When Daylight Savings Time left us last week, it took some of our emotional reserves with it. The days are getting shorter, the holidays are getting closer, and some of us are getting a little bit brittle.
It can be hard to be a good friend to others while we’re not doing so great ourselves. Here are some ways you can make sure that you’re not overtaxing your friends, but also not spreading yourself too thin either. (Added bonus: these are tips you can use all year round.)
Check in to make sure it’s a good time to talk about heavy things
We have all been guilty of sending someone a panicked wall-of-text Facebook message about an emergency (emotional or otherwise) that we are having. But it’s really important to make sure that the person you are sending it to isn’t also having a crisis of their own, or just in the middle of something and not able to reply. Especially for any formats that tell the sender when a message is “seen,” it can be really panic-inducing to get that kind of message and feel like you have to reply right away, even if it’s not a great time. Personally, I’m a big fan of sending out a bit of a bat-signal, pulling a few of my closest pals into a group chat and asking if anyone has the time and emotional fortitude to talk through something with me. Usually one or two people say, “Sure!” and a maybe one or two more say, “Not right now but feel better!” and then I am able to pour my heart out to someone with the time and energy to hear me out, without having to worry the whole time that I’m being a burden.
Make sure they know it is okay to say when it’s not a good time
Asking your friends if it’s a good time to talk really only works if they know it is okay to say no. You can do this by making it clear that you are not in danger (obviously only do this if you are actually not in danger), or that you have a plan for self soothing or self care that does not rely on talking to them. I typically try to frame it this way: “Hey, I’m fine but can I be sad at you for a bit? No worries if you are busy right now. I’m meeting Jennie for tea in half an hour and can talk it through with her!”
Try to remember that you are not being rejected if someone is unable to talk to you, and resist the urge to try to test the boundaries by saying something like, “Okay, that’s fine. It’s just that it’s the day before the anniversary of the last time I talked to my ex, so I’m having a crap day.” At that point, your friend is sort of on the hook to keep talking to you, but you get to maintain the illusion that it’s their choice. Not cool! Try not to do this! If you find yourself doing it, apologize right away and tell them you appreciate their friendship and will check in later.
Make sure you also reach out sometimes to NOT talk about heavy things
We all have friends that we never hear from until they are in a crisis, at which point the texts become relentless. Don’t be this person! Before you are about to lean on someone, go through the archives of your last few exchanges with them. Do you send them funny links that reminded you of them? Do you ask their opinions on current events in the news or pop culture? Do you weigh in with thoughtful or encouraging words when they make posts about their own struggles? These aren’t the only indicators of a strong friendship of course, but if you are only trying to connect with a person when you need something from them, you might want to lay off before looking for help again.
At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that none of these activities are too demanding, so there are lots of opportunities to connect with people in low-impact ways that will help your friends know you are thinking of them even when you are swamped with other things!
Offer as much support as you can when they are having their own tough times
In addition to all the fun little ways we keep in touch with our friends, there is also the work of showing up when your friends need you most. Sometimes this means ditching a fun party to hold a friend’s hand while they cry, or tackling a pal’s dishes then cooking them a meal, when they’ve been eating bags of candy for dinner for days. You might not always have the capacity to do this, but this kind of taking turns taking care of each other makes it much easier to be able to ask for (and accept!) what you need when you are struggling yourself. As an added bonus, it will give you good context for exactly what it’s like to give someone that kind of care, so you’ll know what you are asking of folks next time it’s you who is in crisis.
I know it’s hard to keep perspective when things are feeling really awful; no one is going to be able to follow this advice all of the time. We can all get caught up in our own heads, and we’re all guilty of being our own main characters. But keeping these things in mind — and being willing to apologize when you forget — can help ensure you aren’t tapping out your friends. You may end up withdrawing out of guilt, or they may end up withdrawing out of feeling tapped out. This is the last thing any of us need. If this winter is anything like the last few, we’re not gonna be able to get through it without chums.
Note: If you are actually feeling like you are in danger of self harm, please reach out to your local Distress Centre.