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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisabeth Medlock

6 Tools for Harmonious Cohabitation in a Time of COVID-19

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Physical #distancing from the outside world means sharing our inside spaces 24/7. We all need #solitude and personal #space to stay #sane.

There is a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. At three weeks into hanging out 24/7 with some or all of those with whom we live, there is a growing familiarity. And yes, while it is better than being alone at this time, we all need some solitude and personal space to stay sane. Here are some ways to get it.

1) Set and maintain boundaries: Boundaries are the “walls” you create around yourself by the limits you set; limits around time, limits about what you allow, limits around what activities take up your attention and time. Boundaries keep you “safe” and support your well-being. You can’t ignore a boundary without paying a price emotionally. Every time you say YES when you want to say NO you are interpreting a request as a demand, which means you have no choice about it. Sometimes you say YES when you want to say NO because you don’t want to be seen as rude or selfish, or be rejected. But setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is the key to cohabitation. Your job is to let others know when they have violated a boundary with the goal of teaching them to respect your boundaries. Inform them that what they are doing is violating a boundary and tell them it is not acceptable. Much of the time people have no clue they have violated a boundary until you tell them. Request that they stop and invite them to figure out alternatives for getting their own needs met.

2) Identify, accept and communicate your need for personal space: If you don’t protect your personal space, you are more likely to feel drained or frustrated. First, you have to accept that it’s all right to have it and give yourself permission to ask for it People have different needs for space. You are not bad or wrong for needing more or less space than someone else. In either case, it’s important for you to communicate your own needs in your daily existence in the shared space with others. Let those around you know what you need and why. Start with something small and practice asking for personal space every day. Start with something that doesn’t feel particularly important, and someone who you feel the most safe with. For example, if you need to be on a Zoom conference for half an hour, politely ask your kids to do a silent activity and to not interrupt you. Or when you want to exercise, like do a yoga video, ask your partner to not interrupt you and not blast music or the TV.

3) Tell people what you want and need, in the moment. Practice telling other people what you want – whether it’s to watch a certain program on television, to eat something specific for dinner, or to take a walk alone. Not asking for what you need can lead to resentment. Being around others all the time can feel overwhelming. So ask for a brief escape to relieve pressure and emotionally regroup. Plan regular mini-breaks at home. Tell your kids that you need five minutes in the bathroom with the door shut and that they may not intrude. Tell your mate that you want to read in a separate room when the television is on. Or set limits with a friend by saying that you’d like to refrain from late-night phone calls.

4) Create a sanctuary in your shared space: This could be your bedroom or a den, or a reading nook. The point is that it is a place that you can personalize with items around you that give you comfort. The space should be free of clutter, have some cozy items, and have good natural light. You can also include collections or items from travels or pictures you like. For a nook you could have a good reading light, a comfortable chair, and footstool, a lush comforter or throw, and a place to set a beverage of choice. If you do not have a separate room, create separation by putting up some spatial boundaries. This means turning a chair with its back to the middle of the room, having a curtain or screen, or using a low table or plants to create a boundary for the space.

5) Walk it off before you have to walk it back: Sometimes you will just need to put some actual physical space between yourself and others in your home. We all need time to move and breathe and think, alone. Give yourself the time and permission to take a break from others every day and get some distance away. Take a walk, run around the building, take a really long bath, or meditate and free your mind in a space where you will not be disturbed. We are all going a little stir crazy now and the frenetic energy that it can create can make us all jumpy. It is easy to get annoyed or frustrated and lash out at others. Exercising you right to get physical distance is like saying- everyone to their corners or just walk away.

6) Acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of those around you: Every one cohabitation in your space is having a range of emotional responses to this pandemic- fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, etc. We have all had to give up so much and there is a sense of loss and of uncertainty. Be open about what feelings you are experiencing and give others the space to talk about how they feel. This could take the form of checking in daily and asking- how are you feeling today? It could also mean stepping back when annoyances and arguments occur and being honest about why you are responding the way you are. Remember, we are all in this together can also mean, we are all feeling frazzled and fragile together.

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