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On January 20, the first case of COVID-19 (coronavirus) was reported in the United States. Since then, more than 103,000 cases have been confirmed and the country has all but come to a stop. Many have lost their jobs, struggle to find childcare and are worried about the health of ill or elderly relatives. You may be supporting a partner or friend who is among the many facing a multitude of challenges or concerns. While you want to be the voice of reason and help relieve some of their worries, there’s an over-used blanket statement to avoid.

Calm down.

The statement, while said with the best of intentions, can actually throw fuel on the flames of fear. It immediately signals to the recipient that their concerns are visible and may even be disruptive. These well-intentioned words can miss the mark when your loved one needs you to be a listening ear or shoulder of support. Instead of instructing an anxious friend to ‘calm down,’ try these actions and words of encouragement.

Instead of saying ‘calm down,’ try…

  1. Listen.

In many situations, your friend doesn’t want a solution, they just want to be heard. Offer a judgment-free space for your loved one to share their concerns and frustrations. Support them by making yourself available with a phone call or walk to let them know you’re happy to listen.

  1. Offer support in their way.

After you’ve supported your friend by listening, don’t try to solve their problems. It’s not helpful to give, “What I would do” solutions. Help your loved one in their way by asking, “What can I do to help you?” This gives them the opportunity to accept and use your support.

  1. Take a breath.

Literally. Ask them to take a deep breath and release it slowly. The few seconds it takes to pause and allow air to fill your lungs makes it impossible to speak. Instead of airing their worries, your friend is forced to take a mental break and re-center. A few deep breaths will help.

  1. What are our options?

Help shift your friend’s focus away from the negative events in their life and concentrate on solutions. By asking, “What are our options?” you imply you’re willing to help solve the issue, and you naturally start the brainstorming process. Offer ideas as possible solutions but avoid telling your loved one what they should do.

  1. This is just one chapter of your life.

Remind your loved one of the big picture. Today is challenging, but there are so many better days ahead. It’s easy to become fixated on our problems and hard to see beyond them. Be the friend who empathetically reminds a loved one that this is just one chapter in the entire novel of life.

  1. It’s ok to be upset.

In a society where “positive thinking” has transitioned from a lifestyle to a trend, remind your loved one they have the right to be upset. It’s ok for them to feel exactly how they’re feeling, as long as they regroup and move beyond the stress and anger. Validate their emotions while also supporting their next steps into a better tomorrow.

  1. Let’s get moving.

Hit the gym (or virtual workout), yoga class or meditate together. Physical activity is proven to release endorphins, bettering your mood and helping develop mental clarity. Even if it’s a walk around the park, get moving with your loved one to boost the feel-good hormone.

It’s easy to allow someone’s anxiety or anger make you feel uncomfortable. Overcome your own negative emotions by encouraging your loved one in a personalized way. With the right actions, your friend will calm down without you ever telling them to do so.

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