Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the novelty of cocooning with a partner, best friend, or family member has long since worn off.
The phenomenon has been described as a "pressure cooker" — digging up tensions that lay beneath the surface of a relationship, either enriching your bond or turning you against each other.
Many are lamenting the opportunities we had before to be alone. But, is COVID-19 actually ruining close relationships, or just generating too much irritability for us to get along?
According to Travis D. Westbrook, a clinical psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, many factors are at play.
"First and foremost, increased frustration and irritability can be a common reaction to stress, he says."
"With the current pandemic, many aspects of our daily lives are more stressful than usual. Grocery lines may be slower, work tasks may require quick adaptation and time may be increasingly devoted to new roles or obligations brought about by social distancing measures, such as child care or homeschooling.
"At the same time, many of us likely have decreased access to activities that help us cope with stress in healthy and familiar ways. This may lead to coping with stress in other ways, such as lashing out at others.
"There may be good intentions behind some of our frustration toward our loved ones," he continues.
"Often when we care for others and their well-being, we find ourselves frustrated if they engage in activities we perceive as unsafe. For example, if a loved one is taking social distancing measures less seriously than we’d like, we may feel angry and upset toward them because we care about their well-being."
There are ways to remedy this, however.
Westbrook assures us that tetchy feelings are normal and expected during a global pandemic. He suggests taking an insular approach.
"During times of increased stress, it can be particularly important to check in with yourself. Take a moment to pause, notice how you’re thinking and feeling, and acknowledge that feelings of frustration are a normal reaction to increased stress.
"It can also be helpful to use social support around you. Through checking in regularly with a loved one or close friend or family member, we can learn how others are coping with increased stress while providing support at the same time.
"These check-ins and activities are important because they can help us maintain and take care of important relationships in our lives. Social connections are critical to our physical and mental health, and being mindful of how we interact with others can help us preserve the quality of these relationships over time."
Co-founder, Chair and Acting CEO of A Lust for Life Paula McLoughlin echoes much the same, telling Irish Tatler that she hopes this experience will change the way we view mental health in the future.
"Through this profound common experience, there appears to be a universal understanding that it simply wouldn't be normal if the average person didn't feel some level of bewilderment or anxiety about the way in which our daily lives have been transformed overnight," she says.
"The need to talk about that meaningfully and with authenticity in the context of mental health is therefore definitely being pushed up the agenda. What is clear is that we cannot 'un-live' the lives we are currently living, we cannot eradicate the connection that has been developed and/or the dialogue that has been had.
"I am hopeful that in the aftermath of us all walking through this together, we will have a refreshed and enduring appreciation of the need to humanely support each other as people with lives, fears and challenges that may not be visible or obvious when they show up at work, but which must be held with empathy and flexibility."
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, there is help available:
- A Lust For Life – [email protected]
- Samaritans – 116 123 – [email protected] or [email protected]
- Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444
- Aware - 1800 80 48 48
- Childline – 1800 66 66 66 or free text 50101
Main image by @aurorajames