Most of us are using Zoom, Houseparty or Facetime to stay connected with friends and family while social distancing. A lot of the time, we default to small talk or party games, which is understandable ― we all need a little distraction right now!
But in going that route, we sometimes dance around asking the big questions: How are you doing ― like, really doing? What are you worried about right now? Your job security? Your parents or grandparents getting coronavirus? Are you concerned about what life will look like after social distancing restrictions are lifted?
Of course, some methods of broaching weightier subjects are better than others. (A generic “how are you”? is easy enough to sidestep: “I’m fine, how are you?”) We asked therapists to share six questions to ask if you want to see how your loved ones are really doing as they adjust to our new (hopefully as-temporary-as-possible!) normal.
There’s one caveat: The person on the other end of the call may not want to go as deep as you do ― and that’s totally fine.
“You have to notice and respect the person’s current disposition or mood,” said Symonne Kennedy, LMSW, a psychotherapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. “If they’re not willing or wanting to talk in that moment, conveying that you recognise this and that it’s OK can go a long way for any future conversations.”
If they are willing, though, these conversations starters can be helpful.
“I’ve been struggling with this. Have you?”
“Encouraging family and friends to open up can be as simple as opening up yourself! Instead of focusing on your personal highlight reel, think of the personal struggles you’re facing and share with others. When you open yourself up and allow yourself to be seen, you create a safe container for others to share their own vulnerabilities.
When asking questions, try relaying a personal struggle to segue into the question. For example, you might say something like, ‘I have been having a really tough time sticking to a schedule during quarantine. Have you been experiencing this too, or do you have any tips?’ Or you could try saying, ‘I’m going through waves of emotion through this experience. How have you been feeling?’” ― Danielle Massi, a marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia.
“How are you coping with your fears of catching the virus?”
“Facetime with friends and close families give you a chance to open up about concerns you may have compartmentalised during the day. Be aware of your feelings, especially your fears. Share the sensible steps you’re taking to protect yourself and others in the prescribed ways, like physical distancing, wearing a mask in public and often washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap
“Follow up with questions about how your friend or family member is coping: You might ask, ’Are you noticing yourself acting differently in daily life, like doing more emotional eating, drinking, or arguing with your partner?′ In these stressful times, some people may be doing more binge drinking, emotional eating or taking out their frustrations about being sheltered in place by picking fights with their spouse or whoever they live with.” ― Marcia Naomi Berger, a psychotherapist and the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted.
“How are you really doing?”
“My suggestion is to lay the cards on the table and just dive in. ‘How are you really? I want to know how this has been for you.’ Let your loved one know that you are interested in their actual experience and not just the pleasantries of the typical, ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m good’ exchange we’ve grown accustomed to can go a long way.” ― Kennedy
“What was the highlight of your day?”
“Consider asking about positive changes they’ve noticed, or something beautiful or interesting they’ve seen or learned recently. Open up the sharing conversation on a positive or neutral note. Then if you’d like to discuss something tougher, it’s easier from that stepping stone. If you start with the hard stuff, it can feel invasive, condescending or surprising to suddenly start asking them especially if it’s not a typical part of your dynamic to ask probing questions.” ― Rachel Kazez, a Chicago therapist and founder of All Along, a program that helps people understand mental health and find therapy
“How are you managing day-to-day?”
“This question essentially means: how are you coping? I ask it when I went to see if anything significant stands out for my family and close friends. Then you can even can ask, ‘What have the last 24 hours been like for you?’ This expands on question one.
“Just acknowledging that people everywhere are struggling at this time and it’s OK to feel sad or down is helpful. It’s OK not to have a lot of motivation to do things. Asking questions like this helps us deal with the emotional roller coaster that we’re all experiencing right now.” ― Kristin Davin, a psychologist in New York City
“What are some of the things you’ve been doing to entertain yourself or keep busy?”
“Add some encouragement to the conversation! Ask: ‘What are some of the things you have been doing to entertain yourself or keep busy?’ Focus on some of the things we can do at a time when there is so much we can’t do.” ― Kennedy
Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but its guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.