Empathy: What It Is and Why You Need It

Empathy: What It Is and Why You Need It

By
Erika Krull

Think of a time you strongly connected with a friend. You felt their emotion and understood where they were coming from. Your empathy made you feel closer and more in sync as friends.

But empathy is more than just intense feelings. It’s the emotional glue that holds our society together. Empathy allows you to live and work with other people. You volunteer your time and encourage your coworkers. These experiences are all driven by empathy.

You probably use empathy each day more often than you realize. Take a closer look at what empathy is, the three main types, and some of the many benefits in your everyday life.

What is empathy?

Empathy is taking someone else’s viewpoint and understanding their feelings. You try to feel as they feel, see the world through their eyes. As you empathize with someone, you are compassionate and caring.

When you can put yourself in another person’s shoes, empathy can be a moving experience. Imagine seeing a person who’s feeling physical pain. A pinched face, a look of anguish, and an outward cry are all clues. Something hurts terribly, and it’s not getting better. You might react by flinching, pinching your mouth, and remembering a time you were recently hurt. Each part of your reaction helps you identify with that person’s pain right away.

Most people think of empathy as a single emotional reaction. But experts have broken it down into two emotions, tenderness and sympathy.

  • Tenderness – When you sense that another person has no specific need but is vulnerable.
    Example: You see Sarah sitting alone on a bench downtown. She looks about 9 or 10 years old, is without an adult, and it’s getting dark out.
  • Sympathy – When you sense that another person is suffering or has a need right now.
    Example: You see Sarah sitting alone on a bench downtown. She looks about 9 or 10 years old and is crying. Her right hand is bleeding, and she’s squeezing it tightly with her left hand.

Three Types of Empathy

There are three main types of empathy. With each type, you sense another person’s needs in a different way, and one type motivates you to take action.

Affective Empathy

Affective empathy is when you can feel and understand another person’s emotions. When someone shares a sad story or gets excited over good news, you sense their emotion and feel it yourself. Politicians and advertisers use affective empathy to sway you. When they stir up your feelings, you connect with their message.

Example: Your neighbor, Jim, talks with you after work about his dog. Jim’s wife just told him their dog had died while they were away at work. You have pets, and you know how you would feel in that situation. Jim’s shaky tone of voice and his frown clearly show his sadness. You understand and feel it with him.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy means understanding another person’s viewpoint. You step into their shoes and imagine yourself with their beliefs and thoughts. Rather than sensing a person’s raw emotions, you try to understand their personal experience. Cognitive empathy is a skill and can be helpful when motivating someone or negotiating.

Example: Shane is on his first day of work. He’s not sure how his new job will work out, but he likes his new boss, Jim. Jim is a funny and kind guy, not much older than Shane. He’s been at the job a few years and remembers what it’s like to start fresh. Jim tells Shane he’ll get the hang of it before long and that everyone is happy to help him. Jim notices how nervous Shane looks and encourages him a lot throughout the day.

Empathic Concern

Empathic concern is what drives you to help others. You go beyond sensing their emotions and understanding their perspective. Your empathic concern moves you to volunteer, offer help to a neighbor in need, or donate to a food bank. You support a person by taking action instead of only feeling their emotions with them.

Example: Without warning, Josie gets fired from her job at the end of her shift. She comes home in tears, and her roommate, Maria, asks her what’s happened. Maria senses Josie’s stress building by the minute. Now Maria feels a nervous knot in her stomach, too. She knows she needs to help Josie through this. So, Maria stands up and puts a blanket around Josie’s shoulders. She hugs Josie and makes two cups of tea. Josie calms down and feels a little better.

Benefits of Empathy

Empathy goes beyond understanding someone for just a few moments. It affects the way we get along with others and helps us cooperate when it really matters. Here are just some of the many benefits of being empathetic to others.

Keeping yourself safe

When you read other people’s emotions, you learn to protect yourself from harm. When you see the fear on another person’s face, you can sense danger without having to get close.

Example: A bad thunderstorm rolls in, and Eric steps out to look at the storm clouds. His son, Tim, sees a weather alert on TV showing a possible tornado in the area. After a few minutes, Eric comes running back into the house with a look of shock on his face. Tim knows right away that his dad has seen a funnel cloud, and both head for the basement.

Living and working with other people

Empathy helps you get along with people and share resources. You can put aside your own feelings of discomfort and help others because you know it will matter to them.

Example: Samantha gets up before dawn on the days she works at the hospital. Her husband, Jack, doesn’t need to be up that early for his job, but he gets up with her on these days. He packs Samantha’s lunch and makes breakfast, so she has more time to get ready. Jack could get more sleep and let Samantha take care of herself. But he knows Samantha’s days at the hospital are long, and he wants to make them easier for her.

Positivity and cooperation in your community

Empathic concern motivates you to act in helpful ways. Your positive actions affect everyone you meet and encourage people to cooperate.

Example: Matthew and Lisa live in a small town near a river. Heavy rain begins, and weather alerts warn of possible flooding. As the rains come, Matthew and Lisa check on older neighbors to make sure they are safe during the storm. When floodwaters get close to the main road, Matthew and Lisa spend hours moving heavy sandbags. Many others from their town work together day and night to keep everyone safe.

Empathy – Connecting and Helping

Empathy connects you with people in your family and community. When you understand how empathy works, you can extend it more often to others. Where will you use empathy today?

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Latin Prejudice

Latin Prejudice

By
José-Andrés Alegría

Why is it that as a nation, we see such visceral anger? As Latinos, we need to take a hard look at our community and stand alongside those oppressed. Yes, we are minorities in this country, and we have a history of being mistreated. We are a hurting community like many others, but sadly we are also part of the problem.

We share some history with our oppressed friends. Some scars are the same, but we’ve had an avenue of survival. We assimilated into the culture of those who colonized us. We learned to speak like them, act like them, and dress like them because, for the most part, we looked like them. Some of us could pass as one of them. But the Black community never had such a chance.

Our shared history is a part of our identities. We have learned and have had prejudice, racism, and colorism hardwired into generations of our community. Think about it. Grandparents talk about how marrying a white person is winning the lottery, and how marrying a black person is villainized. In a society where the Latino and Black communities have more in common than differences, some still draw lines of separation.

That’s the definition of privilege. We can choose to stand alongside our Black brothers and sisters, or we can choose to watch this all happen from the comfort of hiding behind our cellphones. We have a choice; they do not. Aside from that choice, we, as a community, need to face the racism we spew in the form of “jokes” and warnings about the black community. So let’s take a moment to do just that.

I have been wracking my brain for two weeks, trying to find a good enough story about racism in the Latin community, but I haven’t been able to find one that I thought was good enough or one that highlights the point I am trying to make. I know that sounds crazy, but I didn’t want to give an example of undeniable racism.

It’s easy to point out how we can be the targets of prejudice like when my Aunt, who works at a predominantly white school, was assumed to be the cleaning lady and not the music teacher and received little to no respect. It had gotten so bad that not only did all of the staff have to get diversity training, but so did the parents of the students at the school.

Instead, I wanted to show the subtle aspects of Latin culture that are inherently racist and never questioned without a second thought. For example, one of my cousins in the Dominican Republic didn’t get a job at a bank where she had applied. The reason? Her hair was too curly, and her skin was too dark for the employer’s taste. She could have gotten the job – with a caveat. All she had to do was straighten her hair and keep it that way. You might think to yourself, “Why wouldn’t she do it? It’s a job, after all.” But that’s the thing; she didn’t get the job not because she wasn’t qualified, but because, in the Latin community’s eyes, she was a little too black looking. It’s a mindset that we need to look at, dissect, and change.

“Mejorar (Arreglar) la Raza” is a commonplace phrase used in the Latin community. The implication is that we should marry white people to “improve the race” so that future generations are more white. Or how some Latinos call Afro-textured hair “pelo malo” because straight hair is more desirable.

My mom has always talked about the beauty standard that Dominicans measure themselves against; lighter skin gets praised, and darker skin shamed. Hair needs to be straight and silky. Facial features like having light eyes or a thin nose are a sought after beauty that many Latinos dream of having.

Look at Sammy Sosa and him openly admitting to bleaching his skin. A brown Dominican who is one of the best sluggers ever to play baseball and even he has some of these notions that looking more white is better, whether he will admit to it or not.

So why is the black community so angry? Why are people making such a big deal about police brutality and the fatal shootings that have come along with it? Because of injustice.

A Black male is 2.5 times more likely to get shot by a cop during an encounter than a white male. The Black population only makes up about 14% of the general population, but they make up 37% of the male prison system. Or maybe it’s because low-income areas are still feeling the effects of Redlining.

You decide, but know that we can talk about one issue without disparaging another. That is what Black Lives Matter is trying to do. It’s drawing attention to a problem. All lives do matter, but no lives matter until Black lives matter.

There are plenty of things wrong with the world. Can we get mad at a community with a history of oppression that is trying to change some of the bad in this world? Instead of thinking ill of the Black community, we need to step up and help them in their time of outcry and frustration because if those of us who can understand some of their pain won’t, then who will?

We are a part of the problem. There are Latino racists, and until we address that, we will not have real change. There is no pass for racism, even if you are a minority.

We need to do the same reflection that we are asking white people to do; they aren’t the only ones with a history of racism.

Let’s call out the hurtful words of some of our relatives. Change starts with accountability. Whether that accountability is calling out a family member for an ignorant statement or educating yourself so you can be a better ally when the time comes.

Let’s look inward.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Healthier Eating

Healthier Eating

By
Erika Krull

How healthy is your diet right now? If you’re like many families, you’re probably doing a lot of mindless eating these days. The potato chips and bags of cookies disappear faster than you can say, “What’s for dinner?” It’s understandable, given the stress caused by everything going on. Everyone’s a little on edge and eating right now is a universal human comfort.

So how do you improve your family’s diet without causing a riot in the kitchen? Is it even possible right now?

Yes, you can help your family eat healthier this week. It’s easier than you think, but it takes some planning. Grocery shopping has become an adventure, so don’t rely on picking things up at the last minute. With some help from your family and a little time, you can gradually bring healthy foods into your routine. This guide will help you make a plan and get your family on board.

Meal Planning

Planning ahead makes everything easier to handle. If you aren’t used to making a list, try putting a sheet of paper on your fridge and inviting your family to write things down when they run out or think about something to add. Your list can create itself as the week goes on. Consider saving your list from the previous week so you can add things you’ll need again soon with less effort.

Along with a list of items to buy, create a list of meals to make in the next few weeks.
Here are a few ideas for keeping the troops happy at home.

  • Try new recipes – With more people at home, it’s a great time to try some new recipes. It’s a good distraction and you’ll have something fun to look forward to.
  • Bring out some family favorites – Comfort food is a good thing right now. Sprinkle them throughout your meal plan so you don’t have several heavy or similar meals all in a row.
  • Carryout – If you choose to add carryout meals to your plan now and then, adjust your grocery shopping to account for the expense and leftovers.
  • Stretch your supplies and budget – Find ways to stretch more expensive ingredients by mixing them with rice, beans, potatoes, and other starchy foods.
  • Cook in batches – When you make taco meat for tonight’s meal, consider making enough meat for another meal or two at the same time. It may take a little longer now, but you’ll appreciate the convenience on a day you don’t have much energy.

Snacking is OK

Snacking is more than OK right now. In fact, you should encourage and embrace it. Snacking doesn’t have to equal junk food or ruining your dinner. Here’s a shortlist of ways snacking can be great for your family.

  1. You can add nutritious foods throughout the day – Have containers of cut fruits and vegetables, cheese, whole-grain crackers, nuts, hummus, and other finger foods available.
  2. It’s a good excuse to get up and walk around – It’s OK to admit that you get distracted during the work or school day at your house. Stand up, get some brain food, and get your blood pumping again.
  3. Everyone’s schedule is a little crazy – With more people working and learning from home, daily schedules are getting more flexible. Snacking can help fill the gap when someone’s activities don’t line up with normal meals.
  4. Snacking can keep your energy going throughout the day – Fight off brain fog between meals by having a small snack. The shot of calories and quick energy will keep you going until your next meal.
  5. Treat yourself once in awhile – Indulgent snacking is OK once in a while. Make healthy snacks the rule, but be ready to have some favorite fun snacks around, too. Especially now, when many fun things are on hold, a splurge food can feel like a real treat.

Boredom and Emotional Eating

Snacking is a good thing when you pay attention to your body’s needs. But many people eat for emotional reasons instead of hunger. When you head to the fridge or pantry, ask yourself if one of the following three things are happening:

  • Boredom
  • Poor sleep
  • Stress/Emotional eating

If you can answer “yes” to any of those three problems, step away from the food.

It may be tempting to eat your feelings away, especially with the stress and uncertainty in the world now. But finishing that container of ice cream or eating the whole bag of chips will only add to your problems. You’ll have stress and a stomachache.

Instead of snacking, try to address the real problem. Do some deep breathing to relieve stress. Lie down and close your eyes for five minutes if you feel tired, or do jumping jacks to wake up. If you’re bored, give in to the distraction and daydream for a few minutes.

If you still feel like snacking, after all, you can never go wrong eating more fruits and vegetables. So if you decide to eat your stress away, aim for the fresh produce drawer in your fridge.

Make Small Healthy Changes to Your Diet

Healthy eating is important, but avoid making too much change at once. Adjusting to change is surprisingly hard work, especially when the time frame gets longer and longer.

At this point, food is one of the few pleasures many people have left. Even if your family’s diet isn’t the best, it’s at least familiar. Take it slow and think of a few ways you could improve your eating habits.

Keep these things in mind: your family’s emotional attachment to food and the need to introduce healthier choices. You can blend these together without shaking things up too quickly. Here are a few ideas:

  • Get everyone involved – Let your family choose the weekly menu, and suggest a few healthier side items like fresh-cut apples or salad.
  • Lighten up family favorites – Make or purchase a few favorite items, but find ways to substitute ingredients or serve healthier sides.
  • Squeeze in more fruits and vegetables – If your family resists fruits and vegetables, dress them up with a little butter, sauce, or fancy dip. Over time, you’ll have an easier time serving them with or without the extras.

Healthy Eating Habits

You and your family may be like many people falling into unhealthy eating habits right now. Don’t sweat it – healthy eating doesn’t need to add stress to an already stressful situation. Take small steps of change and keep food enjoyable.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Keeping the Family Peace – Healthy Relationships during COVID-19

Keeping the Family Peace – Healthy Relationships during COVID-19

By
Erika Krull

The coronavirus has you and your family cooped up right now. You know it’s important to be safe, but how much of each other can you really take day after day?

While it’s great to have family time, most families don’t spend this much time together. Being together 24/7 is only fun for so long. So how do you get through the day without going after each other’s throats before noon? Learn some tried-and-true methods for getting along.

The struggle is real, friends. And the COVID-19 situation will be around for a while. Make the best of your time together and take the following tips to heart.

1. Expect some friction

You can expect a little more friction with everyone being in the house all day. Everyone’s feeling stress and it’s normal, but it can get a little frustrating. You, your spouse, and your kids need to know how to handle conflict without making the situation worse.

A little extra forgiveness can go a long way. Remind yourself that nobody asked to be in this situation and assume everyone is trying their best to get along. If your disagreement gets heated, be the first to step away and take a break. Return when you can speak calmly so the issue gets resolved.

2. Put extra effort into communication

Good communication is more important now than ever in your home. Problems are everywhere and it’s easy to feel trapped. If you have bad communication habits, this is a great time to put in some extra effort and improve them. Here are a few helpful ideas:

  • Be honest about your personal and emotional needs. You and your spouse can do a better job supporting each other when you both share your thoughts openly.
  • Be intentional about disagreements. Instead of allowing tempers to flare, set aside a little time to talk through the problem.
  • Take turns venting to each other without interruption. Listen to understand, not to respond.

3. Stay socially connected with others

While we’re all in our homes and staying socially distant, it’s easy to feel isolated and overwhelmed. That’s why it’s so important to stay in touch with loved ones, even if you can’t be together physically. When you and your spouse feel connected to others, it takes the pressure off your relationship.

Use these ideas to reach out and stay in touch with others.

  • Make phone calls, send texts, or send emails.
  • Surprise someone with a personal card in the mail.
  • Take a walk while socializing on the phone.
  • A group video call is a great way to reconnect. Since people are often home now, you may have an easier time getting people together.

4. Make self-care a priority

Self-care may seem like a luxury you don’t have time for. In reality, self-care is about paying attention to our physical and emotional needs every day. With stress and uncertainty on the rise, self-care is essential. You’ll get along with your spouse better and you’ll have more in your tank for your kids.

  • Do your best to get sleep. Emotional stress can be just as tiring as physical stress. Find ways during the day to rest if you can’t sleep well all night.
  • Make healthy food choices. It’s OK to enjoy some snacks but try to serve balanced meals regularly. Your body will feel better with healthier foods.
  • Drink plenty of water. It’s easy to forget about drinking water until you’re thirsty. Keep ahead of it by filling a pitcher of drinking water and challenging yourself to drink it all day. Your body can become dehydrated before you realize the problem.
  • Find some peace and quiet. Everyone needs alone time and having a full house all day can make that a challenge. Work with your spouse so you can each count on some alone time at least a few times each day.

5. Be extra forgiving and show empathy

Not everyone in your house may handle the current social restrictions well every day. Everyone needs a little extra forgiveness and empathy right now. Home school and work-from-home arrangements can be challenging. Also, anyone with a current or emerging mental health issue may feel worse.

Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and really listen when they talk about their concerns. Ask what you can do to help, then take a turn sharing with them. Practice empathy with your children as well. Encourage them to talk about their concerns and how they are adjusting.

6. Practice gratitude

Practice gratitude every day to keep your spirits up. Doing this doesn’t discount the seriousness of the situation. It allows you to remember all the positives in your life, despite the changes you’re facing.

Our brains latch on to whatever we spend a lot of time with. We see what we look for. Train your brain to look for more positive things around you and remember everything that is still good in the world.

7. Get creative with couple time

You and your spouse still need couple time, pandemic or otherwise. You’ll need to get creative to stay safe and have fun, but it can be done. You may or may not have privacy with kids in the house, but the idea is to plan something together. For any suggestions outside your home, please keep your local restrictions and requirements in mind. Keep the spark alive!

Inside the house:

  • Have a movie marathon with favorite movie treats
  • Play a board game or card game.
  • Be affectionate even if it’s just for a few minutes
  • Cook a meal together when it’s just the two of you.

Outside the house:

  • Drive around the neighborhood or near a park.
  • Some areas have local outdoor attractions that can be enjoyed while staying in your vehicle like a cruise night, town parade, or a nature center.
  • Take an evening walk.
  • Have a picnic in your backyard.

8. Remind yourself this situation isn’t normal

We’ve been living in a strange world for a while and many things have changed. Change is hard work and it takes a lot of mental and physical energy. We could still be in for several ups and downs before things level off.

Some people may never quite get used to the new normal. Even when it feels like Day 1,296 under social restriction, we’re all still adjusting. Give yourself a break every day.

Keep More Family Peace at Home

You and your family members are going to spend a lot of time together for a while. Sometimes you’ll love it, and other times you’ll hate it. Through it all, you can help your family find some peace in the chaos.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

11 Tips for Dealing with a Financial Crisis

11 Tips for Dealing with a Financial Crisis

By
Erika Krull

The thought of checking the mailbox fills you with dread. You don’t answer your phone anymore because it could be someone collecting money. Bills are past due and your bank account looks scary. Your gut is constantly tied in a knot.

As time ticks off the clock, your bills keep piling up, and you’ve already missed a few due dates. You don’t want to panic and make things worse, but you don’t know where to start. You need a plan, and fast.

You may feel completely overwhelmed now, and that is OK. You can make this better one step at a time. The following tips will show you how to to get organized and tackle the money beast right away. Gather your courage and let’s get started.

1. Learn to calm yourself

Your ability to make sound decisions right now is vital, and that can only happen if you can calm your nerves. A financial crisis is stressful, so learning to relax is essential to this process.

Start with a simple breathing exercise. Slowly breathe in for four counts and breathe out for eight counts. Do this several times in a row. Once your body gets used to this, your heart rate will slow down. Doing this several times a day will help you lower your stress levels.

2. Gather your financial information

When you are in a calm state of mind, gather all your bank statements, bills, and your calendar. Call your bank or look online at your current balance and pending transactions. You need to know exactly how much money you have available right now.

Write all the due dates of your bills on your calendar or a list. This process will help you know what bills are coming up soonest and exactly when they are due. You are laying down the foundation of your financial situation here, so be thorough.

3. Prioritize your bills and expenses

Now that you know what’s due, list your bills in order of highest priority. You need to keep a roof over your head, basic utilities going, and food on the table. These are your basic needs, and you need to cover those expenses first.

You may have bills due right away that don’t cover a basic need. Before you pay that bill, you need to understand how far you can stretch your money on more important things.

4. Get a simple plan

Start with a simple plan so you can start taking action. Breathe and calm down, then decide which bills you can and need to pay first.

Look at your bank balance and when you get paid again. How does your available cash match up with the due dates of your most important bills? Do you have enough to cover those bills on time, or do you need to figure something out? If you’re short, you may need to get some extra cash to make ends meet.

5. Stop spending money

Stop spending money until you know which expenses are the most important. You must stop the bleeding quickly so you can keep your basic needs covered. This can be a difficult choice, especially if your income has taken a hit. Take some deep breaths, think, then spend your money wisely.

Look through your bank statement for automated payments or renewals coming up. These can be easily missed and can spend your cash when you aren’t expecting it.

6. Action instead of distraction

When stress builds up, you’ll feel like distracting yourself and procrastinating. Distraction can be a good stress reliever, but not in this case. You need a focused mind to make the situation better. Once you have a basic plan of attack, do what’s needed to cover your bills. Take the action you need even if it goes against your emotions.

Many things will require your attention as you work through this situation. Unplanned expenses will come up, something will break, or a bill you’d forgotten about will come in the mail. Keep figuring out your plan and stay on track.

7. Lower your bills

Once you’ve prioritized your bills, contact each business to see if there’s a way to lower your payments. Call your credit card companies about lowering your interest rate or fees. This can also work with mortgage companies, your landlord, and utility companies.

These businesses would prefer that you pay some or most of your bill instead of nothing. Negotiation can take some heat off your bills as you start to catch up.

8. Trim extra expenses

Start trimming the fat out of your list of expenses. This is a great time to cut cable, drop subscriptions, and stop eating out. Go back to your definition of essential purchases and question everything you usually spend money on.

Don’t worry, you can find plenty of ways to enjoy life while cutting costs. Instead of streaming movies with a paid service, see what you can watch for free. Buy generic brands, cook at home and use your local library.

9. Make some extra cash

Now that you’ve cut expenses, put more money in the pot by finding a side gig or two. First, sell your unused items on Craigslist or local selling exchange Facebook groups. Hold a yard sale with a friend or two to draw a big crowd. Have a special skill you can use? Sell your services locally and online as a freelancer.

Search newspapers and online listings for part-time work. Grocery stores, discount stores, and restaurants are always hiring. Ask your friends and family if they know anyone who’s hiring. Do odd jobs like yard work, scooping snow, or walking dogs.

10. Speak to someone you trust for support

Remember how closely tied your money and emotions are? Don’t go through this stressful journey on your own. Get some support right away from a person you trust. They don’t have to be an expert with money, but you need someone with a financial track record in your corner.

One of their most important jobs will give you emotional support. When you feel like giving up or get frustrated, they can help you settle down and think clearly.

11. Be honest with your family

Don’t sugarcoat this situation with your family. This won’t be fun, but be honest from the start. You need everyone on board with your financial plan for it to work. Explain the problem and potential consequences if your situation gets worse. Tell everyone in the family how spending and saving will change for everyone.

Then turn the mood in a positive direction and promote a family team attitude. Describe your goals and what everyone can do to help. These changes most likely won’t last forever, but it could feel that way at first. Once everyone knows how to pitch in, it’ll be easier to stay focused and motivated.

Climbing out of the hole

Getting out of a financial crisis is no picnic, but it is manageable. Stay calm and make a plan. Take action every day to meet your goal and have your support network by your side. You and your family are in this crisis and can get through it together.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

9 Tips on Dealing with Uncertainty from the Coronavirus

9 Tips on Dealing with Uncertainty from the Coronavirus

By
Erika Krull

The coronavirus crisis is changing our world. One day has more news than you can read or digest. What will work be like today? Will my child’s school close this week? Will someone I love become very sick?

There’s no easy answer for what tomorrow brings. But you can take each day and learn how to live with the changes. You aren’t alone, and it’s normal to feel a lot of stress right now. 

How will you cope today, let alone tomorrow? Does anyone know what real life is anymore? Maybe not, but you can still get through it with a little help and sound advice.

School activity changes

Your daughter has been asking about her graduation party. Your son talks about his soccer and baseball games. Your parent friends wonder about the school carnival coming up in May. Now what?  

A few weeks ago, your family calendar showed so many fun things in the months ahead. Now it looks uncomfortably empty. Should you erase the big soccer tournament from its weekend time slot? Or leave it there, but not mention it?

COVID-19 is a true health emergency. It is serious and the big changes we’re all going through are important. Safety comes with a lot of change. Sometimes it’s too much change to believe. 

How to cope with this:

Name that feeling

Noticed a strange ache in your heart the last few weeks? It’s probably grief. With grief can come many other feelings like anxiety, sadness, anger, and yearning. 

You are feeling a lot of loss with your family and with the entire world. These losses are real. It’s OK for you and your family to feel sad about the baseball games, speech meets, and school picnics that may or may not happen.

Feel your grief

Be upset and feel sad. Know that emotions move through you. Feel what you feel and let it pass. Another emotion will move in. You won’t always feel sad. You can find happiness today and the next day too. 

Hold on to hope

You and your family will get to have fun things on the calendar again. It may not feel like it, but this is a temporary situation. It’s hard to say when things will get better, but they will. Have faith that life will open up again and you will feel relief. 

Financial uncertainty

Don’t look at any of your investment accounts right now. Don’t even think about it. The ups and downs of the stock market have been dizzying lately. 

You may have had your hours cut at work. You might know someone who’s been laid off or put on leave. Or you may be one of the millions of small business owners wondering what your financial future is.

There’s no doubt the entire world is facing financial uncertainty. Communities of all sizes are trying to keep their economies going. What does this mean for you? A lot of questions with few answers. 

How to cope with this:

Look at your finances today

What kind of budget do you work with? Is it fairly tight or do you have some wiggle room? Spend what you must but try to reserve some savings. 

Buy a few more groceries each week to build up a surplus. But don’t blow your budget. The extra money you save now can help if your job is affected later on.

Don’t make emotional money decisions

It’s much easier to make bad choices when you’re emotional. Emotions aren’t right or wrong. They just don’t use logic. 

Feel like cashing out your retirement account and putting it in the bank? Are you doing a little too much retail therapy to make you feel better? Neither one is a good idea. 

Fear can be a bad decision-maker. Don’t let it be in charge of your wallet.

Talk to a financial advisor

Speaking of emotions, this might be the right time to get help from a financial advisor. These are difficult times, especially if you don’t have a financial plan. 

An advisor can help you make choices with a professional viewpoint. They can guide you through these rough times with solid advice.

Work changes

The working world is anything but normal right now. Companies of all sizes face a big challenge. They need to keep people working and keep their workplaces safe.

You may be one of the millions adjusting to a work-from-home life. Most likely, you had a few day’s notice, maybe a week if you were lucky. 

Suddenly, everyone’s learning to use online meeting apps like Zoom and Skype to keep in touch. A lot of kitchen tables have quickly become makeshift offices. Kids, spouses, and pets are new (and noisy) coworkers.

Medical workers, grocery store clerks, and rescue workers are on the job, even with the risk of getting sick. And, if you are less fortunate, you may be very unsure if you’ll even have a job for long. 

How to cope with this:

Working from home

Stay in touch with your employer and understand your options. Working from home may be safer, but can also be frustrating. Find a space in your home with some quiet. 

Understand you will be interrupted. Some days will go well, and others won’t. Give yourself a break. Many at-home workers are struggling right along with you.

Parenting tips for online school

If you have school-age kids, your kitchen is their new classroom. And you may become a part-time volunteer teacher. Teachers will do the best they can to help your kids finish the school year. But nobody expects the last several weeks to be perfect.

Do the best you can and forgive yourself a lot. Try to follow some kind of schedule, but don’t be too strict. Take breaks from school time. Step away before you or your kids get upset. 

Keep plenty of snacks on hand and encourage recess for everyone, including you.

Working in a higher-risk environment

Depending on your job, you may be required to go into work. You may need to do extra things to keep yourself safe, both at work and when you come home. 

Create a routine to clean up and change clothes. Take extra care of your stress levels and sleep. You may feel more anxiety because of the extra risk you take at work. Talk to loved ones if you feel overwhelmed. Your work is important right now.

Dealing with uncertainty

When life is uncertain, just breathe. That may sound too simple to really work. But when everything feels out of control, keep it simple. Focus on the things you can manage yourself. 

You can exercise, control your breathing, choose what you eat, and focus your mind. Put your attention on these things now. Stay connected with your loved ones. Take care of yourself. 

These actions won’t solve today’s crisis. But they will help you make the best of today. 

How can you help your family and neighbors? 

Tell us your parenting tips for doing online school. Share how you work from home around your spouse and kids in the comments below.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

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Erika Krull is a mental health writer with a master’s degree in counseling. She has worked with families and individuals in a variety of therapy settings. She has also been writing for a variety of mental health and wellness websites since 2006. Erika lives in central Nebraska with her husband, dog, and her three daughters

Learning to Compromise

Learning to Compromise

By
Omaira Gonzalez

My husband and I took a trip to Menards to pick tiles this weekend. We finally agreed that it was time to do some remodeling in our home.

Now, I do not know how this usually works in your marriage, but in mine, we can’t seem to agree 85% of the time. He likes one thing, I want another, and we will spend what should have been a 30 minutes trip at the store to a whole field trip. We cannot seem to pick tiles we both like, but now we have to go to all the other stores to compare.

Guess what? Nothing had changed from when we went to Menards the first time. We still have different tastes, and we each are trying very hard to win this war of the tiles.

After a few stores, I accept that this is a battle not worth carrying out into the field. So I ask for a truce, and we decide to compromise. We look at each design we like, and then we narrowed our search to the one that is most similar to both his taste and mine. Now, what would that have looked like if we had done that in the beginning? We would have saved countless hours at the store and had time to go to a restaurant and enjoy a nice meal.

In relationships, many times, we will not always get our way. However, we have to compromise. What do I mean by this? In marriage, we both come into the relationship with our interests, desires, ideas, and tastes. Compromising is more like working together towards a favorable outcome for both. This not only pertains to small decisions but also big ones.

Of course, the small compromises in a marriage can be pretty easy to make (or not); however, they are just as important. For example, you want seafood, and your spouse wants steak. A compromise is to choose a restaurant that has both. How about a more substantial compromise? How about buying a house? You may want a particular style of home, and your spouse may want another. You want to live in a particular neighborhood, and your spouse wants to live somewhere else. I have been there! While this may take some negotiating, it is important for you and your spouse to work towards common goals and to consider each other’s point of view. Now when you do reach a happy compromise…celebrate.

Compromising does not have to be negative; the key is to find a win-win. Here is a tip that can help when you both are struggling with compromising:

Listen: Ask questions about what he/she wants or likes. Listen to each other’s point of view. If you do not understand something, ask. Trying to push your idea or wants onto someone else without considering them can lead to frustration and behaviors such as sarcasm. Make an effort to understand and hear your spouse out…you may find what the win-win is for both in the conversation.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

We Aren’t Twelve Anymore

We Aren’t Twelve Anymore

By
José-Andrés Alegría

The point of no return. There comes a time when you look at your kid and need to realize that they are no longer 12.

Let me preface this by saying that my mom is the kind of mom everyone dreams of having. Growing up, she always said the same thing to me. “I’m not raising a kid. I’m raising an adult.” Those words have sat with me ever since. My mom always valued my opinion when it came to decisions that affected my life. When she wanted me to change schools, she told me why. But then she let me “state my case” arguing why I should be allowed to stay at my school. Ultimately, the final decision was hers to make, but she knew that it affected my life and let me participate in the decision-making process. It’s the reason I have no problem with making decisions now as an adult. But man, sometimes I look at my friends, and I see that my mom didn’t raise them. That’s not to say that their parents aren’t great, but some parents have a harder time letting go of their kids. Some have a hard time realizing that the dynamic between parent and child changes from authoritarian to more of a mentorship after we move out. When I moved out and went to college, my mom was always there for me, but in being there for me, she never babied me. If I went to her for advice, that is what she would give me. She never told me what I should do, never forced her opinions on me. My mom would say to me what she thought she would do if she were in my position. But ultimately the final decision was now my own. She made sure that by the time I moved out, I could take care of myself. The last thing she wanted to do was raise her son to be like his father.

Indecisiveness, with a fear of failure, and overall anxiety of being alone are the leading factors in snowflake syndrome. We are told our whole lives that we can be anything we want to be but then stripped of any freedom to go out and take the world by storm, so we grow up to be entitled. (I probably got an eye roll from all the Gen X-ers). When you have a generation that is too afraid to fail, they end up doing nothing but cowering behind the safety net of their parents. But those same parents don’t want to see their precious little angels fail either. Failure breeds success. You don’t know what is going to work unless you try, fail, and then try again.
As a kid, I was pretty good and picking up a new skill. Nothing was outside of my range of Do’s. And if I didn’t get it right away, I would spend countless hours mastering whatever stupid skill it was I was learning that week. I get so enthralled with little tasks until I learn how to do them. It is annoying. But in the end, I usually found success in my endeavors, which kind of annoyed my mom. Not saying she hoped that I failed, but she knew that when I failed, it was a learning experience for me. I was such a sore loser as a kid, and that terrified my mom. I think the reason she was so encouraging in all my adventures was because of my potential to lose or fail. That may sound horrible, but I was such a cocky little kid that I needed to learn how to fail gracefully. And so I did.

Failure is not so bad. It’s not the best feeling, but that’s life. We tend to fear failure, but it makes us stronger. We learn from it; some even thrive from it. It isn’t the failure that defines us but the grit to keep trying. Ray Allen, NBA guard and Heat legend, says it best: “Losing is so important as a kid… I love to see when they [his kids] lose because it makes them want to fight harder, it makes them want to try, it makes them want to practice.” Allowing your kid to fail is only allowing them to grow as a person. No matter how hard you try, you won’t be good at everything. Failure is inevitable in life, so take it the “L” and keep moving; otherwise, your failure will define you, and nobody wants that. So let your kids fail, you’ll only be doing them a favor.

Letting your kids figure out who they are through trial and error is just the next step in parenthood. Us kids start our lives incredibly dependent on our parents but there comes that decisive moment where we go from dependent to independent. The best thing you can do is to be there for us when we do fail. We can be dumb and reckless, and having the guidance of a mentor who has gone through it all is the second best gift any parent can give their kids. The first being the gift of life. I went into college wanting to be a mechanical engineer but a year in I changed my mind. Instead of dictating my life and forcing me to do what she thought I should do, my mom let me follow my passion. I got a Bachelors in English, quite the opposite of engineering, but she never gave me a hard time for choosing a humanities degree. Instead, she showed her support by sending me articles of “Thing You Need To Do To Get Hired with an English Degree” or “Why More Businesses Are Hiring Grads with Humanities Degrees.” She was a light of support in the way she knew how. Just being there goes a long way.

I look back on the things my mom taught me, and I am grateful. Some parents don’t want to see their kids fail, but my mom made sure that I failed. She was always there to help pick up the pieces afterward, but she knew that I needed to learn how to deal with not reaching my goals. She taught me how to be decisive, to work through problems, to make decisions, and to have the backbone to just live life outside of her parental safety net. Some people were never given a chance to grow as a kid and had to learn those same lessons later in life. So, thanks, mom. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you. And in the wise words of Shea Serrano, “Always shoot your shot. Someone’s gonna do the thing you wanna do — it might as well be you.”

For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

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Jose-Andres Alegria is an intern at Family Bridges who does whatever the boss tells him to do, but if he can’t be found it usually means that his face is buried in a book somewhere or that he is taking a nap and you should come back later when he’s not “busy”.

Follow him on…
Twitter: @No_Way_Jose11

Never a Dull Moment

Never a Dull Moment

By
José-Andrés Alegría

Family is everything, especially on 31st Road. Growing up, I could take a two-minute walk down the street to find someone to help escape the clutches of boredom. My mom and two of her sisters all decided to buy houses on the same street. They also happened to all have kids around the same time. So you can’t even begin to imagine, to the dismay of the neighbors, the shenanigans and mischief my cousins and I got ourselves into growing up. But the one thing I want to make clear is that my cousins, although they are technically extended family, are more like siblings to me. We have always been close and will always be close. We scattered in every direction. A few of us in Chicago, some in California, a couple in Florida, and the rest in Tennessee, but we all make sure that we know what’s going on in our lives. And when we get together, there is never a dull moment. I mean, what trumps family?

My favorite vacations always involve family. Thanksgiving in California when we visited my oldest sister while she was pregnant with her second kid. Going to the Dominican Republic for Abuelita’s 100th birthday party. Visiting family in Chicago as a kid and being taken to all the cool spots in the city. But the greatest of all these hits was Christmas 2012. It takes a lot of planning and mental fortitude to get my mom and her five sisters (The Sisters) and their families in one place. Everyone is always busy. Life can get crazy like that, but this year everyone was on a mission. My Abuelo was sick, and we were scared that this was his last Christmas. The Sisters wanted to make this one as memorable as possible. And they did just that.

 

On some mountain in Tennessee, (Maybe it was a really big hill. What do I know? I’m from Florida.) in the middle of winter, we crammed all 27 of us into this magical cabin. I remember being worried that I wouldn’t be able to have any fun with my cousin. I had torn my ACL, and when this vacation was over I was getting surgery. But then I remembered that my family, although they enjoy adventure and fun, is a group of bums who like to sit on a super comfy couch and do absolutely nothing. It’s awesome. Also, it was waaaaay too cold to go outside. (Again, I’m from Florida. The second it hits 65 degrees the whole state is in jackets and sweats.) Locked in a cabin with family and no end in sight? To some, this sounds like an especially evil version of hell. But we filled the time with board games, catching up, and food. There was enough food to feed a small army. There was never a dull moment. Someone was always telling a story. Stories that we all have heard a million times but were still funny nonetheless. Like the time I got hit by a car. And finding out later, that it was my oldest sister who was driving the car. Or the time my dad decided he didn’t want to take me to the hospital. So instead he took my cast off himself…with a chainsaw. (Child Services if you are reading this, please disregard the previous statement). Or any of the other crazy stories my family has in their back pocket.

Like every big group, my family has its cliques. The Sisters consists of my mom and her sisters, and they talk about family chisme. It’s usually about some cousin or aunt that I didn’t even know existed. The White Uncles gathered in a corner, fend for themselves in a sea of melanin. The Latin Uncles get together, and either brood in a corner (cause they have some past trauma from a world us 2nd generation kids would never understand) or they talk about the Bible and Church for hours. Then you have the Big Kids, which is where I fall. We are the first group of kids that popped out. There are seven of us. Then there are the Little Kids, at the time they were six strong, but some new ones have popped up over the years. The groups mingle and mesh. But since there are so many of us, there is usually always someone in the kitchen cooking. Which means there is at least one group in the kitchen. And there is, at any given time, at least five different conversations going on. And this is where my family is weird, we all, for some reason, cram into one room. Oh, there’s a group in the kitchen? Well, you can bet that everyone is going to make their way into the kitchen. There’s a table for six? We can fit 10 more people on the table. Who needs elbow room?

But what made this Christmas memorable? It was a chance for all of us to see my Abuelo’s legacy. On top of all that he did in his life, I like to think that his greatest achievement was us. The family he loved, and that loved him. This vacation wasn’t just a destination that we went to and explored. It wasn’t about sight-seeing. It was about drinking hot chocolate in a room filled with people that you love. It was about reminiscing the good times and laughing at all the embarrassing dirt we have on each other. It was a vacation, sure. But more than anything, it was a reminder that family, my family, is never dull. And without them, I don’t know where I would be today. And for that, I will always be grateful.

For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges
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Jose-Andres Alegria is an intern at Family Bridges who does whatever the boss tells him to do, but if he can’t be found it usually means that his face is buried in a book somewhere or that he is taking a nap and you should come back later when he’s not “busy”.

Follow him on…
Twitter: @No_Way_Jose11

Parenting Tips to Preserve Summer Sanity

Parenting Tips to Preserve Summer Sanity

By
Eva Fleming

Summer is a time to take a pause from the overcrowded academic schedule and reset our priorities. The relaxed pace is welcomed by most. Even parents who work, and have to drop off their children at daycare, enjoy the ease of the warm evenings without having to worry about homework.

Summer brings its challenges, however. I recently saw a meme of a parent panhandling for summer with a sign that read, “I have a job!! It’s just summer, and my kids are at home, and they won’t stop eating!”

Here are a few ideas that may help you find a nice balance that can help you preserve sanity during the summer months:

Don’t fall into the busy trap

Your children don’t have to be entertained by you every second of the day. They are quite capable of entertaining themselves. Children can only hone their skills when they are extra bored and have nothing better to do. My boys love music. They often leave all the challenging pieces they have wanted to learn for summer when they have time to dedicate to it. They walk away from it when they are frustrated and go back to it when they feel they’ve cooled down enough. If you are filling up their time too much, you will never see them grow as they struggle through the things that matter to them.

Let kids sleep in

Most children don’t get an adequate amount of sleep during the school year, and summer provides them a chance to catch up on the most needed rest. Their growing bodies crave it. Sleep promotes growth, and it also affects weight. Children crave higher-fat or carbs food when they are tired. Tired children also tend to be more sedentary. Sleep has many benefits for children, so while on vacation don’t get things started at 7:00 am like a regular school day. Allow for a little extra sleep, and enjoy your coffee in peace.

Set up a schedule so children are fruitfully occupied but not hurried

You want to set aside a time for reading. Reading for school assignments is not the same as reading for fun. Children, as well as adults, do what they find pleasurable. The capacity of a child to immerse in a story, visualize details in the plot, and relate to the characters in the story can create long hours of pleasure; not to mention how smart they are becoming. Studies have shown that good readers unknowingly even strengthen their mathematical skills. Go figure!

Teach them how to do new chores. Every summer, you want to take the time to add a new chore to their repertoire. Show them how to do something new to help with the household every year. Remind them that as they grow older, they need to learn how to become more independent. The goal is that one day they will be capable of managing their households alone, like a boss!

Take them outside and insist they exercise. It is recommended that children and teens get a minimum of 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. Summer is the easiest time to accomplish this goal because every child loves scootering, swimming, riding bikes and playing sports indoors and outdoors. In addition to the usual physical benefits of exercise, active kids are less likely to experience bouts of depression and anxiety. Moving around improves mental health. That is a fact!

Encourage them to be creative. Creativity is more of a skill than an inborn talent. Summer is a great time to learn to draw, play music, dance, create science experiments, write, learn to recite poetry, serve the people around them, etc.

Savor your time with your children during the summer months, cuddle, read together, play, enjoy and for God’s sake, stop worrying!

For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

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Eva Fleming is an expert educator and curriculum developer. She has over 25 years of teaching experience and has taught all age groups including, preschool, elementary, middle and high school children and adults. When she’s not teaching, she’s cooking something delicious or driving her children around.