How to Support Yourself and Others—Even When You’re Struggling
Last week, I found myself crying in the middle of my living room. And it was not the cinematic, lone track of tears gently spilling down my face, but a straight-up ugly cry that left me drained. It would be cliché, and flat-out incorrect, to say that the tears came out of nowhere. (Do they ever really?) I know the exact cold mountains of racial conflict those rivers of grief came from. I know the genuine and heartfelt phone call from a dear friend that created a safe space for them to flow. And, still, I was blindsided by them. Because when I picked up her phone call, I had my emotional mask on.
All of us put up facades of strength at one time or another in life. We might wear a mask of joy when our friend announces their amazing new job when underneath we’re stressed about how we’ll pay this month’s rent. We may wear a facade of bravery so that we don’t worry our aging parents when we drop off groceries for them. We might disguise ourselves as calm to avoid making our kids anxious when they ask us tough questions about racial injustice.
Unfortunately, we tend to forget that the same emotional mask we’ve put on is the same one we’re seeing on others. We forget that if we’re just one phone call away from a breakdown, someone else probably is, too.
What’s worse, our masks may not come off when it’s just us looking at ourselves in the mirror. We may not even realize how deeply we’re hurting.
This is your reminder to remember.
With so much going on in the world (from wars to protests to financial problems), most of us are feeling overwhelmed and overlooked. Whether you live across town or under the same roof with others, this is how to genuinely check in with the strong people in your life—and yourself.
CHECKING IN WITH OTHERS
Know That There Are Bad Questions
To clarify, “You doing okay?” is a bad question because you already know the answer. You wouldn’t be checking in if you thought they were okay. I’m not saying you have to use prose that would make Hallmark jealous when you touch base. It’s fine to call and say, “I don’t know what to say. . .” or “I know I don’t have the right words, but I didn’t want to not reach out, because I care about you.”
Put Your Back (Story) Into It
Sure, you could send a text saying, “Hey, I’m just checking in on my strong friend.” But you could also send a more meaningful message saying you’re checking in on your brilliant, caring, funny, beautiful, master-chef friend,” because you’ve seen her carrying a heavy load of late and wanted to shoulder some of it, if possible. It’s kind to call them strong. It’s kinder to remind them of the ways you’ve seen them be strong.
Create a Safe Space
Open yourself up to listening without judging when you hop on the phone or a Zoom call with them. They may say things that are hard for you to hear—about how they’ve been discriminated against in the past, how angry they’re feeling toward their partner, or how they are about to run screaming from their house. Remember, this reach-out isn’t about you. It’s about giving them a safe space to talk about what’s going on with them—and thanking them for being honest with you.
Don’t Be Afraid of Silence
Before I started working as a health and wellness coach, I used to be afraid of silence on calls. But now that I’ve been on hundreds with clients, I know that silence truly is golden. Silence can mean they’re thinking. That they’re gaining courage to say something. That they’re taking a much-needed breath. That you’re having a moment of gratitude. Don’t rush to fill the space. Sit in it with them.
Dig for Gratitude Gold
If appropriate and they're open to it, remind them to "Find the Joy" in all things. Gratitude not only has the power to increase their optimism, but may also improve your relationships with them. Help them search for things to be grateful for like they search for Black Friday bargains, good seats at the movies, and their high-school ex on the internet. Remind them that you’re grateful that they opened up to you and that their friendship is invaluable to you. Get a full-on gratitude whirlwind going. Like those blow machines people get into to see how many $100 bills they can grab in 60 seconds.
Know It’s Not Too Late
Don’t fear that you’ve missed your window of opportunity if you didn’t call on the exact day that something in their world went wrong. Ever had someone mention your upcoming birthday the week before? Or send you genuine belated wishes after you thought everyone had moved on? It likely made you feel thought-about and seen. It’s the same for sad times. In fact, your friend may have been inundated with exhausting check-ins the moment a family member passed, a viral video shook them to the core, or their company announced layoffs. Checking in after you think the dust has settled often shows that it hasn’t and you’re right on time.
Give Yourself Permission to Not Respond Immediately
That check-in text from a co-worker doesn’t have to be answered this second. You’re not obligated to reply to that email touch-base from a friend today. You can put the oxygen mask on yourself before you place it over their mouth to let them know you’re okay. There’s no rush. They’ll understand.
Take a Moment for Mindfulness
Give yourself the gift of time by carving out a few minutes for mindfulness. Research shows that it can decrease stress; but, more importantly, you’ll be able to tap into your emotions. Whether you go for a quiet walk, do a meditation, or crack open a journal, allow yourself the space to check in with yourself and see how you’re really doing.
Dig Deeper for Answers
Whenever I start off sessions with clients, I ask them how they’re doing. If they say, “Okay,” I politely ask them to pick another word. So often our reflex is to say we’re okay when there is far more happening beneath the surface. Sometimes, we don’t want to upset the other person. Other times, we’re not in touch with our actual feelings. Take a breath and expand your vocabulary. It’s also okay to say or write that you’re depressed, exhausted, broken, stressed, hopeful, or simply, “not okay.”
Know Money Can Buy Happiness
I’m not talking about splurging on delivery so someone else can cook for once (although that does feel great). Research shows that money can buy joy when you spend it on someone else. Taking action, by donating to a family that has been the victim of a social injustice or to an organization that supports a cause you believe in, could help lift your mood.
Find the Best Listener
Whether it’s a childhood friend or a therapist, make time to touch base with someone with whom you can be truly vulnerable. The more time we spend flinging off our masks, the less time we’ll spend emotionally distancing ourselves from each other.
Lynya Floyd is a national board-certified health and wellness coach, as well as a Duke-certified integrative health coach. She specializes in helping clients find the power within themselves to create positive change in their health and career.
You May Also Like:
Want to Read More?
Access all of Twill Care’s content, community, and experts for free!
Already a member? Login