Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

I’m going to be starting a new series on relationships, and this will be the first post and  cover Couples Communication. I previously did a series on Cognitive Distortions that resonated with many of my readers, so this will be another series in which I will go in-depth to cover a lot of information in one area over a series of posts.  Here I will cover the 3 main communication styles and how they impact your relationship, and cover how to use assertive communication for better conflict resolution.

I have worked with countless couples in therapy, and the number 1 thing that couples come in seeking help for is communication.  This makes sense, because communication is really the cornerstone of any relationship. In fact, even when I am seeing people for individual therapy, we also often end up going over communication styles and assess what can be improved in the area of communication because it is SO important in every area of your life.

For couples, communication problems are often at the heart of so many problems that couples face.  In a relationship, the health and strength of the relationship isn’t measured by how much conflict you have with each other. All couples have some conflict, so being conflict-free isn’t the goal. The problems arise when it comes to how you resolve that conflict. When you learn to communicate well, then you can resolve conflicts in a healthy and productive way that nurtures and supports your relationship rather than in a way that tears down your bonds and causes pain and distress.

What are the 3 communication styles?

Essentially, there are 3 forms of communication, and as a couple you may both use different forms of communication during conflict, so depending on what your tendencies are as a couple both of you may need to do some work to change how you communicate with each other. The first step towards building healthier communication as a couple is learning what kind of communication style you are using and figure out whether it is healthy or if there needs to be some changes.

Communication can be broken down into these 3 styles:

  1. Passive

Passive communication is when you are attempting to let someone know how you feel without really coming out and saying it. Passive behavior can mean being avoidant and choosing NOT to discuss problems when they arise, usually because you don’t like conflict or you want to avoid an argument.  Passive communication can be giving someone the silent treatment, or it could be using non-verbal cues like rolling your eyes, crossing your arms, giving someone a mean look, or walking around the house huffing and puffing but then saying “Nothing” when your partner asks you what’s wrong.

  1. Aggressive

Aggressive behavior is pretty clear when you see it: yelling, screaming, slamming doors, violence, insults, inappropriate sarcasm meant to cut the other person down, condescending comments. This way of communicating is harmful and damaging to relationships, and damages intimacy and the mental health of both people in the partnership.

  1. Assertive

Assertive communication is open, honest, and direct when it comes to expressing your thoughts and feelings. This kind of communication feels good because you are expressing yourself and making your points, without attacking your partner or shutting down their thoughts and feelings. Assertive communication is about standing up for your thoughts, feelings, and rights, without trampling on your partner’s thoughts, feelings, or rights.

What does it mean to be Passive-Aggressive?

Some people use the term passive-aggressive to describe themselves or others, but I dislike that term, because what it really amounts to is using passive behavior or communication to convey an aggressive sentiment or emotion.  When people say someone is being passive-aggressive, they usually just mean the person did something passive, but they meant it in an aggressive way.  Ultimately it’s passive behavior, and it’s still unhealthy for relationships.

What Does Unhealthy Communication Look Like?

Unhealthy communication is either passive or aggressive. These two communication styles are often part of a cycle that builds up over time and conflicts start to sap the energy and joy out of your relationship. You don’t want conflict so you avoid sensitive issues. Then resentment builds up until one or both partners explode.

Passive behavior is unhealthy in relationships because it does not resolve problems, but instead leads to resentment building up as emotions are stuffed down and problems are ignored. This often results in the “volcano effect”, where resentment and hurt feelings builds up over time, but is never addressed, until something triggers an explosion, and then aggressive behavior breaks through and there’s an unhealthy, aggressive argument.

Aggressive communication also doesn’t resolve conflict, because when you are aggressive towards your partner, the other person will do one of two things: they will feel intimidated and shut down, because they are trying to stop or avoid the aggressive behavior, or they will feel threatened and get defensive, also becoming aggressive and escalating the situation further. Now you’re both yelling at each other and nothing is getting resolved. Many couples who argue in this way find themselves highly stressed, often hurt, and insecure about the status of the relationship because it feels so volatile.

Aggressive behavior hurts your partner and reflects poorly on you if you are the one engaging in this communication style. It also has the effect of damaging the intimacy in your relationship and breaking down your emotional connection to each other. It’s harder to trust your partner when they are aggressive, and conflict doesn’t get resolved because the focus ends up on stopping the aggressive behavior rather than resolving the original problem.  Aggression also contributes to passive avoidance, because when one person is trying to avoid the aggressive attacks, they do not bring up issues that they have because they are walking on eggshells all the time.

What Is Healthy Communication for Couples?

Healthy communication for couples happens when both people learn and practice assertive communication with each other.  This means addressing problems when they come up and understanding how situations impact each other as a couple. When you both practice assertive communication, then when conflict arises you have a discussion, not an argument.  Assertive communication doesn’t come easily to everyone, but it is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

Assertive communication involves first understanding your own feelings and being able to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a way that is open, direct, and honest. This happens when you take the time to reflect on how something your partner did or said made you feel, and then focusing on communicating your feelings, rather than just criticizing your partner’s behavior.

Often the problem is not, for example, that your partner intended to do or say something to upset you, but the way something happened may leave you feeling disrespected, hurt, or confused. It is important to communicate how their behavior or words made you feel, by saying something such as “When you said ……, I felt…..” rather than just ignoring the hurtful comment or responding with aggression such as “Don’t you dare you speak to me like that!”

How Do I Use Assertive Communication with my Partner?

There are many opportunities to practice assertive communication. You likely already do use assertive communication at times, but you may also alternate between passive or aggressive communication depending on the dynamics in your relationship.  Focusing on practicing assertive conflict resolution will benefit all your interactions over time, and you will become more confident in how you express yourself.

Practicing assertive communication also enables you to keep the focus on the conflict, rather than your behavior. Too often, partners can blame each other for their behaviors while arguing, which enables the original problem to slip out of focus while the argument turns into who is in the wrong for their response to the conflict.

To practice assertive communication, start to use some of the following statements when you want to discuss a conflict or situation that needs to be resolved or expressed:

  • I feel hurt when you say….
  • It is not fair that……
  • I feel resentful when….
  • My biggest fear is…
  • I felt let down when you….
  • I didn’t deserve…
  • I’m most angry when…..
  • I want you to understand that….
  • I accept that you…
  • I hope that you understand…
  • I need to ask you to….
  • I need to tell you that….
  • I feel scared when….
  • I feel supported when you…

 

These are all the beginnings of assertive statements that center your thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Using these kinds of statements will help you to communicate more assertively, but it will not stop your partner from reacting either passively or aggressively.  Both people in a relationship need to agree to work on using assertive communication for you to transition from having arguments to having discussions.

However, you don’t have to wait for your partner to get on board to start practicing your own assertiveness. You still have a responsibility to be healthy even if your partner doesn’t want to change. However, if your partner is not willing to engage in finding solutions to how you both communicate, then it might be time to evaluate whether you both want the same things out of your relationship.

Ultimately, practicing your communication with your partner will help you to become more assertive and confident in other areas of your life.  Your partner is who you want to feel the safest with though, when it comes to expressing your feelings, so make sure that you are making healthy communication with your partner a priority.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship” and if you want a free chapter from the book, subscribe here and I’ll send you a copy of Chapter 11: POWER COUPLES.

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For more posts in this series, please see:

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Un-Resolving in the New Year

Un-Resolving in the New Year

New Year’s resolutions can be a great way to set goals for the upcoming months and assess your progress from the past year, but many people have become exhausted and cynical about new year’s resolutions, and it’s not hard to see why.

“New Year, New You!” messages bombard us in the media, imploring us to better ourselves and stop using excuses for not achieving our goals. It’s tempting to jump into the latest weight loss challenge or resolve to magically change your life by tidying up.  But maybe you didn’t follow through with last year’s resolutions, so this year you don’t even want to try. Or perhaps you just don’t like the pressure of having to declare victory or failure at the end of the year and announce your determination to try again.

I’ve seen many people saying they don’t like new year’s resolutions because they don’t follow through or because it feels like a competition, but they still have goals that they are striving towards. For some, it seems like there’s just a semantics issue that doesn’t change the spirit of practicing reflection and striving for new goals. I think all of us, however, can agree that setting goals and letting go of past mistakes is a good thing.

Personally, I love New Year’s resolutions, despite the fact that I’ve fallen short of many of mine. Sometimes I don’t even remember what it was by March. That doesn’t stop me from continuing to work on my goals every year, I just seem to decide to put the ones I won’t really get to under the title of “New Year’s Resolution”. Maybe that makes it seem less impactful when I don’t accomplish it. Because sure, I fell short of my New Year’s Resolution, but doesn’t everybody? If I put it on my goals list, though, I won’t put it on the back burner.

That being said, I still love the whole spirit of the New Year because it is a chance to step back and reflect on the past year and see how things have changed, and set your sights to making the next year an improvement in one way or another.

It can be hard to reflect on your year and see that you’ve fallen behind in your goals, or realize that your life has changed in a profound way, perhaps not by your own choosing, such as when you lose a loved one. But reflection doesn’t have to be about measuring progress or failures.  It can also be about recognizing your strengths and acknowledging your weaknesses.  Not because you want to overcome every flaw and become a more perfect version of yourself, but because recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses is part of being your own authentic self.

So for those of you out there who are ready to set your resolutions and smash them this year- resolve away! I will always encourage you to set high goals for yourself and go for them. Just make sure that your goals are centered around what you really want, and not what you think you should be doing to present a picture perfect version of yourself to the world. You’ll be more likely to follow through if you set goals for yourself.

For those of you who can’t stand the idea of making another failed New Year’s Resolution, keep pressing forward with your otherwise named goals and create plans to accomplish them year-round.  You don’t need pomp and circumstance and a Facebook announcement or a new challenge to sign up for to keep plugging away at your career/life/family/health goals.

I want to think our culture has broadly shifted away from the high pressure, high stakes, dogged commitment to presenting perfection as the ultimate goal and solution to all your problems in the New Year.  I have a tendency to think that’s true, but then I realize that the reason I don’t see those kinds of messages that much anymore is because I choose not to. I have, myself, shifted away from those kinds of high stakes pressures to be practically perfect in every way, so therefore I surround myself with like-minded social accounts and steer clear of any media, businesses, or product lines that cater to a self-critical mentality. Yet I realize that those kinds of messages are still glaringly present for many people, and we are all still susceptible to absorbing negative messages wrapped in a self-care package, particularly young people.

I’m choosing to UnResolve this year.  This just means that I’m planning to continue to work on all of the goals and plans that I have and I’m going to continue to value myself, my family, and my community this year.  I’m going to reflect on my past year with gratitude for everything I got to experience and accomplish, and I’m going to look forward to everything still to come and make concrete plans to make progress on my goals.  But I’m not going to set another arbitrary resolution that sits on the shelf and does nothing but stare at me, only for me to realize mid-June that I’ve been busy working on my goals.

My life continues to flow year in and year out. My goals will never be truly finished, because I will always look for new ways to move forward, and I constantly resolve to try something over again that I haven’t accomplished to my satisfaction, no matter what time of year it is. By the way, I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book, but I did start watching her Netflix show “Tidying Up” and I find her totally adorable and I’m not sure why she gets so much flack for being tidy. I should probably go fold up my laundry now, though. Happy New Year everyone!

The Mental Health Benefits of Holidays

The Mental Health Benefits of Holidays

We hear a lot these days about how holidays can be stressful and that many people struggle with their mental health this time of year.  I’ve written in an earlier post about some considerations for how you can support those loves ones with mental health concerns during the holidays.  However, holidays can also be a time to reflect on some other themes that can be truly beneficial to your mental health.  It’s important that we remember that the holidays are not a joyous time for everyone, but let’s also look at some of the benefits of celebrating during the holiday season and the positive things that traditions, time with family, and seasonal giving bring to our personal and cultural mental health.

Here are some important ways that the holidays can give you a little mental health boost if you’re feeling burnt out, moody, or disheartened.

  1. Spending time with family and friends

Spending time with your loved ones is the best part of the holidays. Perhaps you only see some of your friends during that annual holiday party, or maybe your family lives far away and so traveling to see them during the holidays is one of the few ways you can stay in touch.  Keeping connections with people that you care about is an important way that we foster positive relationships with our support network.  Sometimes, you may only see some of your family every few years, or even longer.  This makes the times spent together all the more meaningful and important. Family bonding time is especially important for children, so be sure to call, hug, FaceTime, and spend time with the children in your life, whether that be your nieces and nephews, other close family friends, or your own children. There will be times when you may need to set boundaries with the people that are unhealthy in your life, and make more of an effort to spend quality time with the people that bring positivity into your life. Whether that’s making a trip to see you grandmother or opting to have Friendsgiving with your favorite peer group, the holidays are a great time to focus on the value of the important people in your life.

2. Getting time off from work and/or school

Taking a vacation has proven mental health benefits, whether you do a staycation or travel abroad. Obviously, not everyone gets to take time off at the holidays, so if you do, then recognize that this is a great opportunity renew yourself, even if it is just for a few days.  A new study notes that while previous research has validated the benefits of a 7-day vacation, even shorter vacations (4 nights) can result in marked improvements in stress levels, mental recovery, and well-being. These benefits are still effective up to 45 days later. Most Americans could use more time off work, because stress from overwork makes you sick and burnt out and many workers get limited paid vacation time, if any.  However, this is the time of year when many people are planning to take some vacation days, travel to spend time with family, and recharge a little before the New Year. So if you have the opportunity and are able to take some time off of work, take advantage of and use those vacation days before the year is up. You’ll feel better, and you’ll be more likely to start the New Year off fresh and ready to tackle your goals.

3. Celebrating traditions

For many people, the holidays are a time to practice family or spiritual traditions. There are certainly times traditions need to be changed up, and it’s always a good time to start a new tradition, but many people find comfort in the practice of their time-honored traditions. Traditions reinforce the value of community, heritage, and memories. The  British Medical Journal published research that looked at brain scans and found that the brains of people who celebrate Christmas “light up” in the cerebral areas associated with spirituality, somatic senses, and facial emotion when viewing positive images associated with the holiday. In other words, your brain can actually reflect “Christmas spirit” if you celebrate the holiday.  You may choose to continue on with the practices of religious or spiritual traditions that you’ve grown up with, or you may decide to make your own new traditions. Either way, passing on traditions to the younger members of your family and celebrating together can be a valuable way to enhance family bonds.  All the while you are hopefully making great memories that will bring you joy and a shared sense of history as time goes on.

4. Seasonal giving and charity

The holidays are the time of year when many people make their annual donations to charity and practice a spirit of generosity by giving gifts to their loved ones, or volunteer for organizations that they care about. Some charities are only able to do the work that they do because of the influx of donations they get during the holiday season.  Recently, practices like Giving Tuesday have been developed to encourage people to think about supporting the non-profits that work for causes they care about.  Although charitable giving can be done year round (and I encourage you to support causes that you care about whenever you can and are able to afford it), holiday giving can make you feel good and generate some positive energy in your life.  Studies have shown that there are health benefits associated with charitable giving, including less depression, lower stress, and increased happiness. Volunteering has even been shown to increase longevity and results in older adults being less likely to die within the next 5 years when they volunteer. Charitable giving may even help you release more mood boosting brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, resulting in a “helper’s high”.  When you support programs that you care about, you will undoubtedly feel more gratitude for what you have and shift your focus onto what you are able to do for others.  This builds on your own strengths and fosters a sense of contentment and gratitude that is good for your mental health. By all means, give and volunteer for the good of the organizations and causes that you care about, but there’s nothing wrong with recognizing the benefits it brings to you too!

5. Reflection on achievements and goals

At the end of the year, you might find yourself reflecting on how the year went, whether you accomplished your goals, and what goals you have for the next year.  This is a great time to take stock of your achievements and give yourself some credit for all the work that you’ve done.  If you find yourself struggling to see your own accomplishments, you can still reframe any hardships that you’ve experienced and recognize the strength and resiliency that was required for you to overcome some of the obstacles you’ve faced.  Then, set new goals for yourself, and remember that starting over or continuing to work on something you haven’t achieved yet is fine too. Try not to get mired in what didn’t go your way this year, and instead focus on everything you’ve learned and what you’ve accomplished.

 

As you can see, there are many ways the holidays can be good for you, in spite of the stress that holidays can bring.  Sometimes it can be hard to deal with the overwhelming pressure to create a picture perfect holiday for yourself or your family, and even lead to feeling inadequate when you scan through your social media feeds.  However, you’ll have a better chance of getting through the holidays with a little more cheer and a little less stress if you focus on what is most important to you, and let go of the stuff that doesn’t serve you well this time of year.  That might mean focusing more on experiences with the people you love, and less on trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.

The #1 Way to Manage a Panic Attack

The #1 Way to Manage a Panic Attack

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which help support this blog.  For a full affiliate disclosure, click here

This post is going to outline the best strategy I have for my clients to manage an acute panic attack when they do not have a prescription medication that they use to manage their symptoms, or are waiting for their medication to kick in.

For people who experience regular panic attacks, medication is often a necessity, but as I’ve discussed in other posts about panic and anxiety, you will likely need several strategies to manage your symptoms. For others that have only occasional episodes of panic or anxiety attacks, you may not need a regular medication, but you may want to have a PRN medication that you can take as needed. Others will find that they can employ non-medical strategies to combat their symptoms and they can manage their symptoms without a prescription.

Panic attacks are a distressful and uncomfortable set of symptoms that can range from mild to severe and which often require intervention of some sort. Individuals may experience a panic attack in many different ways, but during an acute panic attack, you may experience:

  • Tightness in your chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A sense of dread or overwhelming stress
  • Increased heart rate
  • Uncontrollable tearfulness
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Feelings of choking
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying

Those who have experienced panic attacks know that they can be very upsetting and when they happen you need to take action or symptoms may worsen.  The strategy I’m outlining here uses 3 coping methods in combination to combat an acute panic attack when you feel one coming on.  I’ve talked about several ways to cope with panic and anxiety in this post, where you can read more about other strategies to use.

What to Do

The most effective way I know of to manage an acute panic attack aside from medication is a combination of:

  1. Deep-breathing

Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. When you inhale as deeply as possible, pause for a few seconds before releasing your breath out again. Continue with these breathing exercise as long as necessary and try to focus only on your breath and release other thoughts and fears you may be having in the moment.

  1. Walking

While you are doing this breathing exercise, get up and walk at a comfortable pace. Walking helps you to get rid of the excess energy that comes along with a panic attack and distracts you so you don’t feel like jumping out of your own skin.

  1. Essential Oils

The oils here are the extra boost that can provide that additional relief you need when you’re experiencing a panic attack. There are 3-4 oils that you can use that have been demonstrated to be effective in managing anxiety, and which can be used safely during a panic attack. The best oils to use are LavenderFrankincense, Bergamot and Black Spruce .

To use this method:

  1. Rub a few drops of Lavender Oil onto your chest or décolletage area
  2. Then take a few drops of Frankincense Oil and rub it onto the back or nape of your neck and across your shoulders/traps
  3. Rub a few drops of Black Spruce Oil orBergamot Oil onto both wrists or inner forearm area
  4. Begin walking at a comfortable pace, preferably outdoors if possible, and taking deep breaths.
  5. Bring your wrists up to your face as you walk and inhale deeply
  6. Take at least 10 deep breaths with your forearms up near your nose and continue to walk
  7. You can continue with this process until you feel calmer and your symptoms start to recede

As always, if you have a medication that you take for panic attacks, you can and should use your medication as prescribed to combat your symptoms. However, this method can be used to help relieve some of your symptoms while your medication starts to kick in.  If you don’t have medication for panic attacks and need another way to help you when you begin to feel panic coming on, this is the #1 method that I teach and recommend to my clients who have anxiety and panic attacks. I have used oils for years myself, and I have recommended lavender oil in particular to all of my clients with anxiety problems for quite some time now.  This particular method I learned partially from consulting with a friend of mine who is a wellness advocate for doTerra. I personally use doTerra oils whenever I can because of the quality, environmental, and corporate social responsibility policies. However, doTerra doesn’t offer a Black Spruce oil so I’ve purchased that one through different brands as needed.

Why Does This Work?

Plant oils and other preparations such as herbal supplements have been studied for their medicinal properties, and some have been proven to be clinically effective with certain symptoms. Lavender oil has been demonstrated as an effective intervention through research to reduce anxiety. Black spruce and Frankincense both have grounding properties that help with that overwhelming feeling that comes along with a panic attack. Lavender has a sweet, calming scent that makes you feel relaxed and calmer, and Bergamot has a citrus scent that is uplifting and refreshing.

Black spruce smells somewhat like a Christmas tree and has a property called bornyl acetate that can have a relaxing effect on the musculoskeletal system, which could be why it is so effective for anxiety as well.

Frankincense has been used medicinally and ritually for thousands of years, and has anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, and anti-microbial properties.  It has a sweet and spicy scent that can be comforting and calming. Frankincense stimulates the limbic region of the brain, which may help regulate stress. Most of the research on frankincense has focused on its healing properties for cancer, skin conditions, and arthritic conditions.  However, more research is being done to study its effects on emotional health as well.

Your reaction to essential oils is individualized as well, and thus it is a good idea to make sure you try out the scents by inhaling them from the bottle first before you apply them topically on your skin.  These oils are all safe to use topically, but if you have very sensitive skin you can use one to two drops in a carrier oil to reduce any skin reaction. I have had clients who have not enjoyed the scent of Black Spruce or Frankincense, and so for those clients I’ve recommended sticking with Lavender and Bergamot, because those oils are pretty universally enjoyed. However, I think that the grounding properties in Black Spruce and Frankincense are really powerful because of the heightened state of arousal that occurs during a panic attack. Make sure that if you use this method that you are using essential oils and not fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are synthetic compounds made in a lab, whereas essential oils are distilled from real plants and contain the properties of those plants, making them a natural and concentrated element of that plant. Fragrance oils will not do anything for you and will likely result in a headache if you try to substitute with them.

Panic attacks are very real and require real solutions.  This method is the best way that I’ve found to help my clients who suffer from panic attacks and need a concrete method to combat those symptoms when they occur. While everyone may have a different experience, most of my clients with anxiety are willing to try new methods to help combat their symptoms if they haven’t found success with other methods.  I’m most interested in making sure my clients have all the tools possible to manage their symptoms, so this is one way that I can encourage people to try something new that might just help them find some relief when needed.  As always, if you have a panic disorder or other mental health condition, please seek support from your mental health providers or primary care doctor to consult with about ways to manage your mental health symptoms. As a licensed clinician, I can provide advice and suggestions, but this is not a substitute for consulting with your own providers. That being said, I do hope that you will try this method and see if it works for you if you are suffering with panic attacks or anxiety.

 

5 Ways to Support Mental Health this Holiday

5 Ways to Support Mental Health this Holiday

Many people struggle during the holidays for a lot of different reasons.  The holiday season may coincide with anniversary of the loss of a loved one, or may be a reminder of the estrangement or difficulty of family relationships. Despite the fact that these conditions are true for many people, suicides rates actually decrease during the holidays.  The CDC reports that suicide rates are lowest in December, contradicting much of the information published about depression during the holidays.

However, despite the fact that suicide rates may not be spiking during this time of year, it remains a fact that you or someone you know may be struggling emotionally during the holidays. How can we all be more supportive and make sure that our hearts and homes are open to those we care about this season? Just as importantly, how can we make sure that we remain connected and caring throughout the new year as well? Here are some things to keep in mind as you think about mental health awareness during the holiday season:

  1. Reach out

If you notice that someone you care about has withdrawn or if you know a person that struggles with their mental health, this is a great time to reach out to them and let them know that you’re available.  Ask if they have plans over the next couple months and let them know when you know you’ll be available.  Lots of people have events, parties, and trips scheduled this time of year, but letting those you care about know when you’ll be around will make it more likely they will reach out to you as well during those times.  It can be hard for people who struggle with their mental health to reach out for help, and they may be especially disinclined to do so during the holidays because they may feel that they are intruding on others during their holiday plans. For those that do not have a lot of plans, it may feel like an isolating time. One way to be supportive is to think about all of your friends, family, and neighbors, and ask yourself about who could use some company this holiday.

  1. Ask

As mentioned above, it is often hard for people with depression, grief, or other mental health struggles to ask for help when they feel isolated or sad. When you reach out to others, ask how they are doing and if they are getting their needs met.  If you know that they have been grieving or may be feeling upset due to an anniversary, invite them to talk about it if they want to.

  1. Respect Needs

While most people will appreciate your actions when you reach out to offer support, some people may need to have some personal time or withdraw from some of the holiday festivities.  This is not necessarily a bad thing. Isolation and withdrawal may be necessary self-care strategies for people who are struggling. These strategies only become unhealthy when people are thinking about self-harm or who want connection with others but are unable to have that connection for any reason. If someone tells you that they feel like they need some alone time, respect their decision but just reiterate that you are there if and when they need support or company.  Let them know that they do not have to talk about what they are feeling if they don’t want to, but that you can always just hang out to have some good times together as well.

  1. Re-engage

When people want some space, you can give them some time to have privacy, but this doesn’t mean you need to disappear forever.  You can reach back out after a couple weeks or after they have verbalized that they are ready for company or contact again. Just re-engaging with them may allow them to start moving past their seasonal slump. Again, this is a time when people who are struggling with their mental health over the holidays may be ready to be around others or enjoy company again, but they may have a hard time reaching out and asking for help if they have already asked for space.  Just remember that people’s needs change, and being open and adaptable is the best way to be supportive.

  1. Be Personal

Sometimes it can be hard to know what the right thing to say is to those who whom you know are struggling with depression, grief, anxiety, or other emotional struggles. The best way to approach this is to just be sincere and to be personal.  You don’t have to be vague or general when you talk about mental health.  You can ask about how they are handling the anniversary of their loved one’s death, or if they want to talk about the feelings that they experience during the holidays. You can also offer some of your own personal thoughts and about how you relate to or understand their feelings. That can be immensely helpful for people who may not know that others around them have similar feelings or struggles.

 

The most important thing to remember is that while the holidays are filled with joy and gratitude for many people, there are also those for whom the holidays can be challenging. Although more people are aware now of this problem, we sometimes don’t always know what to do to support someone whom we know might be struggling. Remember that you don’t have to have the solutions to all the problems to be helpful.  Just knowing that people care is sometimes the only thing that can make things better.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, where you can get crisis intervention, free confidential support, and resources for you and your loved ones.