Woman and man sitting on couch with stressed expressions.

Following public health agency recommendations like self-quarantine and social distancing can cause our stress levels to spike, and our relationships may be the first in line to feel the impact. Whether we are feeling lonely, tired, overwhelmed or irritable (or a combination), it’s important to know how to manage our stress to help maintain our relationships. Here are some tips to help you navigate conflict while in isolation with your roommates, family or housemates.

#1: Know your conflict style

When you have a disagreement with someone, what do you do? Do you tend to ignore the problem or avoid the person? Do you confront them right away? Do you look for compromise?

Everyone approaches conflict differently. When addressing conflict, it can be helpful to know your own style as well as your roommate or family member’s style. Knowing how you both address conflict can help you find common ground and navigate where your styles may clash. Take this quiz to learn more about your conflict style.

#2: HALT

We’ve all been there: your family member says the wrong thing or a roommate forgets to take out the trash, and after a long week you’re ready to snap at them. If it feels like this is about to happen, press pause. This is the moment to take a deep breath and check in with yourself using the HALT method.

  • H: Are you hungry? If the answer is yes, grab yourself a snack to help relieve any “hangry” feelings. It can also help you feel more energized and improve your mood.
  • A: Are you angry? If the answer is yes, it’s important to identify why and ways you can address it. Are you upset about who controls the TV remote or is it really something else? Take a step back and allow yourself time to process your emotions. Journaling can be a helpful way to explore what’s really bothering you. Once you’ve identified the root of your anger or frustration, let yourself calm down and brainstorm ways to address it in a healthy way. This may mean you need to create space for yourself, take a walk, get more sleep or talk through things with someone you trust.
  • L: Are you lonely? Being lonely doesn’t necessarily mean you’re alone. Even if you’re around other people, you can still feel distant, isolated, withdrawn or disconnected. If you experience any of these emotions, it may be time to reach out and have a conversation about what you’re going through with someone you trust. Even if you’re upset with your roommate or family member in the moment, sharing what is stressing you out and what you’ve been dealing with may help you feel better and reconnect.
  • T: Are you tired? You may feel tired physically, but are you also mentally exhausted? If so, it may be time to take a break, do a quick meditation, stretch, lie down or simply close your eyes and take a deep breath.

#3: Have a conversation (face-to-face)

The HALT method doesn’t replace discussing issues that may exist in our relationships. Having that discussion face-to-face, whether that means in person or over video, is important. Talking over text or social can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings that may make the situation worse. If you’re upset, talk with your friends, family, roommates or significant others about your stress and what you need from these relationships to get through it. That being said, snapping or responding with words and actions you may later regret can add to your stress levels and make it more difficult to deal with things later on.

Instead, plan ahead. When approaching a tough conversation, preparing in advance can be helpful. Planning ahead assures you are able to share your views and hear the other person’s perspective more effectively. Take some time to think about what you hope to accomplish from the conversation. Consider what an ideal outcome looks like, how you will know it’s time to take a break and what assumptions you may be making about how your roommate or family will respond. 

Before starting a potentially stressful conversation, it’s important to check in with ourselves about what we’re experiencing and what might realistically happen, so we can prepare emotionally. When you feel prepared to begin the conversation, find a time that works for everyone to talk without distractions. Explain why you want to have this conversation and share what you hope to accomplish.

If things become heated or escalate, it can be difficult not to say something we may regret down the line. In these situations, use de-escalation tactics to bring everyone back to the facts, reiterate why this conversation is important and how you value the other person. If volume ticks up, use your voice to bring it back down. Take a deep breath before speaking and ask for a break if needed. You can return to the conversation after everyone has time to cool off. 

#4: Reflect on the conversation

While it would be nice, change doesn’t happen overnight. Conversations don’t always resolve the way we’d like, and more often than not, seeing progress requires a series of conversations and a willingness to keep trying. If things feel like they’re unresolved, let the person know that you appreciate their time and you’d like to follow up with them in the future. Give them some time and space before engaging again. If things are resolved more quickly, share your appreciation and gratitude with the other person and let them know you value their help and input.

#5: Continue to check in with yourself

Make it a habit to check in with yourself. Look for signs of stress and acknowledge your needs in the moment using HALT (you can also try journaling or asking yourself specifically how you are feeling about your classes, relationships, news consumption, etc.). Once you can recognize what your triggers and responses are, you will be better suited to handle stressful situations in a positive way.

#6: Connect with others

It’s important to remember that we won’t be in isolation or asked to participate in social distancing forever. Make time to reach out to friends or classmates to catch up. If you are feeling the stresses of being at home, focus on creating an amicable relationship. You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate or get along with your family all the time, but respecting one another and your differences can go a long way in improving your experience.

#7: Ask for help

If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, students can contact Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) for a free online walk-in appointment by calling 303-492-2277.

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