Home: “Relating to the place where one lives. The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.”
My definition of home during a pandemic: “The place where one survives.” And not just in the literal sense because we are all dealing with the serious challenges of trying to remain COVID-19 free – and trying to care for others’ health and safety by wearing our masks, maintaining physical distance and staying home if we feel ill.
When I talk about surviving, I am speaking about an emotional state that affects us when experiencing a traumatic event (in this case, an ongoing threat). Physically, increased amounts of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are secreted in the body, creating a fight or flight experience. When we are hyper-vigilant, and on high alert, anxiety levels rise, which is certainly not conducive to maintaining a healthy emotional self, much less healthy and adaptive interpersonal relationships.
There is a vast difference between surviving and living. Pandemic or no pandemic, some people live in survival mode and don’t even realize it – or avoid or hide from it – until the symptoms of surviving cause enough mental, emotional and perhaps physically painful symptoms that they can no longer be overlooked. Add a pandemic to the mix with highly suggested sheltering in place guidelines, and now the definition of home can take on a whole new meaning. Tell anyone they can’t do something and the rebellious teenager within takes over imploring, “Get me the hell out of here!” Compound this with being around the same family members, day in and day out…well, did anyone just hear me scream?
Here are a few ideas for creating a home where surviving is replaced by truly living:
Keep it simple. I know I’m showing my age right now, but I didn’t grow up with a computer or Facebook. And I survived. But did I truly live? Contradictions are part and parcel of life’s complexities. Did you see that little piece of deflection perfection just now? But, seriously, we can all laugh, play old-fashioned board games (they can be fun), read a great book, and talk at the table instead of checking social media or video game distractions.
Engage. Utilize this time to grow closer to loved ones and yourself consciously. Be curious, interested, listen!
Take time for yourself. Implement more positive self-care modalities into your day, like taking a few moments for stillness, conscious breathing, eating right, exercise, good music, prayer and silliness.
Recently, I heard a comment from celebrity comic Howie Mandel about taking his wife out on a date. When he was asked where they went, he replied, “I took her to the guest room.”
We can find a sense of home when we allow ourselves to discover the most meaningful parts of ourselves through self-discovery and authentic connections with others. Add that to the implementation of random and very conscious acts of kindness on a daily basis, and I’d say home truly IS where the heart is, and where the heart wants to be.
Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.