Nurturing our relationships during the coronavirus pandemic

Page last reviewed: 3 June 2020

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

The coronavirus outbreak is dramatically changing our lives, including our relationships with other people in our communities, our families, our homes and our workplaces.

Millions of us have lost some or all of our normal ways of seeing others as we try to keep each other safe.

Many of us have also found ourselves spending far more time than we’re used to with those who share our homes, whether family, housemates or both - not to mention pets.

Both losing normal contact with people and being thrown into much closer contact than usual can feel stressful and it may be worrying, frightening or even unbearable.

A time for patience and understanding

At a time when we all face uncertainty and worry about coronavirus, such changes in our relationships are probably all the harder to cope with. So it’s worth trying to be extra patient and understanding, both with each other and also ourselves.

To do that, we need people around us and ourselves to be aware of how what we do can affect each other. Some of our relationships are likely to be strained – but for the good of our communities, we should stay at home through that. 

However, for some of us, staying home can be dangerous or intolerable – for instance if we’re living with domestic violence or abuse. In these situations, our immediate physical safety comes first and we may have to leave home. For this please read our advice on staying at home and abusive 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.
This includes children. Here is our guide to talking to them about the coronavirus pandemic.

Our guide to supporting someone with a mental health problem includes a section on ‘talking about mental health’, which may be helpful for talking with people who are particularly distressed about the coronavirus situation and finding it hard to cope with everyday life.

Remember that these contstraints will come to an end but in the meantime, we are going to be physically closer to some and more distant from others. In order to come through this, we all need to talk, listen and care for each other, building on what brought us together and what we want to see in the future.

Find out more about how to look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak using our coronavirus hub.

 

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice on the coronavirus outbreak.

We need your support to keep providing vital information during this time.

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Public Health England have developed explicit guidance on mental health in the crisis. If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can also visit the PHE Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

If you need to talk confidentially you can call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. We also have a resource on how to get help for your mental health.