How to support your loved one who's emotionally struggling in lockdown
Your first response holds a lot of weight, so an expert explains what to do
The world is yet again divided into two camps. This time, we’re not fighting over whether the dress is gold and white, or black and blue. There’s the #wehatethis club, sitting at home, eyes glazed over from the Netflix binging, cursing the day coronavirus took over the Earth, falling into a pit of misery from being deprived of human contact.
Then there’s the silver lining camp, believing that they’re better off not polluting the Earth while it gets the break it needs, using the lockdown to pick up new hobbies, work out, and generally be productive.
The uncertainty about the state of the world, the change in routine, the proximity to overbearing families, and forced distance from support groups, has triggered anxieties.
According to mental health therapist Rhea Kishani, founder of Mind Heal(th), one can cope by embracing the uncertainty of lockdown, and engaging in honest conversations about our feelings.
But being an ally to friends and family struggling in lockdown can be tricky. Reacting appropriately when someone tells you that they’re struggling is a question many people have had during the lockdown, say experts.
“It takes a lot of courage to share what you’re going through,” says Kishnani.
How you react at that moment can have a tremendous impact. If you dismiss their fears or try to downplay them, “it can squash the little courage they had to come forward and talk about it.”
How to be a mental health ally to those struggling in lockdown
Be mindful of your facial expression
Our initial reaction says a lot. The first being our facial expressions. “A lot of people react with an awkward expression or a panic-stricken one,” says Kishnani.
Even when you’re not speaking, our thoughts can easily be read by our facial expressions. Whether you agree with, or identify with what they’re saying or not, just hear them out. Just because you’re not feeling the same way, doesn’t mean their experience isn’t valid.
Take a moment and remind yourself that they’re not unloading extremely distressing baggage, it’s a normal reaction to this chaotic state of the world, Kishnani explains.
A polite smile, or just nod – it’s the first sign that you’re listening and acknowledging what they’re saying.
Don’t dismiss that they’re struggling in lockdown
What comes easy to you may be a challenge for another person. What people need is a non-judgemental listening ear. Kishnani says offering to hear someone out can be a major step for someone else’s healing.
“Oh, you’re fine”, “It’s not a big deal, just relax” – such language can be detrimental to another person’s self-esteem. Negating someone’s feelings will only pile on to the anxiety they are feeling.
Validate their concerns. Sometimes they just need another person to tell them that it’s alright to struggle, that it’s not all in their head.
Just let them talk it out. Our natural reaction may be to try and categorise an experience to understand it better, but not everything needs a label.
We’re learning a lot more about mental health and terminology, but it’s best left to professionals when it comes to nailing a diagnosis.
Refrain from generic advice, just listen
“We have a tendency to give generic advice, like ‘this happened to me also’ and ‘it’s okay, be strong, it doesn’t matter, time will heal all wounds’,” says Kishnani.
Such language can seem disingenuous at that moment. This isn’t the time to push your ‘Keep calm and carry on’ motto.
A simple “I understand” can be very impactful when someone opens up to you, because that’s really all they want. Ask them, instead, about how they’re feeling and how you can help.
People want to know that they have a support system behind them if the moment calls for one.
They may not reach out immediately, but the mental security of knowing that it’s there can be a soothing balm.
Share resources that you think might help
If you want to take your ally-ship a step further, do some research and offer legitimate scientifically-backed resources and reading materials to your friend/partner/parent.
They may be anxious and confused, unable to fully understand their own emotions and experience, right now. Reading it on paper can be a validating and comforting experience.
They may not also be in a position or mental state to find these resources online themselves. You can take over that job.
Curate a list of great meditation apps for beginners that they can download, videos of guided meditations or help them set up an online therapy session.
Being a mental health ally, focus on your own mental health as well. You may be a support system, but it’s not your job as a friend, parent or partner to fix them.
Recognise when you need to take a step back and guide them towards a professional instead.