Helping Yourself to Help Others
By: Gaby Flores
Newsflash: we’re finally entering the “Ber” months. This should be time for celebration and hearing Jose Mari Chan everywhere you go, but it looks like our traditions will be very different this year. Cabin fever is an understatement at this point. It isn’t easy to stay at home indefinitely without seeing family and friends. Worse still, it’s difficult knowing that other people have it way worse than us — including those that are close to us.
The saying “no man is an island” comes to mind during tough times such as these. These are unprecedented times we’re living in, and everyone needs all the help they can get. It’s noble to want to be there for your loved ones; indeed, lots of people are using this time to help out from home and find ways to donate. Taking up the mantle and championing worthy causes should definitely be lauded, but it’s easy to forget that you need to be looking after the most important person in your life: you!
Learn how to set boundaries and respect them
You need to learn how to set boundaries. According to psychiatrist Abigail Brenner, setting boundaries is part and parcel of showing yourself respect. Lots of people think it’s selfish to set boundaries, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. By setting clear boundaries, you’re letting people know what they can rely on you for. It’s also important to recognize that your boundaries can change. Sometimes you’re able to listen to your friends vent about family troubles, but sometimes all you can do is just send them a quick message to let them know they’re not alone. Both are totally okay.
The flip side is that you should respect other people’s boundaries too. It might be difficult to be told that a loved one needs space, but respecting their time and giving them room to breathe also shows that they can rely on you for help.
Schedule time to check in with others (and yourself, too)
Chances are you’re filling your time with lots of different things to do over quarantine, or you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve lost track of the days. It’s also likely that you’re experiencing a mix of both! Speaking of setting boundaries, scheduling time to check in with others is a great way to block off a chunk of time when you know you’ll be fully present. It can even give you something to look forward to when you’re feeling restless.
That said, you don’t have to fill every single day with check-ins and Zoom calls. It’s equally necessary to take time to just be by yourself and enjoy your own company. Taking some personal time out allows you to really ask yourself what you need without worrying about stretching yourself too thin to please others.
Practice active listening
We tend to be so preoccupied with talking and filling the air that we forget the other crucial component to a conversation: listening. Rather than waiting for your turn to speak in a conversation, active listening is all about clearing your mind of those thoughts and fully focusing on what the person says.
Research has shown that simply feeling listened to can increase a person’s oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is known as the “feel good” chemical that promotes stronger social bonds and higher levels of trust. Mind Tools suggests mentally repeating the other person’s words as they say it. This allows you to stay focused on the message and reminds you to hear someone out before making any judgments about what they’re saying.
Try to stay away from toxic positivity
Practicing active listening also helps you respond to the person appropriately instead of throwing clichés their way. Toxic positivity is a real phenomenon characterized by the insistence to just keep looking at the bright side of life. It’s good to stay optimistic — but if there’s anything that 2020 has proven, it’s that sometimes bad things just happen for no reason.
If a friend or family member comes to you and says they’re struggling, telling them to just stay positive can actually diminish their feelings and make them think that their problems aren’t worth it. Humans are inherently complex creatures, and it’s common to work through conflicting feelings all at the same time. Sometimes, all people need to hear is that you empathize with what they’re going through.
Ask how you can help, but also learn how to ask and receive it for yourself
Another problem with toxic positivity is that by telling people that things will eventually get better, you aren’t giving them concrete steps to fix their problem right now. There are, admittedly, some problems that can’t be solved right away. Even so, asking someone how you can support them goes a long way in showing that you’re in their corner. If someone responds with “I don’t know,” you can instead suggest a few ways to help. You can offer have a sweet treat delivered to them or send some stand-up clips over Telegram.
This lesson applies to you, too. Bad days are inevitable (and have been occurring more often than not this year), but remember to ask for help when you need it instead of isolating yourself and pushing people away. Again, you can even give your friends and family concrete requests. Whether it’s allowing you to send voice notes in your chat or calling you to make sure you aren’t alone, your loved ones will be more than willing to help you out.
You can’t be running on empty. If you truly want to be a source of support for those around you, it’s important to take the time to look after yourself. Showing yourself lots of love and care is necessary to figuring out how you can be there for others, too.