A year ago, checking in with friends and family looked very different. Intimate conversations in a comfortable, personal setting were commonplace, and physical affections to comfort a struggling friend were welcomed. This idyllic social scenario, however, doesn’t exist in a pandemic. Now, checking in is suddenly different. So, how do we approach a loved one we suspect is struggling with their emotional wellbeing? How do we cultivate a comfortable atmosphere while being physically apart? Just like the world we live in, this too, is complex, but if we can create the right mind-set within ourselves, we can encourage others to feel comfortable opening up when they need it most. This September weekend, we’re sharing our tips on how to check in with friends and loved ones as we navigate a pandemic and adjust to a new way of a life. Make Sure You’re Prepared Before checking in with a friend or family member, it’s important to check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? Do you have the mental bandwidth to listen and give support? Checking in with yourself first and foremost will ensure you’re prepared for a heavy conversation, and will mentally set yourself up for success as you help someone else navigate their anxieties. Listen Without Judgement Traumas, experiences, and struggles are subjective and unique to the individual. Now is not the time to debate whose traumas are more worthy of sympathy. Listen without judgement. Let them know you’re there for them. Sit patiently with any silences, and take time to ask questions that encourage dialogue such as “how long have you been feeling this way?”, and use your own experiences to relate, not compete. Encourage Healthy Habits There’s no need to dive into the deep end when checking in with a friend or family member. Start small, whether it’s going for a socially distanced walk or, better yet, a workout class. A new activity or experience is a great way to even the playing field and creates a sense of trust and comfort amongst you and the person you’re checking in with. Ensure your loved one is getting a good night's sleep, eating healthy foods, and staying active. Set the foundation for heavier conversations to come by cultivating healthy and consistent habits now. Consider Which Questions to Ask (Or Not Ask) As tempting as it might be, asking someone “are you okay?” isn’t always the best way to start a conversation, and often elicits the standard “I’m fine, thanks” response. Asking open-ended questions instead can lead to a more organic, comfortable, and honest conversation. Questions such as “is there anything on your mind?” or “how was your week?” are great alternatives to the status quo, and can help build a trusting dialogue between you and your friend. Set a Date to Follow Up Whether they unpacked a lot or are just getting started on their self-care journey, the simple act of being seen has the power to change someone’s day. Set a date to follow up with your friend, be it a Zoom call, a socially distanced hike, or a phone call. This shows your loved one not only that you’re serious about their mental health, but shows you’re willing to put the work in, too. Plus, this gives them something to look forward to, and sometimes that can be enough motivation to get through the week. Life right now is weird. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hard, it’s anxiety inducing, and due to the stigma surrounding mental health, many are suffering alone. Luckily, you don’t need to have all the answers, or take on the problems of the world. What we suggest is start small. Check-in with those you care about. And plant the seed so that when your friend needs support, they can turn to you. You might need them one day, too. By Nicole Jerick for Sömn Home. - *If you or someone you love is suffering from depression, mental health resources are available, and we strongly advise consulting a medical professional for proper support and advice. Crisis Services Canada is available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566.