As we head into our third month of physical distancing, the consequences of this isolation on our mental health become ever more clear. Many of us are struggling, aching for familiar feelings of connection, certainty, and safety.
Oops, I just drank a whole bottle of wine to cope with the fact I lost my job. Oops, I just purchased 300 dollars worth of clothes that I can’t even wear out of the house. Oops, I just watched eight hours of Queer Eye to fill the pit of loneliness in my chest. Next day? Oops, I Did It Again! Someone call Britney, because my whole life feels like a copyright violation.
Now is the time to turn to our support systems for help, but for some people, asking for help and having vulnerable, intimate conversations can be challenging. (Like, we’re talking level 10, final boss kind of challenging). There may be feelings of guilt, anxiety, and shame about opening up in this way; you might even feel at a loss for what to say. If you identify with this, these next points are for you.
Be explicit and direct
This TED Talk by Heidi Grant teaches people how to ask for help effectively. It may feel a bit awkward or embarrassing to say “I need your help”, but it’s the best way to ensure your request is understood. Like Grant says, “Vague, indirect requests for help actually aren’t very helpful to the helper.”
Don’t minimize your needs
Don’t downplay or apologize for your needs. You’re not a terrible person because you need help. Change your language from being guilt-oriented to gratitude-oriented. For example, try saying,
“Thank you for listening” instead of “Sorry for bothering you.”
“I appreciate that you took the time to help me” instead of “I hope I’m not being a burden.”
“Thanks for not judging me” instead of “Sorry I’m so emotional.”
Changing how you speak of something just might help you change your mindset about it!
Pay attention to your body language
We say as much with our bodies as we do with our words, and this is especially important during this time because so many people are communicating via video calls. Using nonverbal cues like smiling, nodding, and eye contact (with how social distancing measures presently stand, you might have to make do with just looking into the camera) demonstrates that you are actively listening and paying attention.
The best way to support someone and provide a safe space for them is to make them feel heard or seen in their expression. Some affirming statements you could respond with might be,
“I understand how you may feel that way.”
“It makes sense that you’re experiencing that.”
“Is there any way I can support you?”
“I hear you. How can I help?”
You don’t need to “fix” the problem
There’s a fine line between giving help and actually fixing the problem for someone. Remember: we all have a responsibility to be accountable to ourselves. Besides, sometimes we just need someone to talk to.
Know when to establish boundaries
While it’s important to show up for each other right now, remember to take care of your own mental wellbeing too. We’re all struggling. You won’t always be in the right headspace to be there for people, and that’s okay. If that’s the case, firmly but gently say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t be there for you right now” or “This isn’t a topic I’m comfortable discussing.”
Remember that needing help is a human thing
As women, society has slotted us into the roles of helper and caregiver since birth. You may feel like you have to be Superwoman for your boss, coworkers, family, and others in your life, but know that it’s perfectly okay to ask for and receive that same care for yourself.
Over the last few months, many of us have been separated from our friends, driven crazy by our kids and spouses, laid off at work. This is not to mention the numerous personal hardships we face on top of all that, so it’s hard to not be affected in some way. Unless, you aren’t affected at all–in which case I recommend seeing a therapist (Or giving me a high five. I can’t decide if your abnormally serene state of mind is impressive or a sign of psychosis).
For all you normal folks, this is your reminder that, no matter the productivity porn flooding your newsfeed, the stigma surrounding vulnerability, or expectations society sets for you, you are not lesser for struggling. It’s normal to need help. Recognizing this need and acting on it is not a weakness in the slightest; it takes a lot of courage to speak openly and honestly about fear, loneliness, sadness, and the challenges you face. When you are ready to do so, you’ll see there are so many others ready to support you with open arms.
Check out these awesome women-run pages for inspiration and help with:
Jordan Pickell Counselling (based in Vancouver!)
Rising Woman (based in Vancouver!)