One day, when your grandkids ask what one of the most difficult world crises during your lifetime was, you very well might say “the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020”. The news, social media, and personal conversations are all filled with phrases like “economic depression”, “social isolation”, and “media hype” – all served with feelings of fear, anger, frustration, and uncertainty. When so many people are struggling against the same thing, it’s natural for friends and family members to talk nonstop about their problems and worries. They sometimes do this without realizing that what they say might become an additional emotional burden to others, particularly for those who are sensitive to emotions, like those with social anxiety often are.
If this is the case in your life, you might feel stressed and overwhelmed with everyone else’s problems, in addition to your own. Here are some helpful guidelines for how you can manage these types of situations, now and in the future.
Don’t feel as though you have to have the right answer
If friends and family start venting to you, your first reaction might be to offer advice, but the thought of telling them what to do may make you panic. What if they don’t agree with what you say? What if you’ve completely misunderstood their concerns? What if they think you’re naïve, inconsiderate, or stupid?
If these are your concerns, you are most likely worrying about the wrong thing. Most often, when someone complains about everything going wrong in their life, they don’t want you to give them a solution. You’ve probably felt that way yourself when you’ve been in a hard place. Sometimes you just need to vent your feelings so that you can let go of them. What most people want in trying times is a listening ear, a pat on the shoulder, and a voice of encouragement. In most cases, you only need to worry about saying, “That’s so hard. I really feel for you.” Or, “I wish you weren’t dealing with so many things right now. I know you can make it through this.” More often than not, that’s all anybody wants to hear! They just need to know that they have a friend and aren’t suffering alone.
If someone does ask you specifically, “What should I do?”, don’t feel like there’s one correct answer you have to give. Remember that your friend has to make a decision on their own, but if they do ask for advice, it’s because they respect your opinions. They might not agree with what you say, but they wouldn’t ask if they didn’t really want to hear it – so be honest. If you don’t have any idea, say you don’t know. But if you think you can offer real help, then do so, knowing that your friend trusts you and values what you say.
If you’re spending a lot of time on social media, you’re probably inundated with posts and messages about your friends’ struggles and frustrations. If scrolling through your newsfeed makes you feel anxious and upset, then stay away from it. It can be incredibly liberating to log out of your accounts and spend a day or more detached from notifications. You don’t have to turn your phone on airplane mode and hide on the couch, but you can challenge yourself to disconnect from social media and focus instead on filling your cup by doing something you enjoy doing.
If a specific friend or family member continues to dump their emotions on you, it is absolutely ok for you to ask them to stop. That conversation can be hard to have in person or on the phone, so you could send a message or ask a trusted friend to help you. If you need to, don’t feel as though you have to keep answering their calls. There’s nothing wrong with protecting your emotional health when someone else can’t respect your needs and boundaries.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you navigate the current COVID-19 situation without adding the burdens of others on top of whatever you’re already dealing with. We’d love to hear from you. How do you cope when another person expects you to handle their emotional burden? Let us know in the comments!