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?

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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

Dealing with Anxiety in Moments of Panic

Dealing with Anxiety in Moments of Panic

By
Dr. James Hommowun

We’ve all experienced moments of anxiety – from the nagging question “did I leave the oven on?” to fears over whether we’ve studied enough to pass a test or concerns about how that contract negotiation is going to go. We know the changes we experience – sweaty palms, shallower breathing, feeling jittery or nervous, thoughts racing, feeling like our minds are “stuck in a rut” and just won’t let go of whatever it is we’re anxious about.

Many of us, through personal experience or good education, have found ways to deal with these symptoms, to recognize anxiety as it is coming on and consciously act to reduce its impact, through techniques like deep breathing, muscular relaxation, creative visualization, or many others.

But what about panic? Most of us have experienced panic as well. It’s like anxiety, but kick it up to eleven. It’s coming home at 9 p.m. and realizing your four-year-old child isn’t in the house. It’s getting the news that a family member has been in a violent car crash. It’s hearing that you have cancer. It’s that feeling like the floor – no, the world itself – has dropped out from under you, you’re in free fall with no idea when or if you’ll ever touch down and feel stable again. Surely this calls for more than just “taking a deep breath,” right?

Yes… and no. It’s important to realize that panic is a natural, normal, and effective phenomenon. It is our bodies and minds working together in a beautiful sympathy to mobilize all our available resources to survive a perceived life or death threat. It’s not much fun to experience, but it has a definite purpose, and it does it well. And when the threat is, say, escaping a rabid wolf, it gives you a much better chance of survival.

In our examples above, if you come home and your child is missing, it’s going to drive you to go out and holler at the top of your lungs and check all around the house for any place they may have wandered – and that’s precisely what you should do, at least at first. But a car accident? A cancer diagnosis?

Panic is not particularly well-suited to inspiring or enabling us to survive an already-passed crisis or a diffuse threat. In the case of the accident, we might speed all the way to the hospital, running every red light – but that doesn’t change what happened, it only increases our risk of not surviving ourselves. With a cancer diagnosis, we may have no idea what to do. So we let the panic come out sideways, living dangerously or irresponsibly, trying to escape or deny the reality.

What steps can you take when panic comes knocking?

1. Force yourself to pause

Yes, it is forcing – you’ll just want to react and won’t have time to stop or think; those things will only get in the way of doing something!. You need to determine if there is an action you can take that can potentially make a difference.
Looking for a missing child? Yes! Go do it. Racing to the hospital? Nope. Your brain won’t particularly care if the action is likely to work – you just need to do. But if you can recognize that an action won’t help – and may make the situation worse – you have taken the first step to manage panic. That first step is recognizing that the panic is only making things worse.

2. Identify actions that may help

You will be fighting your instinct this whole time. This is where taking a deep breath can help – and you can literally just take a deep breath (or three, or five), mentally counting down five to one with each. Some people find it is helpful to give themselves a pressure release valve – “I’m going to give myself 10 seconds just to be panicked, then I’m reining this in.”
Make yourself think of at least three different courses of action you could take and compare them all to each other. Decide which has the best likelihood of making a positive impact and do that one first. You may come back and do all three, and think of even more, but taking the time first to raise three options and then weigh among them re-engages the analytical, logical parts of your brain that panic shuts down. This helps move you out of panic and back into a more balanced state.

3. Act

You’re panicking in the first place because you perceive a serious threat – so you need to take an action to try to change the situation. That action may be active – looking for a missing child – or it may be passive – wait for more information about my diagnosis and study the literature to become better informed about what to expect and how to manage. It may be just to hit your knees and allow that the situation is out of your control and put your trust in a higher power.

As all-consuming as panic is at the moment, it is not sustainable. It will pass. But taking a moment to reassess and act consciously instead of reacting from your gut can help put you in a better place to continue managing and responding to developments after the panic has faded. And addressing it well once makes it that much easier to do again when the situation feels like it’s spiraling out of control all over again – as they often do. It’s normal to panic more than once over the same problem – but it’s also normal to get better and better at responding as each success builds on the last. Don’t give up hope, and don’t dwell on that feeling that “things will never be okay again.” It’s hard to endure panic – but harder still when it leads to despair. Remember to force yourself to pause, identify actions that may help, and act.

As always, thanks for reading; stay safe, stay connected, and feel free to comment down below!

——

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.

——

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

Kill ’em with Kindness

Kill ’em with Kindness

By
José-Andrés Alegría

We’ve all heard it for the last few weeks. Wash your hands, social distance, and buy all the toilet paper you can, oh wait; no one said that last part and yet there seems to be a shortage.

In times of panic, we tend to go into some weird caveman-like survival mode where it’s eat or be eaten, but why? I’m not trying to get into some deep psychology of the human mind, but I see some of these videos of mobs at Walmart fighting over toilet paper, and I just feel sad.

In times like this, I think about a story I was told my whole life about my grandpa and grandma. Long story short, there once was a drought with no rain in sight, but one day my grandfather decided to put every pot, pan, cup, or thing that could hold water outside. Why? Because, obviously, it was about to rain even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. After much ridicule from his neighbors, the clouds came, and it poured for a few minutes. Instead of hoarding all the water, he collected, my grandfather gave the water to the people in the neighborhood – the same ones who were mocking him. He could have kept it all to himself but chose to share his abundance with those who were suffering.

It’s easy to be selfish. By nature, we are selfish creatures. It’s why we teach our kids to share. So when I got to see that same sense of community and sharing in action in my own life, it impacted me more.

I grew up in South Florida, so mass panic is nothing new. Watching neighborhoods prep for a hurricane is something that most people don’t get to experience. In comparison to the “every man for himself” mentality that we are experiencing right now, hurricane season always brought neighbors together.

During prep time, you did what you had to do to get ready, but you also helped the old lady down the street who lived alone and put up her shutters. You did it without anyone asking you to. You did it just because it was the right thing to do.

I’ve lived through plenty of hurricanes, but if I’m completely honest, I barely remember them. It rains so much in Florida that it all starts to blur together. But I will never forget Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Wilma. They hit Florida in 2005 about two months apart. Why do I remember them so much? Maybe it was the panic from everyone worrying about their houses and families. It was palpable in the air. I was only eight at the time, and if I could sense it, then I can only imagine what adults at the time were actually feeling.

But what stuck with me was what happened post-hurricane.

My house didn’t have power for three weeks post-Katrina. I don’t know if you have ever experienced Florida heat in August/September, but I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Out of the kindness of my neighbor’s heart, they ran an extension cord from their house across the street to ours. (They got power back almost immediately since there is a sewer pipe running under them.) It was nothing special, but it let us run a fan at night and probably a bunch of other small stuff I can’t remember. All I know is that the feeling of the fan turning on is still one of the most vivid memories I have.

I also remember playing basketball in the street with some of the kids in the neighborhood. Most of them were my cousins (we grew up on the same street), but there was just a mob of kids running up and down the street doing kid things. People were sharing food—some rice here, a potato there, some bottled water over there. A bunch of other things were collectively shared, so at a young age, I got to see a community come together.

I don’t want to take away or belittle the damage those two hurricanes did to Florida and other states, but that sense of community and having each other’s backs in times of crisis will forever be a part of who I am.

So how do I apply that very sense of community in a time where we can’t physically be near each other? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself during this quarantine. Maybe we can’t have barbeques with people popping by and catching up, but we still can be a community. Technology has kept us linked in this partitioned world we now live in.

How do we practice kindness in this quarantine?

I don’t think it needs to be some grand gesture like putting up someone’s shutters or giving away water to a community in dire need of some. No, I think it can be as simple as…

  • Buying a Starbucks gift card for your nurse, doctor or hospital-employee friend who is working hard to fight this virus
  • Thanking the grocery store workers who have been getting to the stores earlier than usual to clean and stock the whole store every day
  • Checking in on our elderly neighbors to see if they need help getting groceries or other necessities
  • Reaching out to some parents, you may know who are now locked in a room with their 3-year-old. They could probably use a couple of new toys or coloring books. Maybe even a bottle of wine for themselves.
  • Looking out for your extroverted friends, they are most definitely going crazy right now, so give them a call and check-in on them.

We may not be able to be in the same room as others, but thanks to technology, we can still stay connected. These are wild times with so many normals changing, but it doesn’t mean we have to change everything. So wash your hands, keep your distance, and show a little kindness.

——

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

Is it over yet? A few words for exhausted parents

Is it over yet? A few words for exhausted parents

By
Barb Linek

I’m sorry to say it’s not over yet. This virus seems to be tenacious and will take a while to get past. I’m sure that after a week or more of being stuck at home with the entire family 24/7, you’re tired. You’re doing more for your kids than ever—trying to be their teacher, playmate, referee, coach, and counselor—to say nothing of all the cooking and cleaning they require! Oh, and then you’re working from home on top of all that? I’m sorry. I’ll speak to your boss if you like. It’s too much!

Are you ready for an attitude adjustment? Let’s declare this pity party officially over. As a parent, you’ve been through hard times before. I bet you could name lots of difficult times you’ve overcome. Parents are tough! Here’s a disgusting example. My kids are now grown up and balding, but I distinctly remember the smell of one awful night when they were six and seven. They both started throwing up hot dogs after going to bed. Not only did the vomit get all over them and their beds, but it also covered the wall and floor next to their beds. I never thought I could clean up all that mess without getting sick from the revolting smell, but I got through it, and so did the kids (although I’ve never looked at hot dogs quite the same way since). And life goes on.

So how can you buck it up and smile your way through the coming weeks of 24/7 forced family togetherness? I have a few suggestions you can try and see what works for you.

Take care of yourself

You’ve heard the flight attendant say, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” That’s critically important here. That means:

Sleep on a regular schedule

Sleep seven to eight hours a night. If you stay up watching movies until 2:00 AM, you won’t be happy to see your toddler bounce out of bed at 7:00 AM. Quality sleep makes the world a rosier place, I promise.

Get some exercise

Exercise is a great stress reliever. I know the gym is closed, but you can have a dance party with the kids. Go outside for a nice, long walk and look for signs of spring! Or find a yoga or pilates video on YouTube. Do something physical every day.

Don’t try to drink your problems away.

I’m not saying that a Friday night “Happy Hour” wouldn’t be nice, but find a better solution than alcohol for your daily pressures. (See “exercise” above.)

Eat something healthy

I know the kids want cookies and chips, but, as an adult, you know you won’t feel right eating anything but carbs all day long. Remember, protein, fruits, and vegetables make your body happy. Try to maintain a routine meal schedule to keep your body in sync.

Keep a gratitude journal

Nothing fancy, write down three things you’re grateful for each night. Ask your kids what they are thankful for, especially in these times. We have more blessings than we can count if we take the time to notice. Do you have clean running water? Do you have a partner who smiles and pitches in to help? Did the sun come out this morning? Did the baby learn a new word today? Maybe you’ll list more than three blessings per night!

Connect with others

Reach out when you’re having a really bad day. Everyone has days like that and needs help. The telephone is our lifeline right now! Call and vent to a friend, family member or pastor who is a good listener. Blowing off steam is really beneficial to your physical and mental health.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that your family is not doing well at the moment. The current situation is like nothing we’ve ever seen. Here’s a couple of 24/7 resources you can use. Call or text with someone who understands what you’re going through. Live chat is also available on most websites. All calls are completely confidential.

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: text or call 1-800-422-4453 (English or Spanish). Or chat at childhelp.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: call 1-800-273-8255 (1-888-628-9454 in Spanish). Or chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
  • Domestic Violence Hotline: call 1-800-799-7233 (available in Spanish) Or chat at www.the hotline.org

Take care of others

Take a deep breath and smile! Now that you’re feeling a little more energized let’s take an outward focus. Instead of worrying so much about yourselves, talk to your kids about helping those in greatest need during these difficult days. Who is having a harder time than your family getting through this? What can you do—in a safe way—let them know someone cares? Even a small gesture will brighten the day of someone isolated and suffering from depression as a result.

  • Do you have a neighbor who is over 60 or has a health condition? Leave your name and phone number on a large note taped on their door or window (wherever they will be sure to see it). Maybe they need pet food, cleaning supplies, or someone to talk to. Or leave one of the kids’ drawings, a home-cooked meal, a magazine, or a bunch of flowers at their door. They might be interested in trying Netflix or organizing a Zoom meeting with friends if you can explain it by phone.
  • Check the website of a local nonprofit that serves the needy or homeless of your community. They may be looking for donations or volunteers for an urgent project. They may need someone to make phone calls. Contribute online if you can, as most nonprofits will need extra support at this time.
  • Call a relative you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Aunt Suzy may enjoy a video chat with your kids right now. Stronger family connections may be the best outcome of this whole situation.
  • Write a note or send one of the kids’ masterpieces to a friend from church, a coworker, or a grandparent who needs encouragement. No stamps? Check the USPS website to print postage or buy stamps from the 24/7 machine at the post office (and use your hand sanitizer after touching those buttons!).
  • Call another parent who’s stuck at home and ask how they’re faring. Listen to their concerns. Let them know they are not alone.

I’m sorry none of these is the magic cure capable of releasing you from your confinement, but I hope these suggestions help you refocus and shift to a more positive attitude as this virus runs its course. Maybe a friend has a better idea to help you weather this crisis with a smile. We are all in this together!

——

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

How to Manage Anxiety with the COVID-19 Crisis

How to Manage Anxiety with the COVID-19 Crisis

By

Erika Krull

If there’s ever been a time to take good care of yourself, it is now. Your health is a top priority. It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious with the COVID-19 crisis ramping up.

Nobody knows when things will go back to normal or when we will feel safe again. Stay focused on today and forgive yourself. We are all in this together.

Name that emotion

With everything happening, you may feel kind of sick inside. If you’re having trouble naming what you’re feeling, some of these descriptions may fit.

Anticipatory grief

Feel sad every time you look at the calendar? You are feeling anticipatory grief. This sadness comes over you as you realize you’ll lose something soon. Schools are closed and sporting events are canceled around the world. You feel sorrow about things you can’t do anymore.

Survivor guilt

The news is full of scary stories and alarming images of sick and dying people. If you have not personally been affected by the virus yet, you might feel a little guilty.

Being bored and inconvenienced is nothing like fearing for your safety. You may be thankful for your health and safety, but it may not feel that comforting.

Empathy overload

Watching the news is tough these days. Hearing about overloaded ERs and worried doctors can feel emotionally heavy. It’s hard to watch people suffer when you can’t do anything about it.

The most important thing you can do looks a lot like doing nothing. This paradox is tough to accept.

How to manage your anxiety

Whatever you are feeling right now is OK.

Worried, scared, bored, entertained, frustrated, confused, safe, relieved, restless, sad, shaken, determined: these feelings and more are normal.

Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable is probably based on anxiety right now. Try some of these tips now to relieve symptoms of stress and worry.

Get exercise outside if you can

The great thing about exercise is that you can do it almost anywhere. If the weather is nice and you have space, go outside. It’s amazing for you if you can do it safely. A walk in the fresh air will do wonders for your heart.

Your natural endorphins will pump through your body and boost your mood. The increased oxygen will turn your brain on. If you’re stuck indoors, get outside, lift some weights, a yoga mat, an exercise ball, or whatever you can manage.

Move around until you are breathing hard and feeling sweaty. This helps your body learn how to relax and is a great distraction.

Put the news into perspective

Most of the news from yesterday is terrible. A lot of the news later on today will probably also be terrible. There are some positive stories of communities coming together and protecting people. Sadly, those stories are a little harder to find.

There’s no good way to sugarcoat the current situation. But you can stay informed without drinking from a fire hose.

Check the news much less frequently than you normally do. If social media helps you feel connected, unfollow or mute any person or organization sharing lots of COVID-19 updates. Keep your channels positive and uplifting.

Keep a positive outlook

Looking at the news can wreck even the most optimistic among us. It’s tough out there, and there’s no way to know when things will improve. Still, you are 100% in control of your attitude.

Things may look uncertain and dangerous, but you can still bring positivity to the day. The secret is to focus on the present moment.

You can make your children smile right now. You can appreciate what your spouse does at home for work. You can talk to an isolated friend or older family member. Make a difference this moment and you can keep a more positive outlook every day.

Get some sleep

This is tough. The entire COVID-19 crisis is a scary and strange situation. It doesn’t even feel like reality. So getting regular quality restful sleep can be a reach some nights. Do the best you can.

Keep your normal bed times. Your family’s work/school schedule will get wacky and you won’t remember what day it is.

Do comforting things before bed.

  • Turn off social media or the news way before going to bed.
  • Take a warm bath after supper.
  • Breathe in slowly for 4 counts and breathe out for 4, doing that several times.
  • Read that novel you didn’t finish on your last vacation.

And if you can’t sleep, don’t beat yourself up. There are millions of people with the same problem right now.

You will get tired and fall asleep. Take a nap if you can. Otherwise, pour the coffee, get your day going, and try again the next night.

Eat healthy food

Every snack in the house is around the corner from your makeshift office. Resist the temptation to eat your feelings away. Yes, you can have snacks and treats. But make sure you use those precious grocery runs to buy some healthy foods.

Eating a balanced diet will help your emotions stay balanced throughout the day. Also, try to stick to regular meals. No one will judge your chocolate snack at 9:30 in the morning, but make sure you aren’t skipping meals.

Stay social

Don’t let social distancing keep you from your loved ones. When you feel anxious, your support network is more important than ever.

Video chat: If your loved ones are tech-savvy, do a video chat. You can’t hug them through Skype, but it’s the next best thing these days.

Texting: A quick “how are you?” text is an easy way to reach out. Everyone’s a little on edge, so a quick personal message is much appreciated.

Phone call: An old-fashioned phone is quick, easy, and everybody you know has a phone. You can visit with anyone from your 5-year-old niece to your 90-year-old great aunt.

Write a letter: Go old-school and practice your cursive with a handwritten letter. Combine communication and a creative outlet all in one shot.

See the opportunity

You’re likely stuck at home for who-knows-how-long. Everything can feel a little overwhelming. Use this opportunity to look for fun and creative distractions right under your nose.

  • Look for little projects and home adventures you’ve never had time for.
  • Feel the satisfaction of cleaning out a disorganized bathroom cabinet.
  • Do the 1000 word puzzle you got for Christmas.
  • Find old family videos and re-watch them.
  • Become a master of Monopoly.
  • Pick up an old hobby you haven’t done in a long time.

Who knows, one of these activities may bring the joy you hadn’t expected to find.

How do you manage anxiety?

You have some tried-and-true ways of picking yourself up when things look down. Tell us, what do you do to pick up your spirits? How do you calm yourself when the world around you feels crazy?

——

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.

——

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

——–

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