Mental health is stigmatized in our current culture. It’s a subject far too many are afraid to talk about, so they push it under a rug and ignore it, as if that’s going to make it go away. In reality, finding ways to talk about what is going on, or helping those around you deal with how they’re feeling will be the key to survival. Why did I say survival? Because the numbers surrounding mental health are staggering – and there are consequences if we continue to ignore this issue.
I have anxiety.
Not the, prescribe me some Xanax because it’s cool to talk about type of anxiety, but the chest tightening, unable to breathe, crying to myself behind a closed door, type.
I tell you this because you look at friends, coworkers, and family members that are carriers of anxiety and mood disorders daily, and you’ll never know that any of them are suffering – some more than others. Many of us have learned how to carry our anxiety or depression and make it our own. Or, we’ve learned to hide the feelings away – the symptoms of both these are practically invisible.
The holidays can be a difficult time and a trigger – heightened emotions with family and loved ones can cause facades to slip or crack. Tighter deadlines at work, money stretched to find the perfect present, traveling to be with family, are all examples of situations that add extra stress. If you find yourself feeling the pinch/strain around the holidays, consider your friend(s) who feel it the rest of the year. We want to make sure that we keep a focus on mental health – for both oneself and any friend when we can.
So what do you do for your friends you know suffer throughout the year, or if you feel that someone is hit around the holidays?
Your phrasing is going to be important for your friend dealing with depression and/or anxiety. The moment you tell them (or let them think) that you’re not there or you cannot handle what they’re going through, they’ll shut down. Consider and use your words carefully. It’s not your responsibility to “fix” anything – we’re not broken. We just need a friend. No one is asking you to step in and do the job of a professional.
Listen, encourage, support – this is the role you need to fill as a friend. Walks, movie nights, positive reinforcement, this is going to be key.
Shame Free Zone
Realize, we don’t want to feel this way, and it makes it worse when we feel as though we’re ruining someone else’s day based on our mood – do not make our situation your situation. If your friend who is experiencing depression or anxiety is stressing or bumming you out, find a different way to connect. Feel free to move the conversation away from feelings. Ask how the day was, or what else is going on. What are they reading? Have they watched the latest Netflix series? Your interaction is the most important aspect – we need the connection and to know that someone is there. It’s a very lonely and scary place when you feel as though someone does not understand you.
Pass no judgement, we’re trying to take care of ourselves. When you give us “the look,” it only adds to how we already feel.
Having a better understanding of what goes into how your friend or family member is feeling and experiencing provides insight for you on how to encourage and help them. In the event they have not done research themselves, it is highly encouraged. The more knowledge you both have, the more likely you both are to live as normally as possible. Research can include doctors, specialists, and medicine that can assist. What works best varies for each person.
Personally, I’ve found that different methods have worked during different periods and events in my life. Sometimes, medicine was necessary to help calm my anxiety on a daily basis, while at other points, having a therapist to talk to worked best, while friends and an outlet will always help calm me. My constant is always knowing that I have an option – when it feels lost, I can find something or someone to help me.
This is one I’m going to try to stress, but phrases such as calm down, snap out of it, or it’ll get better, are not going to help the situation. When you are the individual experiencing anxiety or depression, you are doing the best you can to stay calm, snap out of this funk, and work to be better. So what we need from you is to be reminded that we are not alone, and that we are understood.
We will get through it, but it requires positivity, not negativity – the more disbelief we experience, the more difficult it is. Find ways to support and encourage.
As we reach some of the most stressful and difficult times of the year, we need to make sure we are paying careful attention to those that we love. If you recognize that someone you care for is going through a tough time, your support and encouragement will be one of the most important forms of partnership you can provide.
Do not be afraid to talk about mental health with them or others around you. The fear and shame that many experience is why we are not openly speaking on such important topics. Allow your loved ones to feel comfortable talking to you about how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. You have the ability to help people during difficult times.