Feeling a little stressed by all the togetherness? Here's how to cope.

By Lisa Milbrand
Updated March 24, 2020

There was a lot of hype about the benefits of coronavirus social distancing. In addition to helping flatten the curve and avoid overwhelming our health care system, we’d have more quality time with our families, without all the rush and busyness. No more commutes, no more massive slate of extracurricular activities, no more outside social lives.

For many of us—at least if social media posts are to be believed—that’s meant board game marathons, dance parties, and lots and lots of baking with our kids. But as with anything else, life as pictured on Instagram may be a little rosier than what we’re actually experiencing in real life.

Maybe you’re struggling to balance working from home with helping your kids homep-school, or you’ve lost your job and you’re wondering how you’ll make ends meet—which has added huge stress to your life and your relationships. Maybe you’ve realized your family members aren’t exactly pulling their weight in the chores department, and by day eight (and the 18th load of dishes), you’re grumbling at every half-drunk coffee cup or crumpled granola bar wrapper they leave in their wake. Or maybe trading in quality time for quantity time has led to plenty of bickering in between the idyllic pics of your epic Lego sessions and family dinners.

That’s definitely to be expected, according to Dr. Justin Ross, clinical psychologist with UCHealth. Even the healthiest relationships will be more prone to quibbles when you’re in 24/7 lockdown. “We save our best and our worst selves for the people closest to us,” Dr. Ross says. “With increased contact and less opportunity for activities outside the home we are prone to more variability in these extremes with our closest family members.”

So how do you cope when all this togetherness is a little too much of a good thing? Try these tips to get things back on the right track.

Find your release valve.

You likely had some great self-care habits in place before you had to go into quarantine—yoga classes, drinks after work with friends, a little time to decompress before the family came home, or other activities that helped you blow off some steam instead of taking it out on your family. “With those options taken off the table, daily stress will build,” Dr. Ross says. Find ways to approximate those activities, even if you have to get creative. Sign up for an online fitness class, catch up with friends over a video chat, or close the door to your bedroom and put on some noise-canceling headphones to approximate the peace and quiet of an empty house. That’ll help you reduce your stress levels and better deal with everything that your family can dish out.

Think about the big picture.

Maybe it’s time to look at your life—and your relationships within your family—in a whole new light. “The mass scale need for social distancing is providing everyone with an amazing opportunity to work on resetting habits that align with our values,” he says. Now that you have the time, consider whether your life as you had it reflects what you really hold dear. “Examine how you want to be,” Dr. Ross suggests. “This requires identifying core values of who you want to be and how you want to act, both in terms of your approach to your own inner world and your family and partner relationships.” Look for ways to shift your behavior toward what you're hoping to become. And try to put everything in perspective. While a job loss or a coronavirus diagnosis is a big deal, the kids fighting over the Playstation for the umpteenth time probably is not.

Take up meditation.

Even if you think meditation is a little too hokey and New Agey for you, just focusing on breathing and mindfulness can help you deal with the new stressors you’re facing. In fact, you’ll find that there’s more than one way to do meditation, and you may just have a little extra free time right now to try them out and find something that works for you. Dr. Ross recommends Insight Timer to find a meditation practice that works for you, with more than 30,000 free meditations and online courses. “There's never been an easier time to practice meditation, with apps and online practices readily available,” he says.

Related: Try These Meditation Apps to Help You Keep Your Cool

Be compassionate.

These past few weeks have been pretty hard on every single one of us, so take a step back when you’re starting to feel fed up with your family. “Understand that we are all in this situation together,” Dr. Ross says. “If you're feeling frustrated, bottled up, and tense, likely so too is your partner and so many others around you. We may not necessarily be in command of being in this situation in the first place, but we sure can respond in any way we choose. A moment of deep breathing before you respond or react to something that is annoying or bothering you can go a long way to keeping the peace.” And right about now, a little peace (and perhaps, a little more quiet) is definitely in order for everyone.