Take care of your relationships

How communication works to ease stress during uncertain times

Relationships are systemic, which means even a small dose of change requires adjustment and response.

COVID-19 has upended daily lifestyles, and strategies to mitigate a global pandemic are reminding everyone how vulnerable we really are.

The one certain thing in our world right now is uncertainty.

“Feeling stressed out or a little bit crazy is normal. It’s something that everyone is experiencing,” said Madeleine Redlick, an assistant professor of instruction in Moody College’s Department of Communication Studies.

How you communicate with yourself and others is essential to maintaining healthy relationships during times of stress and instability.

Redlick, whose research focuses on relational communication, offers guidance for communicating in a healthy way.

Take care of yourself

The reason why uncertainty and change make us feel uncomfortable is because as human beings we are hard wired to not like that. Long ago, not being able to predict what’s going to happen next was a threat to survival.

Everyone responds differently to stress, but one thing you can do is maintain a sense of normalcy.

My No. 1 tip about this is making an A, B, C list. Look at all of the things that you need to do today and organize them into A category, B category and C category. 

Things that go into your A category are things that absolutely need to get done today. Your A list should be pretty short. 

Your B list is things you want to get done – things that set you up well to make you feel good and ready for the next day. That might be meal prepping, or it might be drafting an assignment or setting your clothes out for tomorrow.

Finally, we have our C list, things that are almost certainly not going to get done today. It can be long. 

Organize your day around taking care of the A things, taking a few things off the B list and if you have time for self-care from the C list, go for it.

Take care of others

Many people think that having a fight means that your relationship is in trouble. But that isn’t true. It’s actually the absence of fighting that tends to make people a little bit worried about relationships.

Let me explain -- when you’re not fighting with someone it’s generally a sign that you don’t care about the relationship enough to even try to fix it. You’re withdrawing, and you’re giving up.

When we see some fighting in a relationship, there is a subtext to that fight, and the subtext is, “I still care about this relationship, and I care about it enough that I’m willing to go through the unpleasant experience of having a fight.”

After you have a fight, engage in what we call relational maintenance.

Pay attention to a certain part of your relationship. Maybe you need to do something nice, tell them how much you appreciate them, how much you love them. Maybe you’re going to make dinner, take out the trash or pick up your dirty laundry for once. 

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