When you’re feeling down in the doldrums, chances are good you’ll respond one of two ways. You might barricade yourself inside your home, not wanting to speak to anyone. Or you may reach out to friends, unloading your worries on their listening ears. Neither approach is wrong.
Whichever way you naturally gravitate, it may be difficult to understand those who act differently than you do when they’re feeling fragile. If you hunker down, you might be amazed by your boyfriend, who likes to jabber out his anxieties. And talkers might be confused by their best friend, who disappears for weeks when she’s feeling down.
Here’s why you might be inclined to reach out or retreat — and advice on helping others who do the opposite.
When a thousand stressors weigh on your brain, sometimes the only way to relieve pressure is by letting off steam. Perhaps you invite your bestie over for Chinese food, a sad movie, and a long cry. Or maybe you rant, unloading all of your worries on your mom. You might even type a long email to a trusted confidante, laying bare all your woes.
Talking through your fragile feelings with a trusted friend or loved one works much like talk therapy. True, you won’t receive insight from a licensed professional counselor, but discussing your anxieties helps you sort out your true feelings. After weeks in the doldrums, a venting session with a friend may help you realize a nasty interaction with your ex sparked the sadness. You can gain valuable perspective, too: maybe things aren’t as severe as they appear.
But letting off too much steam isn’t healthy, either. If your venting comes out as rage, or you’re ruminating obsessively over an idea or choice, your health may be at risk. Heart attack risk increases threefold if you’re prone to temper tantrums — so make sure your venting remains constructive. Plus, frequent outbursts may alienate friends and family members, who aren’t trained or obligated to help.
Your best option: speak with a qualified therapist, who can identify unhealthy coping mechanisms (like angry ranting) and provide the myriad benefits of talk therapy.
How to help someone who reaches out
If your friend is going through a difficult time, offer a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. Ignore the temptation to offer advice, listen intently, and pay close attention — now isn’t the time for multitasking with some Candy Crush. Maybe your pal simply needs to let off steam.
But if you suspect their troubles run deeper, encourage them to seek professional help.
Hiding out beneath the covers can seem like the only option when you’re feeling sad. What better way to get over a hump than an America’s Next Top Model marathon? Besides, every time you step out into society, it feels like taking a risk. Will you cry in public? Will you say yet another dumb thing that amplifies your bad mood? Will you (ugh) see your ex?
In certain situations, wallowing is acceptable — science even says that a period of rumination can help you move on after a bad breakup. Give yourself time to heal after something bad happens. There’s no shame in an extended break from society.
But set a limit on your alone time. Sadness can quickly transform into depression — which can be deadly if left untreated. Depression is the country’s leading cause of disability, and affects around 5 to 8 percent of adult Americans every year. If you’re prone to retreating during times of fragility, know the symptoms of the disease.
The more you fold in on yourself, the more difficult it becomes to reach out for help from a friend or a therapist.
How to help a retreater
If you’re worried about a friend who has dropped off the face of the planet, tread carefully. Not everyone is receptive to a suggestion that might might be dealing with a condition like depression. Waiting for them to reach out may be the best strategy — someone who is merely sad or has mild depression symptoms may simply need a few weeks alone.
But if you haven’t heard from them in a while, consider sending a brief message. Let them know you care and want to talk to them. Don’t push the issue, but leave an opening for further communication. Once they’re ready, they’ll reach out.
There’s one major caveat: if your friend expresses suicidal ideation, make sure to contact a trained professional immediately. The Suicide Prevention Hotline can help guide you through this process.
No Matter Your Style, There are Solutions
Whether you deal with your stress by reaching out or retreating, consider addressing your mental health concerns with a therapist, who can teach you coping strategies. With their guidance, you’ll be feeling cheerier in no time.