Nurturing our relationships during challenging times

There are always going to be challenges that affect our lives, including our relationships with family, friends, colleagues and others.

We can feel nervous about visiting or being visited by loved ones, visiting shops, gyms or cafes, or even leaving our homes. This may be particularly true if we have a disability or long-term health conditions.

Losing contact with people can be stressful, worrying, frightening, or even unbearable. Not having enough contact can leave us feeling lonely and alone with our problems.

We never know everything going on in someone's life and we all face challenges and difficulties. It’s worth trying to be patient and understanding with each other and ourselves.

Family and friends in lockdown graphic

Top tips to help maintain good relationships

Our top tips for nurturing healthy relationships can make a big difference and are as relevant and important during good times as challenging times:

  • give time - put 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 focus on their needs at that moment
  • let yourself be listened to - honestly share how you feel and allow yourself to be heard and supported by others 
  • recognise unhealthy relationships - harmful relationships will make us unhappy. Recognising this can help us to move forward and find solutions

During difficult times, it’s worth thinking about extra ways to protect our relationships and try to cope better with some of the relationship problems life's challenges can create.

Stay connected

Stay in touch however you can, whether through phone calls, emails, text messages or letters, for example. Hearing a familiar voice or reading a message from people we care about helps us feel more connected. This is important for our mental health, especially for people living alone who may feel lonely, isolated and afraid.

We don’t all feel confident or comfortable with video apps like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp, but seeing a friendly face can help us feel more connected.

This is a time when younger people can help older relatives, friends and neighbours to use the internet and enjoy some ways it can help us stay connected with each other and the wider world. Age UK has a useful guide to making video calls with different apps.

If you want to make new connections with other people, online communities can be ideal for this. They 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. You’ll find everything from general interest communities like Mumsnet to more specialist communities focused on, for instance, football, health conditions, fitness, politics, local areas, cookery, relationships and rock music.

Mind’s Side by Side is a supportive community where you can talk about your mental health.

We also give you some suggestions about peer support.

Join together to support others

Getting involved in local efforts to support vulnerable people is good for helpers and those they’re supporting. For example, you can join a local mutual aid group or volunteer as a telephone befriender for the Silver Line. Contact local groups or charities you care about to see their opportunities.

Find out more about the joy and inspiration that can be gained from helping people in our communities and beyond through random acts of kindness.

Create some rules and routines

Living with other people makes it easy to feel irritated or overwhelmed if you get in each other's way. It can help to agree on who is going to use which parts of the home and when especially if you need to work and/or look after children.

Make the best use of the physical space you have. This can mean planning your day, discussing how to share communal rooms, being aware of others’ needs, or just doing things a little differently. Similarly, it may help to divide household tasks such as washing up, cleaning, and shopping for food. A daily routine may help you feel more in control and less anxious.

Going outside each day, if you’re able to, is important for your mental health. So being in nature - seeing trees and birds, or visiting a park, lake or river will help.

Keep talking and listening

Think about setting aside time each day when everyone at home can say how they are feeling - for instance, they could share what they have found most difficult and what they are grateful for that day.

Sharing feelings without fear of being criticised or told off can help us feel calmer and closer to each other. You and those around you may feel more anxious or irritable than usual, perhaps without realising why.

Here's some advice about talking to children about scary world events and dealing with change, loss and bereavement.

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