Managing Shelter-At-Home Orders

This is clearly a situation that no one has ever experienced, and the stresses we are all feeling are enormous. Human beings are not designed to live in isolation. We are designed to live in partnership and community with other people. Being confined in one space and being around the same people (or alone) continuously for extended periods goes against the very nature of what we are designed for.

There are a few basic things we need as people that are difficult to get when we are self isolating or sheltering at home. These include human contact, exercise, fresh air, and community.

The following are some suggestions and ideas for how to address each of these things in order to do our best to maintain positive mental health and remain safe at the same time.

Human Contact

We are designed to not only have human contact, but a VARIETY of human contact. This is where self isolation becomes stressful. It’s not just a lack of interaction, but it’s a lack of the variety. We don’t see co-workers, friends, extended family etc. Our social lives are imbalanced with an excess of a select few people and a lack of many others.

In order to mange that, there are several things people can do. Reach out, use FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or other media methods to have some interaction. Get out of the house. Everyone is feeling cooped up, and spring is here. Take a walk around your neighborhood. You’re likely to see neighbors you can wave to and wish well. And use the media platforms for group interaction. Get on conference calls with several people at a time.


Many of us tend to lead a somewhat sedentary lifestyle to begin with. But we at least have to walk to and from the car when we go places. During the shelter-at-home order, it can be easy to get into a routine of extreme sedentariness. It can be tempting to lay on the couch and watch NetFlix. Although this can be enjoyable every now and then on a rainy day, it’s not ideal on a day to day basis for an extended period. Many of us rely on a gym we go to regularly for exercise which are not currently available.

Here are some ideas. Go for a walk or bike ride. Take advantage of spring time weather to take on projects. This will not only keep your mind stimulated, but will keep you physically active as well. Use YouTube to follow exercise routines. There are many cardio, aerobic, yoga, and many other types of exercise channels available. And finally, if you have kids spend time playing with them. Play tag, hide and seek, jump on the trampoline. Not only are these things fun and great quality time, but are great for physical well being also!

Fresh Air

Without specific places to go, it’s very easy to just never even open the door. During shelter-at-home, feelings of confinement are absolutely normal. One thing you can do to combat those feelings is simply to get outside. Have a drink on the front porch, set up a hammock, or just lay in a lawn chair. Taking a walk right now is an interesting experience in many areas. With only essential businesses running, there is significantly less traffic noise. It’s an opportunity to really hear the birds and see other animals. Letting yourself have some meditative time outside will help feelings of anxiety that stem from confinement.

Sense of Community

Not only are we social creatures that need human contact, but we are also creatures that need a sense of belonging. We define ourselves by the groups we are in. When separated from our normal groups, whether it’s co-workers, extended family, social groups, church groups, or anything else, we lose touch with that sense of community. And we desperately need to feel a part of those groups.

Here are some thoughts. Make contact with the people you normally do. If there is a group that meets on a regular basis, continue organizing that group through video conferencing. On YouTube, lots of channels of a variety of topics have popped up to have large group video chat and interaction. And perhaps the most vital, find time to do acts of servitude. One of the greatest ways to combat feelings of isolation and separation from others is to do something that helps other people. Check on elderly or at risk people you know or that live in your neighborhood. Offer to pick up groceries for them. If you have a skill set for making things to help others, volunteer. Many people that have sewing skills are making face masks. Doing for others is a fantastic way to give meaning to our days when we are isolated.

If you’re struggling with any issues at all, please reach out and ask for help. Issues such as anxiety, depression, family or marital conflict, and many other forms of mental and emotional health can easily become large problems during times of high stress and isolation.

Discipline and Stepparenting

When I’m working with blended families, the topic of discipline comes up frequently. The biological parent and the stepparent have disagreements over types of discipline, frequency of discipline, length of a consequence, or any one of a dozen other characteristics of a discipline technique. Most of the time, the stepparent presents as the frustrated partner who would like the discipline to be quicker, harsher, longer, or more pronounced in some way.

I have three basic principles I try to use in my own stepparenting, and I encourage blended families I work with to try them as well:

  1. Talk about the differences in your parenting style. There are four basic parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful. Know which one you lean toward, know which one your co-parent leans toward, and work to find middle ground.
  2. Let the biological parent do most of the discipline. They’ve been doing it since the child was born. As a stepparent, even if you have the most fantastic ideas on the planet, your interference may be interrupting long-established discipline routines. If you interrupt these routines, you risk causing harm to your marriage, and your relationship with your step-child.
  3. Spend positive time with your step child. One of the reasons discipline works is that there is a long-standing, stable, trusting relationship between a parent and child. If you as a stepparent do too much discipline and not enough positive time, the discipline you’re trying to enforce won’t carry much weight.

These are tough things to do. And they are tough things for a biological parent and a step parent to negotiate. If you’re having difficulty negotiating this issue as a blended family, please find assistance. Everyone in the family will be happier if the discipline can be negotiated effectively.

Meanwhile, here is another article that discusses the same issues.

Electronic devices and teenagers’ sleep

One of the most common concerns I hear about when working with teenagers is the amount of time teens spend on electronic devices. In the digital age we live in, people are definitely more attached to screens than they ever have been before… tablets, phones, gaming systems, etc. Electronic use has an impact on many aspects of development including attention span, emotional regulation, and sleep.

Here is an interesting article discussing the impact that before-bedtime use of electronic devices has on sleep patterns. Using electronics immediately before bed reduces the amount of melatonin, which in turn makes it difficult to fall asleep and reduces REM sleep. The result is essentially sleep deprivation, which affects mood and ability to concentrate.

The author recommends a ‘curfew’ on electronic use two hours before bedtime and engaging in a mentally relaxing activity like reading. In my experience, this is a sound idea — although my stepson gives me grief about it, like all teenagers do. But the reality is, people of all ages need to “unplug” to get the necessary amount of rest, and teenagers, who are undergoing massive developmental changes, need it the most.