In this weekly 10 min podcast, Dr. Jenny Brown will reflect on ways to manage ourselves and our relationships in the face of the current tsunami of change and uncertainty.

Each week will look at a different topic relevant to ourselves or our key relationships. Drawing from family systems thinking and her clinical experiences, Jenny will consider ways to navigate patterns of stress that we can observe in our lives, our marriages and our parenting.

Week 1: When social distancing can become emotional hibernation.

Withdrawing is a natural response to stress. What happens when it is socially mandated? What do we need to watch out for in following societal obligations while watching that we don’t inadvertently contribute to vulnerability to mood symptoms?

 Week 2: When the unfolding COVID-19 ‘Reality TV-like Drama’ moves into the territory of obsession.

Having an external drama to be absorbed in can become a detour from experiencing and addressing other more generalised tensions and issues in our lives. The anxiety sponge of the current crisis is so easily fed by an intense repetitive news cycle and amplified by social media posts. We can superficially feel better and experience a heightened togetherness amid this drama–but is this sustainable? And what are the costs? How can we thoughtfully allocate our limited supplies of life energy right now?

 Week 3: Couples living in lock-down. How to stay connected and not suffocated.

Couples finding an even balance between connection and space to be individuals is central for the health of their relationship. How do you work on this balance when spending so much time together in Covid-19 lockdown? It’s easy to experience varying degrees of suffocation in a relationship and to use emotional distancing to manage this. Making a deliberate choice to stay connected is a way of protecting a relationship at this time, however, the ways a couple connect is key. It’s all too easy to triangle and talk about 3rd party topics – including the children. This is not the same as genuinely sharing ourselves with our spouse.

 Week 4: Parents and children in constant view. How to resist the pull to be over-monitoring.

A conscientious parent can sometimes find themselves over focussing on one or more of their children. The appropriate level of connection and supervision can gradually increase to a worry driven response to a child – especially a child that we are more sensitive to. At this time of lockdown and school closure, this pattern can easily be intensified. A cycle of over monitoring, which can be either positive or negative in tone, contributes to children becoming reactive rather than responsible. The key to reversing this is for parents to shift attention to calming themselves, being realistic and only putting energy into what is within their control.

 Week 5: Couples in close proximity. How to understand and reduce an escalation in conflict.

When stress is high, our typical reactive patterns will be amplified. For couples there are 3 anxiety driven patterns that can undermine a relationship (although they all play a part in steadying the individuals) 1-Distance, 2–Over and Underfunctioning, and 3- Conflict. This podcast looks at how both patterns of conflict and overfunctioning / underfunctioning can easily escalate during the current lockdown where people are bumping up against each other frequently. Conflict is where each person bolsters their sense of rightness through not giving in to the other. This is distinct from the under and overfucntioning where one partner expresses more dependence and the other more authority. Both patterns, at the more extreme end of intensity, may lead to severe patterns of control and violence. How can we know the difference between unconstructive couple interactions and unsafe circumstances where a weaker partner’s wellbeing is seriously at risk? How can you observe the seeds of these patterns and manage your part in an escalation?

Week 6: Parents supervising children’s schoolwork. What is and isn’t effective?

How does a parent best support the child’s learning from home? How can they manage the pulls to take over the school’s role in delivering lessons? Or the pull to correct and coerce a child to perform better? This podcast helps parents to consider what they are responsible for and what is not their responsibility in terms of their children’s lessons at home. It’s a good time to rethink a parent’s job description – to consider the difference between pushing or rescuing a child who is demotivated with their school work, compared to setting up clear routines and a helpful physical and emotional environment for the school day.

Week 7: Staying connected to extended family. How is this helpful to couples, parents, and children?

It is challenging to stay meaningfully connected to the extended family during Covid-19 isolation. Some families are struggling to manage the extra demands of their households so they are likely to put extended family interactions on hold so as not to add to the pressure.  There are, however, costs to reducing these connections. In this podcast, Jenny explains the effect on a nuclear family when there is more distance from the broader family. She talks about ways to creatively stay connected, and how to deal with tense extended family relationships.  She offers some principles for grandparents about how they might be a resource during these times of physical distancing.

Week 8: Becoming more mature in the face of challenges. How can this season be an opportunity for developing goals that have substance?

Many people have aspired to set and achieve new goals at this time of dramatic change. A couple of months into lockdown has left many of us drained of energy that has been absorbed by having to adapt to change and by the drain of our reacting to family members in lockdown. Goal setting may seem unrealistic at this time, however, setting achievable goals remains important to maintaining some steadiness. Small pilot projects of change each day help to build a more solid self. Mature goals are intentional, realistic, and require some thoughtful prioritizing. They also are well balanced between goals for how we want to be in our relationships with our individual goals.

Our support services remain available as telehealth during this time. Contact the FamilySystems Practice on 02 9904 5600

For those who want to understand how family system therapy provides a map for navigating stress in self and relationships see the online seminars at the Family Systems Institute