Family conflict and stress is, well, distressing. While it’s normal to fight with our loved ones—especially the family members we see and talk to regularly—withstanding and working through these conflicts is far from easy. Not to mention that the impact of stress on families is damaging, both in the short and the long-term.

While we can learn to better navigate and resolve conflicts with our loved ones, there is another solution to the problem at hand: Be proactive in reducing family conflict and stress from the get-go. This is particularly important in the era of COVID, as many of us are finding ourselves easily annoyed, angered, and aggravated by the people in our household. Which is completely fair: close proximity, heightened emotions, and forced time together is the perfect equation for family conflict and stress. But, we can find success in reducing family conflict and stress by 1) respecting and prioritizing time alone and 2) communicating openly.

Me-Time: Each Family Member Should Prioritize Time Alone

In late March and early April, stay-at-home orders were issued across the country. Four months later, many states still have restrictions in place; and, let’s face it, another round of stay-at-home orders is likely. This “new normal” of staying at home and social distancing has actually meant more time together for many families. On the surface, this might sound like a good thing—a chance to bond and strengthen these important relationships. But, this increased exposure to one another has actually led to an increase in family conflict and stress, instead.

To cut back on this family conflict and stress caused by increased exposure to one another, each family member needs to prioritize time alone. And we need to respect each member’s desire or need for a little “me-time”. Here are a few guidelines for working “me-time” into your routine and letting your family members know that you need some time to yourself:

  • If you live with family members (or even roommates), consider blocking out at least an hour every day to spend by yourself. And if you determine a need for additional time alone—perhaps you’re feeling irritable or socially exhausted—don’t be afraid to excuse yourself.
  • Try to spend this time alone doing something productive, restorative, or otherwise rewarding. This will help to ensure that you conclude your time alone and rejoin the family feeling refreshed.
  • Be honest with your family members. Tell them that you’ll be spending the morning or evening alone. Let them know that it’s nothing personal; it’s healthy practice to spend some time apart and, in fact, they should do it too! Hopefully, they will respect your desire for time alone and maybe even follow suit.

Carving out this time for you will help to reduce family conflict and the stress that often follows. Me-time is always important, but during the pandemic, it’s especially crucial if you’re constantly surrounded by others in your household.

Open Communication: Talk About Your Problems, Emotions, Needs, and More

If you hope to find success in limiting family stress and conflict during the pandemic, you’ll also want to practice open and honest communication. We don’t want to sound like a broken record. We know that this is a “hot topic”. The reason it’s discussed so often is because truly, communicating effectively is crucial to maintaining happy and healthy relationships with your loved ones. And it’s of course especially important right now, as we’re all dealing with unique challenges and emotions.

As we mentioned earlier, a lot of us are becoming easily annoyed, angered, and aggravated with our family members. And while it’s easier to just let these feelings fester, hoping that they resolve on their own, you should go the extra mile to talk to your family members about it. “It” might be an existing conflict, a personal struggle of yours, or anything else you deem important. Whatever it is, here are a few tips for opening up and having tough conversations with your family members:

1. Remember your objective.

What is the purpose of this conversation? What are you hoping to accomplish? Keep your objective in mind as you approach your family member(s). For example, if your siblings aren’t respecting your space and time alone, your objective might be to explain why your time alone is important. Keep this front and center throughout the duration of your conversation.

2. Be honest.

Clearly communicate what’s bothering you and how you’re feeling. It’s important that you’re open and honest with your family members, as you all continue to adjust to this “new normal.” Soon enough, it’ll become easier to talk to your loved ones.

3. Practice empathy.

Even if you’re the one who is initiating this conversation, your loved one(s) will have their side of the story to tell, too. Let’s look again at the example we used in our first tip: It’s possible that your siblings are having a hard time and they’re coping by clinging to you. Be sure to practice empathy and tune into what they have to say.

4. Use humor (if appropriate).

You don’t have to keep a straight face for the entirety of your conversation. In fact, sometimes using humor to lighten the mood can be helpful—if and when appropriate. For example, if your family member is in tears, it might not be the best time to crack a joke. Or, is it? You know your family member(s) best. You’ll also have to gauge the situation. But keep in mind that humor can help to ease discomfort.

5. Remind them that you love them.

At the conclusion of your conversation, let your family member(s) know that you love them and you always will. You can also remind them that everyone is having a hard time right now, and give them a little pep talk if they seem hurt or down after your talk. In the end, they’ll be glad that you opened up to them.

“My family stresses me out.” This is being muttered (now more than ever) across the country and probably the world. Fortunately, if we prioritize me-time and also practice open communication, we can limit family conflict and stress, and in turn, reduce the harmful impact of stress on families.