Back in the day, we used to have one-screen movie theaters. As a kid, I remember going with my Dad or Mom to the Colonial Theatre to watch whatever was playing. In 1983, my Aunt would drove me over the river into New Jersey to watch War Games. It’s a classic. It’s was the Next Gen AI flick. Matthew Broderick (David) was the player for “Joshua” (the computer). If you’ve not seen it, I can’t ruin it. But as David plays the game, things start to feel too authentic. David asks Joshua, “Is this real or is it a game?” Joshua responds, “What’s the difference?”
This time of year, I can’t help but see those seeking after the perfect holiday. It’s good to be thankful. It’s good to cook food. It’s good to recognize how special people are to you. But, it’s also good to feel good about yourself. Sometimes, the pursuit of so many other things pushes us towards unrealistic perfection rather than simply enjoying the moments. The stress and strain can become almost unbearable for some.
Social media can escalate those feelings. Those posts about family, friends, food, even those about gratitude, can be hard to swallow. They may serve as a reminder of what once was and feels like never will be again. They may serve as a reminder of what never has been. And for those posting, perhaps seeking validation through likes and shares is meant to soothe some open wound or just-below-the-surface misery that these six weeks can bring. It’s easy to portray a reality online but that won’t help the real reality that you have to live. Coping on both sides of this 21st Century social media landscape is challenging, but you are not alone.
So what can we do to help others?
- Check in on people – ask how people are and wait for a real answer. If you know that this holiday season is the first without a particular loved one then you know it’s a transitional year. Stay connected with those people.
- Invite people – if you can, ask others to join you. Look to those who might seem on the fringe. Who is standing off on the sidelines? Maybe a simple ask to join you for coffee is appropriate. Maybe asking the person to join a small group headed out to lunch. Small invitations can be helpful, even if the person declines.
- Think sensitively – while you may want to be a ray of sunshine, it might be a bit too much or over the top. Easy does it. Read the situation and respond appropriately. Be mindful of language that is forceful or commanding. You want to ask and offer, not tell and expect. Engage with the person but keep an eye on how things are being received. Adjust accordingly.
- Be resource ready – if someone shares more than what might be a seasonal blah, and the conversation moves into some heavy stuff, do you have resources to share? Think about your company’s Employee Assistance Plan, if you have one, or know what services your company can access. You’re not a counselor so it’s wise not to act like one. Be friendly, be thoughtful, but don’t be therapeutic. And if someone shares suicidal thoughts or preparation, get help. Don’t wait.
Check with your human resources department to see how to best be ready to tackle the discontentedness, sadness and/or stifling perfection-itis that this season may evoke in others. You can’t solve for all these realities but you can know how to react or to help.
And for those of you struggling, you are not alone. Talk to someone today. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) if you need support. Your life is valuable. You have worth. The holidays do not define you. Do what it takes to heal. Like General Beringer says in War Games, “Well hell, I'd piss on a spark plug if I thought it would do any good!”