In A Toxic Living Environment During COVID?: How To Make an Unbearable Living Situation Easier

In A Toxic Living Environment During COVID?: How To Make an Unbearable Living Situation Easier

Patiense Mckenzie

This article is part of the Winter 2020 Magazine Issue series. To read the full Winter issue click: here.


COVID-19 stripped our daily routines away from us. It’s easy to feel lost. It’s easy to feel lazy. Staying at home has become difficult for many people as the idea of normalcy regularly shifts. Many individuals have adapted to the unexpected drift of our daily routines, but due to health protocols, some have been put in extremely dangerous situations. For instance, living in a toxic household can be hard enough without the presence of a pandemic, but being physically cut off from the world can make it even more unbearable. Self-isolation can lead to situational depression, worsened clinical depression or even suicidal thoughts. Therefore, during this time of uncertainty, resources should be provided to people who can’t call their place of residence safe. These resources should allow them to practice recommended health protocols without putting themselves in a different kind of emotional, mental or physical danger.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered our daily routines. According to mlive.com, “Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all K-12 schools to remain closed throughout the academic year to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.” With many schools closed at the time of this writing, children are subjected to spending most of their time at home. Although this mandate was beneficial in terms of keeping the virus contained, what happened to the students in toxic households? School functions almost as an escape for parents and students, allowing them a daily eight hour break from one another. Because of the pandemic, many K-12 students no longer go to school, and many parents are out of work—this so-called escape was eliminated and left families somewhat restless.

Janasia Watkins, 20, was living in a toxic environment during COVID, and was unable to move out of her environment. To preserve a healthy mental state, she created a routine for herself. “To make myself feel better I like to keep myself busy, fresh air always makes me feel better. Being stuck in a toxic place can be hard. I don’t like limiting myself. If I go outside, the opportunities are endless. There is still a safe way to socially distance without trapping myself in a negative household. I make sure to spend a few hours outside because it helps me breathe.”. The government recommends self-isolating as much as possible, limiting travel, and leaving the house because of the high transmission rate COVID has. This, however, could put, or even keep, many people in dangerous situations. Self-isolation can lead to chronic depression, and suicidal thoughts. This can make toxic living situations even more unbearable. Consider people who are unable to call home their safe space. Whether their internal relationship causes this, or external relationships cause this, the bottom line is that ‘home’ is not really ‘home.’ Since school and work now infringe on our at-home lives, many people remain stuck. 

At times, mental health can be the root to a toxic living environment and the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly influenced the mental health of individuals around the world. Obstacles involving unemployment, the postponement of various entertainment industries like cinema and sports as well as self-isolation have contributed to this  According to most major news outlets, the prevalence and severity of mental illness has risen amid the pandemic, accompanied by an overwhelming need for therapy. 

Unfortunately, during this time, many are left feeling limited when trying to improve their mental health. Taking care of oneself could be as simple as going outside. According to time.com,  “Spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness. It’s been shown to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate, while encouraging physical activity and buoying mood and mental health.” 

Watkins has decided to spend most of her days outside. She enjoys taking walks outside, takes care of herself, works to adapt to new pandemic norms and tries not to focus on circumstances she can’t control. She feels the most motivated when she sets herself up for success, and focuses on completing tasks she can control and sticking to a routine to help improve her mental health.

Taking advantage of your morning could be an essential step in improving mental health throughout the day. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “The key to an easier morning is to keep your first waking hour as consistent as possible throughout the weeks. The more we struggle to make decisions, the more energy we deplete. When first starting the day, it’s important to avoid ‘decision fatigue’ by having a set morning routine. … Having a morning routine can increase your energy, productivity and positivity. It also generates momentum, building up to the brain’s peak time for cognitive work.” Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, eating at the beginning of the day seem very simple, but when your daily routine is removed, you start to feel like there is always enough time to get to these tasks to take care of yourself. This time quickly runs out. Keep this time for yourself, just as you would have time for yourself on your commute to school or work. Taking this time, building these routines, and keeping this structure will nourish your relationship with yourself.  

In addition to creating a safe space and learning to control their environment, individuals can also ask themselves if they are taking the necessary precautions to create boundaries amongst family members and the people living in their household. It is important to effectively express and communicate feelings when talking to a toxic person in your household. Sometimes, people could enable unhealthy behavior by encouraging or even mirroring the toxicity of a household. Communicating and expressing how you feel productively could benefit many living situations and could potentially prevent tension in a household.

While there are countless resources for “free” therapy, these services don’t advertise that they require health insurance to cover them. Health insurance can cost over $1,000 a month in some cases, and with a major uptick in unemployment, more are left unable to afford health care. The resources that are supposed to help people during this time have become increasingly unavailable due to the overwhelming number of people who need them. Many people are forced to take care of themselves.

It is hard to control your emotions, especially when you’re angry. There are two reasons why people misdirect their anger according to Brad Bushman, PhD, a professor of communication at Ohio State University who studies anger and aggression. “One is that the target of their anger is not available…. [The other reason] is that the target is available, but the angry person fears reprisal or retaliation. For example, yelling at a boss is likely to have negative professional repercussions. Yelling at a partner is safer.”  Misplacing anger is unfair and dangerous. It is necessary that one takes time to identify what triggers them. Knowing certain triggers puts a person in the position to create boundaries and establish healthy relationships. When a person knows exactly what triggers them, it is easier to communicate and react accordingly. According to inc.com, when a person knows their exact triggers,they can then “acknowledge their anger and proceed to talk to someone to get a better perspective and understanding on the situation. They are also self-aware enough to consider the potential consequences of having lost control of their emotions.” Taking these precautions could make living in a toxic environment easier.

Many living situations have varying levels of danger. This could mean that the people in your household are irritable, disagreements are starting to increase, or physical harm could be inflicted on to a person. If you are in a situation where you need a place and do not have any family or friends you can stay with, you should contact the National Domestic Hotline for support. They can help you “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence so they can live their lives free of abuse.”

In conclusion, it is necessary to follow health protocols. People that are in toxic households should still get considered and addressed, despite the pandemic. The people that cannot call “home”  a safe space should attempt to create a haven for themselves. Poor mental health, regardless of person within the household, could lead to toxic behavior among family members. It can be difficult when negativity is regularly transferred in a household. But if people take care of themselves and focus on improving their mental health, they could transfer knowledge that could possibly benefit their household. The pandemic has stripped people of many things, but people remain in control of how they treat themselves and other people.


Patiense Mckenzie is a senior studying English with a focus in creative writing and Spanish as a minor. Her passion is creative writing and poetry. Her career goal is to publish a book one day and to create a space for Detroit local creatives to get paid for their art.