Kinstler: When the going gets tough

Ethan Kinstler, Staff Columnist

When the going gets tough, the unfortunate truth is that the tough rarely get going. In times of isolation, people tend to retract inwards rather than project outwards. Even though our phones are probably within arms reach, we often fail to use them to reach out.

Right now, hundreds of thousands of people across the country are facing new COVID-19 restrictions, and many of us are back in lockdown situations. This isolation can have a stunting effect on our typical self-care routines. Part of this includes the degradation of communication with our support systems. How can we identify a healthy support system?

Well, the first step is to identify those people who are already in your corner. These people love, respect and support you. Think of your friends, your family members and people in your community with whom you interact. Make a list of all these people and think about the interactions you have with them. Put a mark next to the ones who make you feel happier when you interact with them. This is your base—your first line of defense. These people are the generals in your self-care army.

But an army doesn’t just consist of generals and officers, it also needs recruits. So how can we grow our support system? Well, first we have to identify what is stopping us from reaching out to more people. We all make excuses: “They’re probably busy,” “I’m too busy,” “nobody will care,” “somebody else has it worse,” “it’s not important.” We all know that voice, right? I call that voice Steve. I hate Steve. Which brings me to our next step, recruiting your self-care army: identify the enemy, your Steve.

One of the most common obstacles we face in trying to silence Steve is telling ourselves that “somebody else has it worse,” so talking about our own problems somehow makes us uncaring to the plights of others. This is known as the fallacy of relative privation and it’s Steve’s most effective tool. In reality, voicing your needs in no way detracts from someone else’s needs. If something is causing you stress, then it’s never too small to talk about. Just because someone else is also having a rough time doesn’t mean your problems are any less real, so you shouldn’t wait until your problems become insurmountable to reach out. 

You are valid, and it’s always OK to ask for help, no matter what anyone else is experiencing. This is about you, remember that; other people with other problems, both big and small, have their own support systems.

Now, understand that every positive interaction is a new network in your support system chain. The more positive interactions you have with the same person, the stronger the network becomes. No ulterior motives, it’s all about positivity. Remember last time when I told you about the importance of having an inner dialogue? Well, this is where that dialogue comes into play: you need to ask yourself “How did this interaction make me feel? Do I want to do this again?” If the answer is “Yes,” congratulations, you’ve found yourself a new recruit!

Well, now you have your generals and your soldiers, but an army is useless if you don’t know how to deploy them. This is the hard part: actually remembering to reach out when you need help. 

Here is a common tactic I want you to try right now. Think about one situation in your life that is actively causing you stress. Now, think about one of the people you just identified as being part of your support system. Text them, call them, carrier pigeon them, whatever your preferred method of communication is, use it right now and tell them how you are feeling. Something as simple as “Hey, how are you? I’m honestly not doing too well, and would really like to talk about it” will suffice. And then, when they respond, actually talk about it. After the conversation is over, recall how doing this made you feel. Sometimes the very act of admitting we are going through something can make us feel better.

Remember this: even though we may not be able to see our support system or be with them in person right now, that does not mean they love us any less, or that they don’t miss us the way we miss them. I know it can be hard to remember that we are loved, especially when those we love are not there to remind us everyday, but, remember Steve? He is always wrong—you are loved, you are valid and you are not a burden.

Give yourself a fighting chance and surround yourself with emotionally stable people. If you begin to find your interactions with certain people are emotionally draining, it’s OK to remain friends with them, but perhaps they shouldn’t be a general in your self-care army. Keep them on standby, but don’t necessarily call them back into active duty.