With the recent sudden and shocking suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, there is a lot of talk around the power of reaching out to others and how it relates to mental health. These examples are extreme, as there’s nothing more grave than suicide, but I’ve noticed on television and in print the larger conversation around these two tragic deaths often conclude with advice on how to reach out to someone who may not be doing so great.
Loneliness, isolation, disconnectedness—these are all common underlying challenges for why people may enter therapy. Perhaps now more than ever, these feelings are more widespread than ever before when so much of our time is spent working around the clock, rushing around from one obligation to the next, even spending hours and hours staring at a computer screen. Despite living in a world of friend requests and hitting “like” buttons, our lives can seem more disconnected. The emotional consequences from this modern day predicament leads many clients to turn to therapy for the tools and techniques to turn this universal disengagement inside out. However, it’s important not to discard the power of reaching out to others and showing up for them.
It’s incredibly gratifying to reach out to a friend to check in, connect and offer support when they need it. When someone is in need of compassion and kindness, this is a unique opportunity for us to be our most loving self. This, in turn, can lead to making it easier to show compassion for ourselves. Reaching out to others creates more intimacy, it helps us to connect; ultimately, it allows us to have a deeper friendship to turn to when we need encouragement and a meaningful boost.
In today’s world of demanding work schedules and commitments, showing up for someone can seem daunting, exhausting, even seemingly impossible. Because we live in survival mode a lot of the time, reaching out and checking in with a friend can feel uncomfortable. I get that stopping for a minute or so throughout your day to make a call or send a text or email, asking, “Hey, how have you been?” or “I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you,” can feel uncomfortable or seems like one more thing to do. If you’re able to move past the initial awkwardness, though, it’s worth doing.
There are all sorts of minimal ways to reach out to friends or strangers who may be in need of communication or checking in. If the act of reaching out to someone you know seems too unnerving, I always suggest trying to smile at one or two people in line with you at the drug store or the grocery, allowing you to dip your toes into the pool and test the waters. You’d be surprised the lift this can provide others, but also the lift it can give you, how inherently good it can feel to stop midday and carve out a modicum of time to reach out to someone else.
Therapy is an encouraged and safe place to practice connecting and receiving support, a place to build, shape and flex that connectedness muscle. However, the power of showing up for someone else cannot be underestimated or undervalued. To create connection and community with others, a great way to do so is by being that connection and community with others.