We have talked about the value of connections for wellbeing in our Christmas messages so far. But it’s important to remember that withdrawal from social relationships can also be a strategy for people’s wellbeing, at times. When someone we know does this, it can be easy to take it personally, or to misinterpret their actions. An important ability in managing our social relationships is understanding when someone withdraws, but could do with you reaching out, or when they just need some space for a while.
In our Community Health Networks study , while social connections were rated as very good for wellbeing by participants on the whole, they also discussed how it can be stressful maintaining social relationships, especially if you are feeling ill or low, or life is just stressful. During these times, an active wellbeing strategy can be withdrawal from relationships because it is beyond what is manageable at the time. As a result, it can be difficult to keep some relationships going, or to rekindle them. But it’s also important not to feel suffocated by relationships during stressful times. One participant talked about how he hoped he had built up enough good will during the nine months a year he was feeling ok, to see his relationships through the three months a year when he was low and so withdrew.
Case study: “Knowing when to back off, and when to turn up on the door step to give a hug and lend a ear”
Knowing when to offer a helping hand or ear to your friends or family can be tricky. You are worried about someone but they are requesting you give them time out – space. So did they mean it, or maybe it is code for “help me”? I know my standard reaction when people offer me help is “I’m fine” – it trips off the tongue so easily. I broke my finger last week falling in the street as I walked to catch the train after dropping the kids at school. A really stupid accident and when my friends offered lots of lovely help I did my usual “It’s fine, thanks we are fine” instead of accepting the lift to school. So I see the dilemma in my own reactions as well as worrying what to do when I see the mood dip of someone on facebook or a close friend experiences a mental health crisis. It is a real challenge when the support you are asked to provide is to “back off”. How long do you do that for and is that the best way to support someone in distress?
Obviously each friendship is different and a wide network of people in a friendship group offer different types of support. It’s reassuring to know when one person is the link and others can “back off” in confidence it’s helping. Christmas is a challenging time when you are living with depression and we know people need different support to get through it. This was well voiced this week by @bipolarblogger, and a news piece for @bbcouch. For me personally the biggest challenge is knowing when the signal to “back off” transfers into “show you are still there and care”. Sitting passively in the background is not an excuse to go to sleep and forget people. Findings ways to show unobtrusive support and kindness is crucial.
- Christmas can be exhausting and some people need time away from socialising. It’s important to remember that this can be due to many personal circumstances, but that letting someone know you’re there for them without being overly persistent can be a valuable way to offer support. This can be a difficult balance of too much but not too little, because sometimes social contact is still worthwhile, even if someone is not in the mood.
- Sending a text message occasionally so people know you are thinking of them maintains contact and offers the chance to plan other activities.