Today is International Friendship Day, this year it feels even more crucial than ever to offer some advice on nurturing relationships with both our human companions and our furry friends.
The Coronavirus outbreak is dramatically changing lives across the globe, including our relationships with other people within our communities, our families, our homes and our workplaces.
Many of us have changed to the way we usually interact with others in an effort to keep each other safe and control infection rates. Including spending a significantly higher amount of time at home with our immediate family and losing the opportunities to see people we would usually see as we usually would. However, for many of us, some levels of normality have returned with us being able to now spend time with those outside of our immediate family in keeping with government guidance. However, the impacts of the changes we faced may still be causing some levels of stress and may have left some relationships slightly fractious.
The Mental Health Foundation have put together the following tips together to nurture healthy relationships.*
Five quick tips for nurturing healthy relationships*
Many tips about how to maintain good relationships are as relevant and important now as they were before Coronavirus. For instance, all five of the Mental Health Foundation’s top tips for nurturing healthy relationships are as important now as before:
Give time – put more time aside to connect with your friends and family
Be present – this means really paying attention to the other people in your life and trying not to be distracted by your phone or your work or other interests
Listen – really listen to what others are saying and try to understand it and to focus on their needs in that moment
Let yourself be listened to – honestly share how you are feeling, and allow yourself to be heard and supported by others
Recognise unhealthy relationships – harmful relationships can make us unhappy. Recognising this can help us to move forward and find solutions
During this strange and difficult time, it’s also worth considering additional ways to protect our relationships, and try to cope a bit better with some of the relationship problems the virus creates.
A time to stay connected
Try different ways to stay in touch – use phones, computers and the post to stay in touch. Hearing a friendly, familiar voice, or reading a message from people we care about, helps us feel more connected. This is important for our mental health, and especially for people living alone, who may be feeling lonely, isolated and afraid about what is happening.
Help those less confident with technology – we don’t all feel confident or comfortable with video calling like Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp video but, as with phone calls, seeing a friendly, familiar face can help both sides feel more connected. This might be a time when younger people in our families can help older relatives to use the internet, and some of the ways it can let us stay connected.
Make new connections – some of us may want to reach out beyond the people we already know, to make new connections with other people. Online communities are ideal for this and can be extremely supportive, although it’s worth remembering they are not always safe places. There are a vast number of online communities out there and this might be a good time to find a few that appeal to you. You’ll find everything from general interest communities to more specialist communities focused on, for instance, football, particular health conditions, fitness, cookery, relationships and music.
Join an online community to talk about your mental health – one supportive community for those of us experiencing problems with our mental health is Mind’s Elefriends. We all know what it’s like to struggle sometimes and Elefriends provides a safe place to listen, share and be heard.
A time to join together in support for others
Getting involved in local efforts to support people who are more vulnerable during the Coronavirus situation is good for helpers, as well as the people they’re supporting. Here is more about the inspiring effects of helping other people in our communities and beyond – and about the joy of random acts of kindness.
A time to create some certainties
Agree on who is using which parts of the home and when – for those of us who live with other people and who are feeling irritated or overwhelmed by constant togetherness, it may help to agree who is going to use which parts of the home – for instance during the day, when we may need to work and/or look after children.
Make best use of the physical space you have – this may be about planning your day, sharing or alternating use of space, being aware of others’ needs or just doing things a little differently.
Share out household tasks – it may help to share out household tasks such as washing up, cleaning and food shopping. Having a daily routine may help us to feel more in control, at a time when we have lost a lot of control over our daily lives.
A time to keep talking and listening
Create a time each day to express – it may be to agree a time each day when everyone in our home can say how they are feeling – for instance, it could be what we have found most difficult and what we are grateful for that day.
Allow a space to share and listen without judgement – sharing feelings, without fear of being criticised or told off, can help us feel calmer and closer to each other. It may help to remember that everyone is affected by the Coronavirus situation and may be feeling more anxious and perhaps more irritable than usual.
How can we help our furry friends adapt to the recent changes at home
Those of us working from home have most likely taken joy from some of the benefits of our new working environment, one of them being able to spend more time with our pets. Like us, our pets need time to adjust to change and some are very much aware and possibly sensitive to any differences to their daily routines. The household suddenly becoming a hive of activity every day along with potentially gaining more interaction or exercise may present itself as a stimulation overload for our four legged friends.
Give them space
With this in mind it is important to allow them space, give them a safe space where they can go to enjoy some quiet time away from the rest of the family, it may be a quiet corner of a room, a bathroom a utility room or access to a quiet shady spot outside.
Let them rest
Most pets will sleep while their family are at school or work – it is important to ensure they are still given this time to catch some z’s. Again offering them a quiet space will allow them to still gain the sleep they would normally get without interruptions.
Keeping kids and pets safe
Children and their pets can form the most beautiful relationships with the correct care and guidance. However, with the kids at home for longer periods, there is a probability that they may be giving their pets a little more fuss and attention. Whilst some pets may appear to revel in this additional excitement and company, others may be slightly worried by it and make it known as best they can that they are not keen on the increased stimulation. Now more than ever, it is vital to read your pet’s signals, react accordingly and respect their boundaries. Even if your pets seem to be enjoying the experience, you need to keep a close eye on your children and your pets when they are together.
Allow space – Again, offering your pet a quiet space is even more important when kids are at home. Ensuring your children understand why this place is just for the pets, making sure the children do not bother them while they are in this space can prevent potential problems before they happen.
Understand your pets – Do your research, you can find a wealth of information online to enable you to read signs of stress in pets. Use this knowledge to maintain the peace, share it with your children so they too can learn to better connect with their pet’s needs. As the adult, you are the guardian in this situation, it is down to you to instill mutual respect and understanding between both pets and children.
Supervise or separate – Do not be worried if you need to separate the children and pets from time to time or if you are unable to oversee them with the attention required. It is better to do this than to risk an altercation. If you do need to separate them, ensure it isn’t for any particularly prolonged time, that your pets is in a comfortable, familiar environment with access to water and some toys or treats to keep them entertained. However, they will mostly likely take the opportunity to snooze.
As many of us may know from our own experience, being at home allows more opportunities to snack more (another benefit of working from home) Meaning we may indulge our pets in a few more treats that we normally would. Be mindful of not over feeding and keep your pet in good body condition. Opposite to this, we may take the opportunity to exercise more with our pets, again all in moderation. Understand and respect your pet’s abilities and desires when it comes to exercise. Also be extremely cautious in hot weather not to over expose your pets to the heat.
Prepare for your return to work
For some of us the day may be drawing nearer to us returning to our physical workplace, again this will bring another change to our pet’s routine. Prepare your pets to return to spending more time alone, as they did before.
Here are some practices you can start to ease your pet’s into the return to normality.
- Leave them home alone for short periods of time, slowly increasing these times to the times you would have pre-lockdown
- Spend time in another room away from your dog
- Spend time in the garden with your dog inside
- Encourage them to rest in their own bed
- Provide them with self-reinforcing, independent activities such as safe chews, stuffed toys, or activity feeders that will keep them occupied without you.
We hope you find this blog helpful. If you feel you are struggling during this time our recent blog post may offer additional support and information which may be of use to you – this can be found here.