Normally, running out of Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a bummer, but during the pandemic, discovering that there's nothing left but sugary cinnamon dust in your cereal box has been making you snap at the only person you've seen IRL for the last three months for simply breathing the wrong way. If you're constantly snapping at your roommate during quarantine, it's time to pump the emotional brakes and figure out how to communicate better.
"COVID-19 has left many of us feeling a rollercoaster of emotions that fluctuate from day-to-day (or hour-to-hour!)," says author and illustrator Stacie Swift, who's debut book You Are Positively Awesome is all about feel-good self-care prompts. This is especially true when you're constantly home, often with another human being with their own set of swinging quarantine feels. "Being able to pinpoint, understand, and vocalize, each of these varied feelings is no mean feat."
If your communication has broken down along with your ability to remember what month it is, rest assured that you're not alone. American technology company and digital writing tool Grammarly has a "tone detector" that's revealed distinct changes in emotional writing styles since quarantine began. "As the coronavirus spread over the course of March, we saw optimism in writing drop by a staggering 75% within the U.S.," says Senka Hadzimuratovic, head of communications at Grammarly. This optimism drop occurred in the kinds of writing that Grammarly often assists with, like emails and Google documents.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Hadzimuratovic says that Grammarly has also found a dramatic rise in informative writing. "Our loss of optimism has, in part, been replaced by our desire to help inform and instruct," she says. "Considering that many more folks are working from home than ever before, this makes sense—information that may have previously been communicated in person is now being delivered in writing."
Tapping into the helpfulness rather than irritability with your roomie can be tough when you're not even sure what you're feeling yourself. You need to be able to communicate effectively with yourself about big pandemic emotions before you can do so with anyone else. "If you're finding it difficult to understand how you feel, try a 'brain dump,'" Swift says. "Fill a page with all of the things that are on your mind, big or small. It may help you identify some of the feelings you're experiencing and can be a great way to relieve your mind of 'clutter.'"
Normalizing that sense of overwhelming clutter in your everyday conversations can be valuable. "It’s important to have a normal cadence of communication including simple check-ins such as 'how are you feeling?'" says Samantha Rembo, head of customer connect and accessibility for software company Intuit, who focuses on mental health access in the workplace.
This is especially important, she says, when all meetings and most social interactions are virtual. Without the ability to amble around your colleagues' desks and have informal conversations, you might need to carve some space in your Zoom meetings for human emotion. "[Checking-in with each other] gives others space to share comfortably, without having to proactively find time to share more personal feelings," Rembo explains. "Providing a space for others to feel comfortable sharing how they’re doing and saying things like ‘I have been feeling anxious’ can help break down the stigma and make it a part of everyday language."
That stigma can prevent people from acknowledging difficult emotions, whether in Zoom meetings or in the kitchen where you and your roommate are trying to make breakfast without snipping at each other. According to Rembo, identifying what you're feeling within yourself can help you know when you need a break — before you reach your breaking point and take it out on others.
"Our individual circumstances are unique, so it's OK for our self-care practices to look different and authentic to each of us," Swift says. "When in doubt, focus on the basics — get plenty of rest, nourish your body, and take care of your mental health." The more you care for yourself and tap into your own emotional state, the less you'll take out those feelings out on unsuspecting roommates. You might even find that you can help each other through your pandemic blues.
Stacie Swift, self-care author and illustrator
Samantha Rembo, head of customer connect and accessibility for Intuit
Senka Hadzimuratovic, head of communications, Grammarly