a coffee with your best girlfriends at work. Or maybe you’re huddled with some other moms on the sidelines of your kids’ soccer game. And then it starts: gossip about your husbands.

Does This Sound Familiar?

He’s STILL so helpless around the house. It’s like having another kid!

I asked him to pick up the gift for his mom, and he forgot — of course! He’s just useless.

He’s let himself go so much. We’re way beyond “dad bod” here. It’s killing my sex drive!

You’re amused and even titillated at this look into your friends’ marriages. And you can definitely empathize with some of the things they’re going through. In fact, you’ve got a couple of stories about things your husband has done lately. You know they’ll understand where you’re coming from. What’s the harm in a little venting?

Actually, there can be a lot of harm in gossiping about your husband. Here a few things to consider the next time you feel like dishing with your friends.

Is This Really ‘Joking’?

Sometimes there’s a fine line between poking some gentle fun at your husband’s quirks and talking about him contemptuously. You’re probably not doing any harm by sharing a couple of anecdotes about how obsessed he gets with work. However, if you start saying things like “I swear, he knows more about what’s going on with his coworkers than his own kids,” that’s a sign of some serious bitterness behind your jokes.

Would He Be OK With This? Would You?

How would your husband feel if he knew what you were sharing with your friends? Would he laugh at himself, or would he feel that you had betrayed his trust?

And here’s something else to think about: How would you feel if you knew he was gossiping with his friends over an embarrassing mistake you had made? Or if he was complaining to them about your low libido?

If there’s even a small possibility that he would consider what you’re about to say a betrayal, then just don’t say it.

Are You Avoiding Taking Action About Something?

If you’re having a problem in your marriage, gossiping about your husband with friends probably makes you feel better in the moment.
However, if your husband has no idea there is a problem, nothing can change. Does he have any idea how you’re feeling? If not, consider talking to him directly, rather than venting to others.

Is Your Listener Trustworthy?

I do understand that there will be situations in your marriage when you can’t talk to your husband. For example, you may need to get your own thoughts sorted out first or want some advice about how to approach him. In those cases, make sure the person you are confiding in is someone you can trust completely.

Your marriage needs an environment of respect and emotional safety. What you say in one careless moment can instantly undermine that environment. That’s why I urge you to tread very carefully whenever a conversation turns to gossip about your husbands. Take a minute to think through the consequences of sharing information about him, always choosing to protect the trust you have built together over the years.

For more advice about creating a healthy and respectful marriage, pick up copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

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