Last week I was invited to speak on the topic of caring for those in your life who might be struggling over the Christmas holidays. A women’s group, who recognized how easy it can be to get swept up in the busy-ness of holiday cheer, wanted to ensure they were picking up on the signs of those who might be struggling in order to be present, attuned, and responsive to their needs.
The truth is, the holidays really aren’t glorious for everyone and may even create a worsening of symptoms connected to low mood, anxiety, and loss. While I can’t give you the webinar verbatim, here are a highlight of ideas to help you connect with the people you know who may find the winter holidays difficult.
1) Use your Intuition, and know the Signs
Not everyone is going to tell you how they are feeling, and the signs of depression and anxiety are not always obvious. Use your intuition and knowledge of the person. Here are some additional indicators to be aware of:
- An increased negative outlook that is out of character
- Increased challenges in getting in touch with someone when you know they are in town, not working, or generally available
- They are frequently late when previously they were always on-time
- They seem to no longer put effort into their appearance when previously did
Things Someone who is Struggling might say
When we are truly listening, we are not thinking about what to say next. Truly listening means we are attuned to the person speaking. When you listen, you may hear clues the person is using to tell you they are struggling.
It might sound a lot like:
- “I’m having a hard time these days”
- “I feel so stressed out”
- “The holidays have never been a good time of year for me”
- “I hope the holidays pass quickly”
- “I’m not looking forward to it…”
- “I feel depressed”
- “The holidays are hard for me”
2) General Guideline Ideas to Care for Someone who is Struggling
- Don’t assume to know how another person is feeling
- Don’t diagnose (Do know the symptoms and offer resources if you are worried, but try to stay away from Dr. Google!)
- Do alter your expectations of what the holiday season means to people
- Do spend less time talking about what you are giving or have received for Christmas
- Don’t force large get-together’s on people who have declined your invitation (Do put effort into seeing them one-on-one)
- Don’t take it personally if someone leaves a get-together early (Do put effort into checking in on them the next day)
- Don’t assume everyone is going to want help
- Do know your community resources, helpful apps, and be ready to listen
3) The Tyranny of “Are you Okay?”
Ah yes – beware the “Are you okay?” question. Have you ever noticed that asking “Are you okay?” often assumes you are looking for the person to say they are not, and when their answer contradicts this expectation, you feel they are withholding information and therefore repeatedly ask “Are you okay?” until frustration ensues and yup – you guessed it, now they really aren’t okay!
Asking “Are you okay?” sets you up for an unfulfilled answer. Try not to ask it, and try these options instead. The answers they may elicit will yield far greater information and the recipient of the question may even feel more understood and validated.
Instead of asking “Are you Okay?”, try asking:
- “It seems like you’re feeling down, how are you today?”
- “How do you feel you are coping with the holidays this year?”
- “How are the holidays going for you?”
- “It seems like you are really struggling; how can I help?”
- “I remember this time of year is hard for you; can I spend some time with you?”
- “I know these get-togethers can be challenging; what do you need for it to work for you?”
4) Tune the Heart through Positive Shared Experience
Research has found that connecting with a practice of gratitude can actually impact one’s outlook. It must been deeper than the simple “I am grateful for the sunshine today” and must be expanded with: “I am grateful for the sunshine today because _____”
Now, if you enter into a conversation with someone who is emotionally struggling with an attitude of airy gratitude, you will risk rending yourself unrelatable and your helpful efforts may be brushed aside. However, there are some ways you can bring an attitude of gratitude into your connection with them. Here are some examples:
- “It’s so good to see you, I really enjoy our coffee-talks”
- “It’s so good to spend some time with you”
- “I really appreciate that you can be honest with me, thank you for trusting me and letting me in to your world”
- “Sometimes when people feel stressed they tend to isolate themselves, thank you for letting me be here for you. I really value you in my life and I am here for you.”
Thank you for reading: it means you are aware that someone in your life might be struggling and you are exploring ways to be more present and responsive to their needs.
Christmas image from: <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/christmas-background_3142066.htm”>Designed by Kjpargeter</a>
Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success & Performance at Work
Elisha Goldstein, Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion