Whether you're concerned about coronavirus, unnerved about the upcoming presidential election, or simply trying to juggle school drop-off with typical levels of anxiety or fatigue, it's easy to feel overwhelmed—and to struggle to fit in self-care. (Not to mention that we get so many mixed messages about what self-care is even supposed to look like; it's not a bath and a glass of rosé for everyone.)
If you feel like someone in your life could use a reminder that it's OK to put their own oxygen mask on first, you might want to offer a "random act of emotional support."
"When thinking about expressing love and support to someone, it is important we consider their love language (or the way they best understand love and the ways in which they feel loved)," notes Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Wilton, Connecticut. "Some people light up when they are given words of support, written cards, or compliments. For others, a small gift like flowers, chocolate, or something thoughtful that says 'I know you' communicates love. For many, stepping in and doing something speaks volumes."
It's also crucial that your actions and words are aligned. "Acts of love are so important because they validate and reinforce the verbal messages that we give to our partners and loved ones," notes Feliciano.
If you're looking for a way to show—and tell—someone you're there for them, and they're allowed to take a time-out to put their emotional health first, check out our roundup of cute, creative, and expert-suggested strategies.
1. Step in to Do the To-Dos
"As a working mom with four kids, for me nothing says love like doing my laundry or cleaning up after dinner," shares Feliciano.
Elizabeth Trovato, a mom of one from New Jersey, was touched when her husband sent a text message that served as a "get out of mom and household duties" free card for the day.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Trovato
2. Make a Thoughtful Move
A small, but meaningful act that reminds your loved one that you're looking out for them can help them feel supported, so they have the space, time, and/or comfort level to take care of themselves.
Lindsay Tigar from Boston describes a move like this: "When my boyfriend and I moved in together, I kept thinking something was wrong with our thermostat. Each night, we would set the temperature low, but when I would walk upstairs to get coffee in the morning, it was always set at the normal daytime temperature. With baseboard heat, we both wanted to be mindful of our electricity bill, so I worried we would be charged a crazy amount for this mishap. I work from home and my partner works in an office, so I finally texted him to express my concern. His response? 'I automatically programmed the thermostat to turn up by 8 a.m. every morning in the kitchen and in your home office since I didn't want you to be cold to start your day.' It's a little gesture that's so thoughtful and makes me feel like he's here with me, even when he's not!"
3. Try a Post-It Filled With Supportive Reminders and Questions
A mom, writing under the handle Mylittledot, shared an example of a note from her "incredible" husband in the subreddit r/BeyondTheBump. The note serves as a quick self-care guide filled with reminders like, "you're loved by your husband and 2 perfect babies," as well as helpful questions like, "Have you eaten recently? Spent time outside?"
4. Just Show Up
Haley Neidich, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Florida and Connecticut says that if people are having a truly hard time or depressed, they might make excuses and try to avoid spending time in a social setting. "If you know someone you love is struggling, tell them that you're stopping by to drop off dinner from their favorite takeout place and let them decide whether they want you to stay and visit or not. Showing up for them even when they don't know how to ask is an important way to be there."
5. Recognize Their Efforts and Say "Thank You"
You might write a letter or share your thoughts on just how much your partner or friends are doing for everyone around them. That's what a dad named Zack Williams did in a viral post last fall.
Williams observed, "The fact that my wife can’t even shower without caring for someone else; tending to someone else’s needs. She doesn’t get a second to herself to relax. My wife doesn’t get to clock out, my wife doesn’t get the satisfaction of seeing a check deposited in the bank in return for her hard work, my wife doesn’t get to eat lunch with coworkers, my wife doesn’t get to just walk outside and just take a deep breath ... It’s the little things like this that don’t go unnoticed. It’s the little things like this that constantly remind me how badass she is."
6. Truly "See" Them
"Most people aren't listened to," points out caregiver coach Marisa Pasquini. "They aren’t seen and acknowledged. It’s hard to put a value on giving the gift of presence to another. I was talking to a caregiver the other day who was so frustrated, tired, and trying to put on a happy face. As she shared more deeply, she wept. The gift of presence allowed her to express her deeper feelings and come up with ideas for self-care."
Stephanie Parmely, Ph.D., a psychologist in Folsom, California, agrees, explaining, "The notion of feeling 'seen' triggers mirror neurons in our brains that produce serotonin and dopamine. People feel good when someone validates them because it’s a form of mirroring. And while it’s not always important to provide advice, validation should always come before giving suggestions."
7. Remind Them of Their Favorite Things
Hannah Nelson Smith from New York explained that after her sister lost her partner, she was devastated to see her in such emotional and physical pain. "As a way to bring some sense of happiness back into her life, I started jotting down things I knew made her happy," noted Smith. "Just small notes all over a piece of paper in different colors. I wrote down things like: hot cocoa on a snowy day, fresh sheets, a run after a long day, our dad’s contagious laugh, traveling and new adventures, bananas and peanut butter, puppies and llamas, Saturday mornings, rainbows after a storm, snuggling with friends during a good movie, etc."
Later, Smith framed the notes so she could look at all of them collectively when she was feeling down—and, as it turned out, her sister said the thoughtful project helped her get through truly dark moments.
8. Text an Out-Of-The-Blue Compliment
Pouria Mojabi, cofounder of online network Supportiv, says he'll recall times when he has felt anxious and think about what would have made him feel better. He'll then text that to a loved one. Something like "Hey, did you know you're an exceptionally resilient person? Just wanted to say so if you didn't." Mojabi explains, "It helps my anxiety to know I may have brightened someone else's day, and it lets my friends know that they are not alone."
9. Un-Plan Time Together
Sometimes the lack of a plan can be the most supportive—not to mention liberating—game plan. "Allow for downtime, and hang out without an agenda or set to-do," recommends Randi Levin, a transitional life strategist. "The gift of downtime is restorative and can be done together or independent of one another. Fill it with things that you love to do together or things that you personally enjoy."
10. Venmo Them
Leslie H. Tayne, Esq., an author and financial attorney, recommends electronically sending even a small sum, such as $5 with a personalized note, such as, "Your next coffee is on me!" Not only can this can lift a loved one's mood and let them know that you’re thinking of them, but it can encourage them to do something kind for themselves.