If you tuned into our LIVE on YouTube this past Saturday, you heard that Timmy, Sonny and I are back to strict quarantine. I am totally stir crazy. I am experiencing those same anxieties I had at the beginning of quarantine fueled by feeling trapped. Timmy and I agreed that we have to be on each other’s teams while we are stuck in the walls of our home.
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD is here to share how to fill our loved ones’ love buckets! Something we talk about all the time. You have to know what fills up yours. Dr. Gillihan is a licensed psychologist, specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). He says,
“After a decade in academia, I had an experience I can only describe as an awakening. I encountered an approach to living based in a present-focused embrace of life as it is. This mindful approach not only became invaluable in my work as a therapist but helped me to align my life with what was most important to me. I also came to see that waking up is not a once-and-for-all experience. Even when we know the path we want to be on—whether to manage stress, face our fears, leave behind addictions, or anything else—we need reminders to think and act in line with our best intentions. Mindfulness-Centered CBT provides three such reminders:
Think: Fostering patterns of thought that serve us well
Act: Planning our behaviors to match our goals
Be: Opening to our present experience just as it is”
Since summer 2012, he has been in independent private practice, delivering treatment in suburban Philadelphia (currently by video conference only). Visit his website for some amazing resources including an online course and podcast. I will also link his books at the end!!
16 Ways to Love the People You’re Stuck at Home With by Seth J. Gillihan, PhD
I recently asked our kids at breakfast what would make it a really nice day for each of them. One of the things my five-year-old said was, “Doing something nice for someone else.” When I asked her why that would make her day nicer, she gave me a look like I’d just asked a stupid question. “Because it feels good to do something nice for someone.” Well duh, Dad.
One of the kindest things you can do for yourself is to serve others, especially when you’re going through a difficult time. This ongoing COVID-19 crisis is a perfect opportunity to move beyond our own stress and anxiety and think about what we can do for the people around us. As we reach out to others, we can get out of our heads and shift the focus away from our own difficulties.
Of course, physical distancing limits the options that are available to us. Taking someone to the movies is out of the question, as is going out for ice cream. And when you’re stuck at home with your loved ones all … the … time, you may not always feel very loving toward them. Maybe what you’d love is a little time alone, a nice break from togetherness. (To be honest, I would have loved some alone time as I was trying to write this post and feeling frustrated by my kids’ repeated requests for assistance. Yes, we have almond milk. Yes, you can open another box of cereal. Great irony.)
Thankfully we can show care for others even when we’re not feeling terribly loving. We can lead with action, treating “love” as a verb. Sometimes nice feelings will follow and sometimes they won’t, but either way we can make someone’s day a bit nicer. If you’re looking for ways to lift up the people in your life, here are 16 suggestions.
- Give them a massage. Caring human touch reduces stress and anxiety and supports a healthy immune system. Rub the person’s feet, massage their scalp, squeeze their shoulders—whatever you know they’ll enjoy. Be in the experience as fully as possible, really noticing the sensations in your hands, and enjoy the break it gives you from the news or being on your phone. You’ll be strengthening your relationship in the process.
- Create a gift certificate for a future date together. While you can’t hit the town right now, at some point you’ll be able to. Remind them of more normal times to come by making a certificate that entitles them to a date with you (your treat) at some future time: a dinner, a movie, a musical concert or sporting event.
- Have tea time with them. Make the presentation as nice as possible, like using your “special occasion” teacups. Show those you care about that sharing life with them is a special occasion.
- Do their least favorite chore for them. Surprise your family member by unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, taking out the trash—whatever you know they don’t look forward to doing.
- Organize the pantry. Your pantry is probably pretty full right now, since we’ve been encouraged to stock up. If it’s not well-organized, it can be a frustrating experience every time you try to find something. Making it well-organized will be your gift to the family every time someone opens the pantry door. Anything you can do to lower the family’s collective level of frustration is probably a good thing for the family dynamic. (See this how-to video by Alejandra Costello for some tips from an organizing expert.)
- Give your full attention. When we’re with the same people every day, it’s easy to stop seeing them, especially amid the constant stream of stressful news and the challenges of working from home or home schooling. But really paying attention to someone is one of the best gifts we can give them. Pick one interaction today when you’ll focus completely on the other person. Pay attention to what they’re saying, the tone of their voice, the color of their eyes, their facial expressions. Pretend it’s the first time you’ve ever seen them.
- Cook their favorite meal. You may not have all the ingredients, given the difficulty with getting some food items right now, but work with whatever you have to make a meal they’ll love. Present it with extra care, like including a folded cloth napkin or putting a slice of lemon in their water. (If you’re a pet owner you can also give them a special treat.)
- Draw a bath. A warm bath is even nicer when someone else runs it for you. Include any touches you have available—essential oil (lavender is calming), Epsom salt, candles—and set out a nicely folded towel for them. Make it a soothing experience for your loved one’s nervous system.
- Cover for your partner. Constant kid time can wear on parents (or so I’ve been told). Volunteer to watch the kids while your partner does something alone, preferably out of the house like going for a walk. The time they spend away from the fray will be good for everyone.
- Tidy up. Clean part of your living space, especially any messy areas that you know bother your partner. If you have time, do a more extensive decluttering project around the house. Resist the urge to point out that you did it with the expectation of praise. (Easier said than done, in my experience.)
- Clean the refrigerator. Do a deep clean if possible—take out all the food, remove the shelves and wash them in the sink with soap and water, and put everything back nicely organized. Everyone will enjoy the experience of a clean space for your fresh food.
- Read them a book. I’m not just talking about reading to a child—you can read to people of any age, even your partner. I still have warm memories of many cold, dark nights in Maine that my wife and I passed by reading to each other. Even if you think it sounds weird, give it a try.
- Make them a card. Who doesn’t like receiving a card crafted just for them? Use whatever materials you have on hand, even just a plain piece of paper and a pen. Don’t worry if you don’t think you’re “artistic”—it’s truly the thought that counts here.
- Offer a prolonged embrace. Hugging someone for 30 seconds or more can activate the vagus nerve, which turns on the calming part of the nervous system. In the process you’ll be quieting not only their fear and anxiety but reducing your own feelings of stress.
- Loving-kindness Meditation. This form of meditation can evoke a glow of love inside you, and may be especially helpful when you’re struggling with so much togetherness. Try this version, adapted from The CBT Deck: Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Take three slow, calming breaths. Bring the person to mind and with each outbreath, mentally send them these wishes: “May you be healthy. May you know peace. May you find ease. May you be free from suffering.” Repeat as many times as you like.
- Scratch their back to fall asleep. Help your child or partner let go of the tension of the day as they drift off to sleep. Match your breath to theirs as you release your own stress from the day and your worries about tomorrow. The loving intention and close connection will be setting you up for better sleep, too.
Let the people you love know you’re thinking of them and their needs through this strange time. Pick one of these ideas to use today, or come up with others yourself—the only real limit is your imagination. Put it in your calendar to make sure it doesn’t get crowded out by competing demands. And save some time for self-love, too. You’re as worthy of care as anyone else.