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5 Ways to Support Someone You Love

This holiday season, we all need a little extra love and care.  The type of support needed, however, will differ from person to person.  For those of us with chronic illness (or simply too much on our plate), we may need someone to help with meal prep or safely buying ingredients and holiday decorations.  For our Friends struggling to maintain mental health, a genuine “How are you doing?” check-in and time to actually share the answer could make all the difference.  And for those who cannot be with loved ones during the holidays, thoughtful interactions over video chat or snail mail could bring comfort and community to a lonely time.

It can be difficult to ask for the things we need.  We’ve put together this guide to seeking support to help take that first step, but it can also feel amazing if someone reaches out without having been asked!  

Thoughtful yet sustainable

If you are looking for ways to show support for those you love, think about what areas of life they are needing help with as well as how much you honestly have to give.  It may be that showing up every day to offer childcare would be the perfect gift, but if this is too much for you to handle without burning out yourself (or if it increases your risk of COVID-19 exposure!), it’s ok to go smaller.  Even something as small as a phone call to say hi can mean a lot, and may even give you a boost!

More tips for supporting loved ones through mental health challenges here, and chronic illness here.

Another interesting consideration for how to show support is in what language will your loved one feel most cared for?  If you haven’t heard of the five love languages, I recommend you check them out here or take this quiz to find out your ideal language!  The idea is that we tend to show love in the ways we feel most loved.  Unfortunately, those we are attempting to shower may not feel it the same way we do!  Have you ever given a gift and thought it was an amazing gift that you’d love to receive, but then your friend looks unimpressed?  Learning more about how others best receive love can help you be better at showing love and care. 

1. Words of affirmation

The first love language is using words to show someone you care about them, and why.  To show someone support right now using this language, you could point out in conversation how proud you are of the way they’ve been able to handle a tough situation or remind them of a time you shared together and how much it meant to you.  You could also send a card telling them why you care about them, or even a simple text saying “I miss you.”  In a time when casually getting together is not possible or at least not easily part of our routines, surprising a friend with a verbal reminder that you are there and thinking of them can be a wonderful way to feel supported. 

2. Acts of service

Our love languages, like every other aspect of our personalities, are a combination of nature and nurture.  Some people may simply be more wired to appreciate acts of service.  Others may have been conditioned to feel love in this way because someone who cared for them in the past would use this method.  During times of extra stress, I think we are all more receptive to this language of care.  No matter who you are, if you are struggling to find the time, energy, or headspace for everything in your life, it means the world if someone offers to take a piece off of your plate. 

What this looks like can vary greatly depending on what their life is needing.  For those in your household, you could offer to do the dishes or take on an extra chore to free up some of their time.  To support those outside of your home, delivering a meal or offering to do a shopping trip are often appreciated.  For those of us living with chronic illnesses on top of everything else going on, acknowledging that illness adds an additional weight (using words of affirmation here!) and then offering to carry some of that weight by calling an insurance company on their behalf or helping organize safe transportation to doctors’ visits has the double effect of feeling seen and cared for.

3. Receiving gifts

For some people, receiving a thoughtful gift is simply magical.  It shows not only that the person was thinking of you, but that they also knew you well enough to think about what would make you happy, and were willing to spend time and/or money to make it happen.  The good news is that gifts are still an available option during a pandemic!  You could order something online to be shipped to their home, or make something and hand-deliver it. 

The key here is to think about what it is they are needing.  Exhausted by months of trying to amuse the kids?  Try a subscription to services like Little Passports or Kiwi Crates.  Sad to not have access to their usual hobbies and social hangouts?  Find a two-person board game that they could play with just their roommate.  Too tired to deal with groceries and cooking at the end of the day?  How about a trial of a meal service like Blue Apron, Home Chef, or Hello Fresh?  Simply needing to feel pampered?  An at-home spa day could bring some sparkle back into the dull routines of quarantine (and can be much cheaper than a real spa day!).

One last thought here — is your friend someone who loves surprises, or would enjoy the anticipation of what’s to come almost as much as the gift itself?  And while we are coming up on gift-giving holidays (and sales!), remember that receiving a gift out of the blue when it’s not a holiday shows that you thought of someone a little extra.

4. Quality time

The beauty of quality time is that it usually buoys you as much as the person you hope to support!  Like acts of service, quality time with those we love is more universally needed right now than ever.  Finding creative ways to safely get together goes such a long way.  But what does “quality time” look like during quarantine?  To get the best results, think about the person you want to get quality time with.  What would it look like during normal times?  Would you snuggle on a couch and watch a movie?  Go for a hike?  Talk for hours long into the night? 

At the start of quarantine, I made the mistake of thinking that going for a walk and chatting was the best way to see people I missed.  For some, it works great!  But for most of my interactions, I left feeling a lack of connection, that somehow I still missed them even though we’d just spent an hour together.  So I thought about what it was I missed about each friend. 

For certain friends, long vulnerable talks were important, and walking in public spaces did not create the right space to dig in deep.  Instead, talking on the phone or via svideo chat has been more successful.  For another friend, I miss connecting through crafts, so going outside to carve pumpkins, make fairy houses, or draw in our sketchbooks feels more connective, even though we end up talking less.  Still, other friendships require game nights, so we have found online platforms like Netgames, Jackbox, and Board Game Arena to provide structure to our quality time and bring the laughs and strategic thinking that bring us together.

So the next time you want to spend quality time with someone, first chat about what quality time means for the unique relationship the two of you share, and brainstorm ways to safely make it happen.

5. Physical touch

Some of us, when at our wit’s end, simply need to feel the physical presence of someone close to us.  A hug, a snuggle on the couch, or even the rougher physical contact of sports.  This is perhaps the toughest love language to speak during a pandemic.  It is possible, though!  If someone you know feels cared for through physical contact, you could quarantine (14 days or 7 days followed by a COVID-19 test) and then visit them.  You could also contact someone in their household and ask them to give them a bear hug on your behalf.  Or you could buy them a huggable gift, such as a stuffed animal or body pillow.  It may not be the perfect replacement, but hugging something soft, knowing that a friend was thinking of you and wanting to hug you, can help you feel cared for.

The next time you want to show support to someone you love, think about what you have available to give, and what they would feel the most impact from.  And remember, you can always ask if you’re unsure what your loved one needs!  A phone call, card, or even text saying “Thinking of you!” and asking if there’s anything you could do to show some love and support opens the door for your friend to ask when they think of something they need.  We will get through this, together 💚

Has someone in your life shown support in a way that made you feel cared for?  We’d love to hear it in the comments below!

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