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Confinement and Family Stress: Not Normal, but Manageable

Suburban house
Quarantine and isolation can put stress on families, especially as options for outdoor activity become scarcer. (Photo by Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Families are now facing long-term isolation together.  But a University of Richmond Professor who wrote a textbook on group dynamics says there are positive ways to deal with stress during this period. Charles Fishburne spoke with Don Forsyth, professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. He started by asking what happens when families are confined together for long periods of time.


Forsyth: As this goes on - as this period of isolation goes on, there's going to be tremendous pressure within these groups to manage their conflict effectively. The way I think of this is, these are the same groups that get together for certain events, like, say Thanksgiving. Now, imagine Thanksgiving, without the turkey and the good food, and without the football games, and lasting about two to three months. I don't know how a group will be able to survive that long a period of time of isolation without experiencing fairly high levels of conflict. So the group is tasked to deal with that conflict, to talk things over. And drawing on literature, the best thing that can be done is to do it explicitly intentionally, the group should make a plan as to how it should manage its interactions over the next week, two weeks. As long as it remains isolated, but it needs a deliberate plan to get that done.

Fishburne: So based on all you know about the subject, what is the best thing that we can do individually?

Forsyth: I usually suggest to talk, to communicate clearly, to exchange ideas to discuss. If you have something that's bothering you bring it up, tell other people what you're feeling and share those feelings with them and talk about your concerns. Communication is our greatest strength and a group uses communication to reach a collective understanding of reality. So the family, isolated, should remain in close communication. When they study isolated groups over time, the ones that have the most trouble, and the individuals in those groups that have the most trouble, are the ones who respond by isolating within the group, by withdrawing from the group, finding a quiet place and withdrawing into that place and not interacting with the other people within their small group. Those are the folks that have the most difficult time adjusting. So I always suggest if you're isolated with a bunch of people, make sure you establish strong communication bonds with them.

Fishburne: What is the single most useful tool any of us has to influence others around us for the better?

Forsyth:  Well, of course, it's our speech, our language, our our ideas, but also our emotions, you know, share positive emotions, be the example of the person who is responding in this crisis in a positive way, in an optimistic way.

Fishburne: Are you optimistic?

Forsyth: I'm very optimistic. I have a feeling we're going to come through this. And in all the history of all the crises that we've faced over history, we get through it. The changes are often for the better. I'm a silver lining kind of guy. There's gonna be some positive outcomes. We're paying the price, but there will be some long term positive outcomes as a result of this crisis.

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