Practical Tips for Reducing Tension When You’re ‘Safer At Home’

by Emma Grace Brown

If someone had told you in January that you would spend your entire spring and summer breaks at home, you probably would have laughed. After all, warm weather was supposed to wash away the woes of winter and give us a chance to see friends and family near and far. And then, out of nowhere, COVID-19. While Safer At Home recommendations have given us lots of time to connect with the members of our own households, it’s also given rise to an abundance of domestic tension. If you’re feeling the strain, keep reading for advice on how to loosen the proverbial belt so that you can breathe and enjoy your family once again.
 
Go outside and play
 
It’s the same advice you’ve been giving to your children all summer: go outside. As parents, we know that getting outdoors means expending pent up energy. Our hope is that this tires the little ones out so that they can take a nap and wake up refreshed and, ideally, not cranky. Take your own advice. Spend some time outside doing things like riding bicycles. Even if your local park is still closed, you may be able to sneak in a few miles in other areas, like on some back-country roads or college campuses.
 
This will also put you in the mindset to pay closer attention to your general wellness. When you spend more time active, you’ll want to eat better, and that will lead to changes that affect you in a positive way.
 
Update the inside.
 
While going outside is one of the best things you can do for yourself, mother nature sometimes has different plans. Days when it’s just too hot or stormy can make you feel a little cooped up. This might lead to arguments, constant complaining, or an overall bad mood. Together, these things can leave your home full of negative energy. Redfin notes that you can cleanse negative energy from your home using natural methods, much like the Native American art of smudging.
 
Once your home feels refreshed, spend some time making sure it stays that way. A fresh coat of paint on the wall, rearranged furniture, and even fewer electronics will go a long way toward increasing positivity throughout.
 
Learn to communicate
 
Sometimes, stress and tension come simply from a lack of communication. Even when you are stuck in the house with your entire family all day long, communication – real communication – may go to the wayside. Instead of doing things like leaving the laundry out and hoping your teenager gets the picture, talk to them. Remind them that they have chores to do, and that everyone is expected to do their part. Similarly, if your spouse is being short-tempered, let them know you recognize that they are stressed  but remind them that their words and actions are causing even more pressure on the entire household. When you learn to state what you need and say what you mean, you can avoid a great deal of stress caused by miscommunication.
 
Codependency and self-isolation
 
Even if you spend more time outside, communicate like a champion, and make your home a cozy zone, if you are codependent or live with someone who is, your stress levels may be through the roof. Medium’s Madison Epting asserts that steps such as setting boundaries, doing things on your own, and engaging in self-care are great ways to keep you from falling back into codependent patterns. If you find that your codependency doesn’t get any better via self-help, MinnCoDA can help you find a program of recovery to support you through this difficult time.
 
While no one knows for certain when the pandemic will actually end, we can put a stop to its negative effects inside of our homes. So when stress has you down, look for ways to lift yourself up. Communication, physical fitness, and purging all of the negative energy is a great place to start.

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Finding Guidance in Troubled Times

Once again, we can look to our Traditions to guide us as we navigate through difficult and uncharted ground.  When faced with difficult life circumstances and relationship issues, the 12 Traditions can be the principles of our meetings as well as our interactions with others.  Who hasn’t benefitted from Tradition 12’s reminder to place “principles before personalities”? 

What more controversial topic is there right now than how and when to reopen our world after the last months of lockdown?  There are so many stories and opinions as well as triggers for codependent behaviors.  CoDA wisely lays out the guidance in Tradition 10 offering us no opinion on outside issues, which helps us keep the focus where it needs to be, our personal program of recovery. 

As we keep the focus on our primary purpose, to carry our message of recovery to those who still suffer, we are opening up our local recovery community to even more options where people can discover the gifts of the program of Co-Dependents Anonymous.  Fortunately for us, we live in a time of advancement which allows us to have choices.  As face to face meetings resume, some local zoom meetings will also continue to be available on an ongoing basis.  This allows each individual to make the choices that are right for themselves.  MinnCoDA’s “Staying Connected” page will become our “Local Online Meetings” page and links to join zoom meetings will be able to be accessed there.

Of course, each group is autonomous and can discuss and work out the details of how that particular meeting will move forward using the group conscience process.  When we gather in our meetings either face to face or online, it is wonderful to know we have a safe place to express our feelings about what is happening in our lives.  I invite you to find your voice in light of the 12 Traditions of Co-Dependents Anonymous, CoDA’s Guide to Sharing and the Recovery Patterns of Codependence. In order to ensure the emotional safety of those present, we refrain from advice giving, controlling or debating, etc.  We recognize that other people are capable of managing their own lives and that we can accept the thoughts, choices and feelings of others even if we are not comfortable with them.

Ultimately, the tools of the program which include the Serenity Prayer, 12 Steps and Traditions and many more are here to help each of us find our recovery from our codependence.  They remind us where we are powerless and where we have choices.  We grow in our trust of a Higher Power of our own understanding.  They guide us to learn to take care of ourselves and allow others to do the same.   

what you are feeling is probably grief

Someone sent me this article the other day and then a different person sent me an amazing podcast by Brene Brown where she is talking with the same author, David Kessler.

He is the world’s foremost expert on grief and co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. So I thought I must share this insight with you here because it resonated with me…

Kessler explains…
“We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Personally, I agree and there are a lot of losses to grieve. Grief is not just about the death of a loved one. For me, any change can be a loss and any loss can trigger grief. Here we all are with the loss of how things used to be. Loss of our jobs. Loss of physical touch. Loss of gathering to celebrate together. Loss of our routines. Loss of the way the world was before all this happened.

And…”Your loss is not a blessing or a test, it’s not about finding gratitude…loss just happens in this world.”

So what can we do with all this grief?

The stages of grief are not really linear but rather act as a guide. Understanding them helps us navigate…

Kessler says, “There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We have to name it in order to feel it and feel it to heal it.

I found a lot of wisdom and validation in this work on grieving and who doesn’t love to hear Brene Brown? so here are the links to the full article and the podcast.




the power of connection

Excerpt from an article by Sarah Kaplan, Reporter for Speaking of Science
see full article with links to the research here.

Six feet has never felt farther away.

Psychologists are worried about the long-term effects of our new, socially distant reality. Decades of research have shown that loneliness and isolation are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues.

But there is also hope in the data. Studies have revealed that human connection — something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love — can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.

A supportive phone call, an empathetic ear, an expression of love — these things can bolster the immune system on a molecular level.

But when we are on our own, or even when we just feel friendless, our bodies gear up for danger. Our nervous systems produce norepinephrine, a hormone associated with the “fight or flight” response. Inflammation — the way the immune system heals wounds and fights off bacterial infections — goes into overdrive. (Ironically, our anti-viral response is suppressed when we’re lonely.) Many of the hormones involved in stress, like cortisol, hinder immune cells’ ability to function.

One of the most important things kindness can do is ease our reaction to stress.

“There are powerful protective effects that we shouldn’t ignore,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. “And the extent to which we cannot only be open to receiving support from others … but be a source of support to them, can potentially help us all get through this.”

We shouldn’t even think of what we’re doing as social distancing, Holt-Lunstad said. She prefers the term “physical distancing.” It’s a reminder that the virus may have forced us apart, she said, but it doesn’t have to make us alone.

boost your immunity with kindness and self-compassion

As the news reports on this outbreak of the coronavirus, feelings of fear, stress, and worry often emerge. These feelings are normal. Lives may be impacted in large and small ways. Social distancing is happening as a way to decrease the risks especially for those with health issues and the elderly. For some people with codependency, this can increase feelings of isolation and separation.

Grounding ourselves with good information on what is happening, keeping things in proper perspective and focusing on what we can reasonably do to keep ourselves physically and emotionally healthy are important ways we can hang onto our serenity in stressful times.

illustration by Terrie C

Kindness

written by Terrie C

As we face a pandemic many people will be unable to stay home from work and public places.  One of the best things we can do is to practice kindness to all we come across. 

The practice of kindness can reduce the stress of those we meet as well as helping our own stress level.  Decreased stress increases immune response. 


SElf-compassion and Covid-19

Excerpt from a letter By Drs Chris Germer and Kristin Neff,
Co-founders, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Self-compassion boosts the immune system, it reduces anxiety, and it’s the easiest way to keep our hearts open to others. Some measure of fear is a healthy response to a contagious virus, of course. We want to respond to the contagion in a wise manner – with preventive measures that benefit ourselves and others.

Self-compassion can help if the virus is causing you unnecessary anxiety, limiting your ability to work or travel, reducing your income, or if you or someone you know has already contracted the virus. A self-compassionate response to the COVID-19 epidemic may look something like this, modeled on the Self-compassion Break:

  • Mindfulness – Become aware of how you feel about the virus. Are you feeling anxious, disheartened, confused? Can you feel it in your body? If so, where? Is your mind preoccupied with the virus? If so, what are your thoughts? Can you validate for yourself how you think or feel in a kind and understanding manner? For example, “Yes, this is hard.” “This is difficult.” “This is really stressful.” Can you offer yourself a little space around your feelings, knowing that it’s part of the current situation we’re all in?
  • Common humanity – When you hear news of people struggling with the virus, can you allow this to enhance your sense of being part of a global family rather than feeling separate? Can you imagine yourself in their situation and say, “Just like me.” Or when you reflect on your own distress, can you remind yourself, “Others feel as I do—I am not alone.” “Sickness is part of living.” “This is how it feels to be a human being right now.” 
  • Self-Kindness – Try putting your hand on heart or some other soothing place, helping to calm some of your anxiety through touch. What words do you need to hear to comfort or reassure yourself about the virus right now? Are they realistic? Can you talk to yourself in a warm, compassionate voice? What actions do you need to take to protect yourself, or to provide for yourself? Can you encourage yourself to take these steps, in a supportive manner?

Notice if this practice makes you feel more relaxed and compassionate or encourages you to take positive action. Feel free to find your own way to be compassionate with yourself, perhaps by engaging in everyday self-care behaviors such as enjoying a cup of tea or taking a warm bath.

Read full letter…

CoDA Tool Tuesday!

There are so many tools to help us in our journey of recovery from codependency. Every Tuesday, we hope to post an article highlighting one or more of these tools. Kicking off this new feature, just in time for the holidays, we start with an excerpt written by the CoDA communications committee….


How do codependents take care of themselves during the stress of the holidays? Here are some suggestions:

1. Go to as many meetings as you need.

2. Call other members including your sponsor.

3. Set boundaries that you are willing to observe.

4. Consider reading CoDA literature and reflecting on the Steps and Traditions.

5. Take care of yourself; YOU come first!

There are also daily online and phone meetings which you can look up on coda.org. Others use the meeting phone list to reach out to newcomers with a brief message of reassurance. If needed, choosing to spend a limited time around one’s family of origin may lower holiday stress.

Making sure to take the time for sufficient sleep, and giving ourselves plenty of time to exercise, meditate and read CoDA literature are ways to remind ourselves that in CoDA we may learn to have different priorities than other folks at these sometimes difficult family holiday gatherings.

At times, the difference between having a sad holiday and having a more upbeat one is simply a matter of choosing to use program tools to help, in each challenging moment, to do things differently today, and to decide that right now serenity is your #1 priority. That includes reaching out to your CoDA family!

practicing gratitude

All of us have reasons to be grateful. How can I show my gratitude today?

People who live wholeheartedly actively practice gratitude. On this day of national thanksgiving it’s nice to reflect on the positive benefits we can gain from a regular, daily gratitude practice.

Gratitude improves our emotional wellbeing and motivation, gives us better sleep and for me, can even reverse a shame spiral!

We all know about gratitude journaling but we don’t always have the time or even the desire to journal. You can find other ways to practice gratitude.

One way to increase your practice is by finding new cues for your gratitude. Cues help us make new habits.

For example, take the opportunity every time you’re standing over the sink and brushing your teeth to say three things you’re grateful for about the day.

Research shows that when you practice gratitude before you go to sleep, it can help increase optimism and overall satisfaction with your life.

Another cue could be at the grocery store…Whether you’re in line to pay for groceries or as you walk the aisles, the grocery store is a perfect time for gratitude.

Try breathing in what you’re grateful for and breathing out the things that are giving you stress and anxiety.

Drinking water throughout the day is a key to good health—which means it’s the perfect opportunity to thank your body for all the wonderful things it can do.

As you sip, scan from your head to your toes, bringing grateful awareness to all aspects of your existence to be grateful for.

These are just a couple of ways to add in a cue to bring in a grateful mind-state. The important thing is consistent effort over time… that is how we can work towards progress.

Now take a minute to focus on self-gratitude for what you are doing right now to benefit yourself!

Drop the Mask

Have you ever had someone tell you to “be aware of your face”? Have you ever worried that showing your feelings would make someone else feel bad? Have you ever smiled in agreement while silently screaming inside? Have you ever listened to the song, “Put on a Happy Face” and wanted to pull your hair out?

Facial expression is one way we communicate our feelings to others. When someone says or does something that brings joy and you respond with a smile, they know you agree with their message or feel happiness. When someone says or does something that brings up feelings of anger and you respond with a scowl, they see that you don’t agree or dislike what is happening. Perhaps they will stop the behavior or at least observe your disagreement.

Some of us were taught to hide our feelings behind a mask which contradicts them. When I was a kid, I was told to smile and show a happy face even when it didn’t match how I was feeling on the inside. I did that to make other people feel more comfortable. I often pretended to agree with others so they would like me. Before recovery, I didn’t know that it was OK to feel feelings other than “happy” or “fine” and certainly not to show them if I did. Angry feelings weren’t allowed.

Now I’ve been in recovery for several years. I am learning that I can have a wide variety of feelings and that they are ALL okay. I have a right to feel my feelings. All my feelings are valid even the ones that make other people uncomfortable. Now, if someone does something I don’t like such as violating my boundaries and I feel mad about it, I know I don’t have to smile. I don’t even have to hold a “neutral” expression. I can restate my boundary and my face may show my displeasure. When they see my angry expression, they might become uncomfortable. It’s OK. I don’t have to attack the other person. I also don’t have to hide my feelings.

I’m not saying rolling your eyes at your boss is a good idea. I understand the importance of respectful communication. What I am saying is that it is not my responsibility to take care of the feelings of others. I can feel my feelings and let others take care of their feelings. If someone doesn’t like the expression on my face, they can tell me that. I get to choose how I respond to that information. I do not need to change or hide my expression behind a mask to make others comfortable.


When someone pushes past my boundaries, I can feel mad. When I feel mad, I may show it on my face. It’s OK.

the 10th Step…

Step 10 “offers us not only consistency, but also continued progress in our continued relationships. Continuing to take our personal inventory keeps us ready to change our codependent behaviors. Some of our habits are ingrained. Our goal, however, is to make consistent progress. We look for familiar codependent behaviors and areas where our boundaries with others need strengthening.”
~CoDA Aqua Book page 68

So my daughter is now a teenager and the timing is a bit challenging as I am in menopause. It’s a perfect storm of hormones in our home at times. I’ve been carrying a lot of her feelings for her and projecting my old unhealed teenager yuck onto her as well. When I reflect on my day, often I am seeing how I overreacted out of fear, raged, tried to control, took on her responsibilities and later resented her for it, tried to shield her from consequences, gave unsolicited advice or direction, and of course, shamed and judged myself harshly for my mistakes. I get super frustrated with myself. I want to do it differently with her. Each morning I get in the car with the intention for things to be peaceful and supportive as we drive to school. By the time we get there, one or both of us are in tears.

I have recently learned that habits take much longer to break than one might think and forming new habits can be a long process as well. The info out there that it takes 21 days is actually false. Research has shown it can take between 18 and 256 days to make a habit depending on how complex the behavior and how habitual the person. Yikes. My codependent behaviors are pretty complex! This new perspective does give me more patience with myself as I try to change old behaviors into new healthy ones.
Little by little, one day at a time.

The CoDA book lists 10th step questions like:
Have we been feeling sorry for ourselves or isolated from others? …check.
Did we rage, overreact or passively abuse someone? …check.
Did we take on others’ feelings or responsibilities? …check.
Have we been controlled or manipulated by people, not said anything, and then resented them? …check, check and triple check.

These and other questions can help us take an honest look at our behaviors and feelings toward God, ourselves and others. Over time, we notice patterns and uncover the roots of our codependency. We can choose to respond differently. My habits are becoming clearer and I am working to change them. It’s progress not perfection. I can see that my lack of healthy boundaries with others is a big part of the problems in my relationships. I allow my daughter to cross my boundaries when she speaks to me harshly or I fail to enact consequences. I trample on her boundaries when I over caretake or demand that she do things my way without hearing her out. Parenting is difficult. Parenting as a codependent is crazy hard. I’m so grateful I have a relationship with a loving Higher Power so that I don’t have to go this alone.

I love the Step 10 prayer. It gives me hope. In this moment, I live my life in a new way… check.