Often the best way to make the world a better place for ourselves is to make it a better place for others. This is most often the case when we are feeling most vulnerable, most conflicted, most stressed out, most anxious. It can be really difficult to ask for help in a world that teaches us that we are increasingly connected, yet disconnects us. Having the power of the Internet in the palm of our hand does nothing to help when we need to engage in a handshake or a friendly smile.
Engagement: it seems that our thoroughly modern world is sorely missing out on engagement. We become disconnected by our schedules, our devices, our lives and our things. We stress and fret, worry and ruminate. We become fearfully obsessive and if we’re not proactively breaking the cycle we can head into depression or even anxiety attacks.
Take a deep breath. You don’t have to go there. As it turns out, recognizing that someone else in our lives is struggling is the best way to take care of ourselves. Here’s how:
Call the ones you care about.
One woman changed the behavior of her family simply by calling someone if they are on her mind. You don’t even have to talk for long…or at all! Just leaving a voice mail telling someone you’re thinking about them and you love them is enough.
Sent them a note or even a letter.
How nice would it be if your daily deluge of junk mail had a sweet note from a friend or family member tucked in amongst the insurance offers and utility bills? Be the change in someone else’s day by picking up a pen and paper -yes, they really still sell those in stores, and even online- and jotting off a quick note to someone you care about. It costs only a few cents and the joy you’ll feel by imagining your friend’s smile when they receive your note might push you into a letter-writing campaign.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Often when we hear about others’ dilemmas it gives us perspective on our own. Genuinely putting yourself into their situation and seeing what is happening from their perspective gives you the opportunity to be empathetic and loving as well as offer objectivity and nurturing balance. You can change their entire outlook on a situation by exercising this mindfully and carefully.
Many of us are talkers and fixers. When someone is asking for help we are all over the situation like a hyped-up border collie unleashed upon an unsuspecting herd of sheep. Say this! Do that! Move over here! Think this way! F*** that guy! Much of the time, however, what our friends and family members need is someone to really hear them, not to get involved in the situation. They need a sympathetic ear to vent to, not a drill sergeant to take control of the situation. You may also find that if you do listen with empathy, your opinion is solicited more readily, and taken to heart. Empathy is the key to loving relationships.
Become a mom.
Not literally. Our mothers were our first line of defense when we were children and also, often, the first to take on our rebellion, our angsty teenhoods, our feisty adolescent melodramatic selves. Moms bring compassion, tenderness and vulnerability along with iron will and stick-to-itiveness. Struggling to find common ground with someone? Try thinking of how your mom might handle it.
Engage with laughter.
When all else fails or sometimes, when it just seems like a great idea, try injecting some humor into the situation. Whatever else is going on, laughing out loud will almost always help. I’ve heard the phrase “except at a funeral” attached to that but from my experience, laughter is absolutely necessary at funerals in my family. At one point while I was attending my father’s memorial service -I was twenty-six when my father died and still feel that was far too young to have lost him then- my cell phone rang. I picked it up and the caller ID read “Dad Cell”. I answered hesitatingly and my stepsister was on the other end sounding like she was struggling not to laugh and apologizing -she and my dad had the same phone and she accidentally called me from his. We immediately lost it cackling: the tension and stress of the situation + the comedy + the fact that as amazing a man as my dad was I knew he probably wasn’t calling from beyond the grave, but, you never know?! I truly believe laughter is the best medicine. I don’t remember a lot about Dad’s memorial: I was still in shock and the speeches and talks flew right by me. But I remember that moment with my stepsister like it happened five minutes ago.
Engagement. Pick up the phone. Pick up the pen. Take five minutes from your incredibly busy day and reach out to someone else. You will be absolutely blown away by how much it ends up helping you.