We all know the familiar back-and-forth of asking how our friends and family are, and getting something along the lines of "good, you?" right back. Many would even call this routine a pleasantry. This act of small talk, though polite, often doesn't quite scrape deeper than the surface. Someone might not be "fine" after all, but they don't want to "burden" you with their problems by being honest, or want to maintain a happy, positive environment by not complaining or getting what's worrying them off their chest. Answering "how are you?" can also feel a little puzzling right now - many of us are stressed or anxious about the COVID crisis, our financial stability, our kids' educations, or our relationships.
2020 has certainly been a challenging year for many of us, so while we might feel like we're managing alright given the circumstances, it's ok to say so instead of "good!" when you're asked. You might also have some loved ones that you suspect are struggling even more than yourself - perhaps they live alone or they just seem to really not be themselves. Maybe they have a history of mental health issues and you're worried about the compounded effects of physical distancing or job loss. No matter the reason, we've got some great ideas to help you check in with your friends and family and better support them.
Set an example
If you want to know how someone's _really _doing, try initiating a conversation with something that's been on your mind. By sharing what's been going on for you, you're opening up the door for them to share too. Being honest about how you're feeling creates a safe space for your loved one to share what's on their mind. You automatically let them know that you're here for them and that they can share their truth without being minimized, judged, or shut down. Remember to ask them if you can share something with them first, however, you don't want to go into what's been bothering you if they don't have the mental or emotional space to carry it at that moment. Also, be mindful not to monopolize the conversation - it's easy to get carried away talking about ourselves, especially when we haven't caught up with someone in a while.
Avoid vague questions
Try to ask specific questions that come from a place of curiosity. These will be great conversation starters and help you nurture more authentic connection in your conversation. Here are a few to try:
- What have you been _cooking/watching/reading _lately?
- What's been bringing you joy lately?
- What's been on your mind the most lately?
- What are you looking forward to the most when the COVID crisis dies down?
Let them know you're there for them no matter what
Pop in via text or phone call to tell your loved ones that you're there for them and think of them often - but don't expect anything in return. Create space for them to feel supported, should they need it. Offer to make some plans with them and don't flake out - if you ask them to go for a socially-distant walk in the park on the next sunny day, make sure you follow through. If you want to support them, communicate that with your actions. Making plans and then cancelling is often even more damaging than not reaching out in the first place.
This year certainly hasn't gone the way many of us had planned - we've cancelled trips, pulled our kids out of school, not been able to hug our family members. It's not easy to continue to live in a way that's so abnormal for most of us. Though some of us are enjoying extended time with our immediate family members, or more flexibility in our daily schedules, it's likely that someone we know is struggling and needs a little extra support. If you have friends or family members that perhaps you're a little more worried about than others, get creative in checking in with them and letting them know you're there. Sometimes all it takes to change someone's day around is a phone call.