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Managing Stress and Conflicts With Roommates When You’re All Stuck Quarantining Together

Managing the day to day stressors of having roommates can be challenging on any normal day, from negotiating payments for rent and bills, handling tasks like cleaning and cooking, or figuring out who gets to watch what on TV on any given night. But when you are all stuck at home due to “stay at home” orders during an unprecedented global pandemic, all of these little conflicts can blow up in intense ways, and stress can feel even more unmanageable. Having to self-isolate with roommates is difficult, but there are ways to de escalate conflicts and manage stress and anxiety while also following the safe social distancing measures. 


What Do All of These Terms Even Mean Anyway?

There is a lot of rhetoric flying around about social distancing, self-monitoring, self-quarantining, and stay-at-home orders. Become familiar with these terms and their differences. If your city or community is under an official stay-at-home order, that may affect what activities you’ll be able to do outside of your home. If you or one of your roommates has been told to “self-quarantine” by a healthcare professional, that may mean having to negotiate things like separate cooking arrangements or having the quarantined roommate use a separate bathroom. If any of your roommates are essential workers working in healthcare, food service, or sanitation, your household may need to change certain cleaning and sanitation habits when they return from work. Communication is really key to navigating all of this with your roommates. 


Money, Money, Money

Financial stress is a major source of all interpersonal conflicts, and many people across the country have been laid off from their jobs. If any of your roommates have been laid off, you will need to have some uncomfortable conversations about money. There may be a variety of programs available in your area to assist with applying for unemployment, SNAP, and other benefits, or providing financial assistance if you cannot pay for rent or utilities. If you, or another roommate is in a position to cover someone else's portion of expenses, work with other roommates to discuss readjusting financial responsibilities that acknowledges people’s changing situations while also respecting boundaries. 


Working from Home and Changing Schedules

Many folks have had their jobs and schoolwork rapidly transitioned to working remotely, and may have to teleconference and video chat with colleagues, clients, students, and faculty members. The last thing anyone wants is to have to videoconference for an online class when other roommates were planning on watching and loudly commenting on The Tiger King. As juvenile as it may sound, drafting a communal schedule of when people will be videoconferencing can help all roommates better plan around each other’s obligations and reduce unnecessary conflict. Finding quiet places to work can be challenging, but many people have developed some creative solutions, from creating backdrops in their bedrooms to podcasting in closets.


Handling Stress When You Can’t Leave the House

Normally, if your roommates are all driving you up the wall, you can leave and go decompress somewhere else. Unfortunately, leaving home may not always be an option as some cities have closed parks and popular running trails, and restaurants and bars are closed. So what do you do when you just can’t stand seeing another pair of socks on the floor, or another sink full of dirty dishes, or you just can’t focus on your workload and feel like you’re going to completely lose it? 

Fortunately there are some helpful coping strategies that can help you and your roommates deescalate.

If you are stressed out, Crisis Text Line is a text-based service where you can text a trained volunteer. Crisis Text Line also has pages devoted to resources and activities you can do to mitigate stress caused by COVID-19, general anxiety, depression, emotional abuse, school stress, and more. Many states have mandated that insurance companies, including Medicaid, cover the cost of telehealth, including counseling sessions with a therapist held over the phone or via video conferencing. While venting to a friend or roommate can definitely make you feel better, if stress and anxiety are making it difficult to perform basic tasks to the point where it is interfering with your daily functioning, it is best to reach out to a mental health professional. 

If daily tasks like chores feel overwhelming, try making a list of what needs to be done, and break things down into smaller steps. If your sink is piled high with dishes, and you’re stressed out because you can’t get them all done, consider breaking down to a more manageable goal, like washing all the forks. If you can achieve minor goals, you’ll be more motivated to set and achieve more goals, so eventually all the dishes in the sink get washed, and your roommates won’t annoy you about it any more.  


Be Kind to Yourself and Each Other

Your roommates may have been people you’re already friends with, or strangers you met online, or friend of friends. No matter how you found each other, navigating being home all the time in response to an unprecedented global pandemic is going to get complicated. Remember that your roommates aren’t trying to deliberately get on your nerves with their unusual sleep schedules, or TV binging, and you’re not trying to deliberately annoy them when you do the same things. Clear communication and finding other supports will help everyone in your home ride through this current challenge without all moving out the minute it is over.