COVID-19 has changed how we work, live, study and interact with others. We are genetically designed to be social creatures and removing this from our lives causes us stress, anxiety and can lead to bouts of depression.
Here are some thoughts on how you can support family, friends and colleagues who are struggling.
- If the person is a stranger, sometimes a simple smile will go a long way. We still see smiles even with masks. A true smile is seen in the eyes. You may be the only person to be kind to them that day and they may have really needed it. What if the cashier were your son or daughter or partner? How would you want everyone to treat them? With a great big smile of course! A smile can also be heard in your voice. What if the telemarketer, who is simply trying to make a living during these difficult times, heard a friendly smile in your voice and a simple, “no thank you, but I appreciate the call and wish you the best.” This too could be your child or partner.
- Reach out to your colleagues, family and friends as often as you can. Can you reach out to 1 to 2 people a day? I know you are thinking: “I’m stressed enough, I don’t need everyone else’s problems”. You’ll be surprised how helping others can help to relieve your own stress. People who have suffered major grief have found a great deal of healing when helping others. And not all conversations are going to be difficult. Many laughs can be shared about the new normal (should I let my neighbor pet my dog?)
- Be a good listener. It is important to validate what they are saying. This means putting yourself totally in their shoes to understand what they are going through. Repeat what they are saying in your own words. Show sympathy for what they are feeling. There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. Let your ears be the dominant player in this equation. Listening is an art, and one that we can all master.
- DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEM. Unless specifically asked for advice, 99% of the time we just need to be heard and validated.
- If you are the boss or parent, read #4 again. And maybe one more time.
- Avoid, at all costs, trying to convince them they are wrong to feel the way they do. As a parent, you may think that your child is too young to have real concerns, but they are as real as yours. Remember, you’ve had a lot longer to see that things can change over time. Their fears, anxiety and depression are very real regardless of your opinion of the worthiness of their concerns. And in today’s world of social media, it would do us good to imagine what our own challenges would have been like had we grown up in this age of technology. Instant everything. Good and Bad.
- Do NOT tell them to ‘just be happy’ or ‘get over it’. They need you to listen and to understand. The people we like the best seem to ‘just get us’. Do your best to listen, validate and empathize. “I hear you and I validate you. You are not the first to feel this way. Your feelings are real. However, now that you have enrolled me, you are not alone. I am in this with you.”
- Tell them that you care and that they matter to you. It’s okay to care about our colleagues. Your language will be different with friends, family and colleagues, of course, but you can still show concern to anyone reaching out to you.
- If their anxiety or depression seems serious, encourage them to seek counseling. Many companies have access to an Employee Assistance Plan that can help to find good counselors. It is critical that they understand that they may have to work with several counselors before they find someone that they will make progress with. I’ve known several that didn’t find a great match until their fourth or fifth therapist. They have said that it was totally worth the effort and are glad that they did not settle. The key to counseling is identifying a counselor that you trust and respect. It may require “kissing many frogs.” But once you are there, this relationship can last a lifetime. Counselors are not transactional. They can become career coaches and mentors, helping young adults navigate through challenging professional times as well as changes in family status: new spouses, babies, in-laws etc.
- If you are very concerned about them and think they are contemplating suicide, ask them if they are thinking about taking their life. Was there/or is there a time when they had a plan and a date? I know this is very difficult, but major organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention have studied this topic and advises the direct approach. It will not put the thought in their head and simply contemplating suicide does not mean they will act on it. And yes, ask your child. If they are thinking about suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 and ask for help or have them talk to the crisis counselors. You can also text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7. Make sure they find a counselor and be there for them as best you can.
You can make the difference in lives of those that matter to you. We need each other more than ever. You can and will make a difference in the people in your life.