Life can get lonely, especially in moments of hectic schedules, deadlines, intense relationship stress, or, like now, during self isolation due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While it might be possible to retain a secure sense of self and healthy relationships with ourselves a majority of the time, even the best of us get caught up in our emotions, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Some of us have lost support systems due to breakups, divorces, immigration, death or illness, or financial disaster. When someone in our life no longer is able to provide for us emotionally, it can often feel like we are losing a part of ourselves, like our world is falling apart.
The American Psychological Association says that “having strong social support can actually make you more able to cope with problems on your own, by improving your self-esteem and sense of autonomy” adding that by casting a wide net and being open to new social interactions we can create a solid network of support. “You don’t need a huge network of friends and family to benefit from social support, however. Some people find camaraderie among just a handful of people, be they co-workers, neighbors or friends from their church or religious institution, for instance.”
If emotional support is something you need right now, it means you must be proactive in seeking support. To help, here is some advice to get you going in the right direction.
Being vulnerable can be tough. None of us wants to admit our weaknesses to anyone, let alone people we know. However, psychologists believe that in order for us to be able to process our emotions we must connect with others. As researcher Brene Brown put it, “Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.”
When we are vulnerable, we create intimacy with our peers, which in turn produces a more secure network for sharing emotions and receiving feedback, care, and strength from others during difficult times. As Dr. Margaret Paul writes, “Creating a safe enough environment for intimacy to flourish means that each person needs to take responsibility for creating safety within themselves, as well as safety within the relationship. We do this by practicing acceptance and compassion for ourselves, which will then naturally extend to others.
Attachment theory tells us that the impulse to seek outside support systems are latent behaviors instilled in us during infancy and young adolescence. Our propensity for needing others heavily depends on whether we had reliable guardians growing up. If we were raised with insecure or unreliable attachments, we continue to seek validation and security later in life. Our past pain informs our present drives.
However, this means that everyone’s needs vary, so there is no need to feel embarrassed if you feel you are in need of emotional support. Everyone comes from a different situation and a different level of necessary support. If you feel you are not getting enough, it is important to recognize the deficiency and find ways to become more secure on your own while still building a network of external support.
Dr. Lisa Firestone suggests that we 1) ask for what we need, 2) be willing to expose our feelings, 3) say what we want, and 4) slow down and be present. She says this will help us evaluate our current situation and create a plan moving forward, whether that be towards professional help or strengthening current relational supports.
When we are sick, we see our PCP. When we have a broken bone, we see a doctor at a hospital to get a cast. When we need help with our taxes, we see an accountant or a tax professional. But when we are mentally unwell, many people do not consider going to a therapist as part of their solution.
In reality, therapy is there to help us sort out our thoughts. Therapists aid us by hearing our stories and directing us to build constructive and consistent narratives surrounding difficult life circumstances. Positive behavioral therapy can make a huge difference to our lives, even if we only go one hour a week.
Centers like the Harmony treatment center, a clinic dedicated to the treatment of mental illness and restoration of balance and well being, as well as depression treatment using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), can be incredibly effective in confronting even our most difficult thinking patterns.
Behavior Psychologists often attempt to instill security in their patients, allowing for a strong sense of self (self-permanence) and the ability to see beyond momentary struggles.
As experts in human behavior, psychologists can help you develop strategies to manage stress and improve your social skills. Use the APA’s Psychologist Locator Service to find a psychologist in your area. You can also visit www.mentalhealth.gov, a website of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that offers resources in English and Spanish.
One of the most difficult parts about seeking help for mental illness is finding the right source and the right therapist. Not only is GRW Health a great resource, but sites like Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist directory can help you search online for local therapists who are closest to you, handle your particular disorders or life circumstances, and are able to take your insurance plan.
Don’t wait until things get black. It is much better to own up to your mental state, reach out, and start heading towards a brighter future.