Maintaining Friendships When You're Overwhelmed
Engaged, present friendships take time and energy, and that's not a bad thing- until you're feeling buried in your own stuff.
Maybe there's a lot going on at work, your anxiety is acting up, you're processing a big change, or the seasons changing has you exhausted by 5pm. Whatever the reason, we all go through times where we find ourselves withdrawing.
Sometimes we need to cancel plans, say "no" to extra commitments, and allow ourselves to reset and refill. Yet, withdrawing looks different than simply being busy.
When we are busy, it usually still feels possible to respond to texts (even if it takes awhile), see friends occasionally, and keep track of what is happening in their lives. On the other hand, when we are overwhelmed and withdrawing, it's hard enough to get through our own day- let alone remember what is happening for those we care about.
Or respond to their texts.
Or make it to scheduled plans.
Or reach out when they are going through major life changes.
Or express how much it means to us that they are a phone call away even though we can't seem to make the call.
So, while having difficult times or seasons is a part of life, how can we avoid being a bad friend in the process?
Let go of the justification, "but everyone has a lot going on".
It's true. The worlds a mess, we are close to starting a third year of a global pandemic, and everyone does have a lot going on. Yet, as often as I hear from clients who are overwhelmed that they don't want to "burden" those around them, I hear twice as much that people wish their loved ones would reach out or be honest about what they're going through.
Share what you feel comfortable sharing.
It's also true that the friend you cancelled on for the 3rd time in a row may start to take it personally without any other information. This is vulnerable, but it is also an important part of having engaged, present friendships. If you don't feel comfortable sharing what you're going through with someone close to you- explore that. If you just aren't sure what to say, consider:
I know that I haven't been as available lately and I just wanted you to know that I am not trying to distance from you. I'm having a tough time lately and I'm working on it.
I apologize for my absence lately, I haven't been feeling like myself but I want you to know you're still just as important to me!
I am so sorry to keep cancelling/ rescheduling plans. Would you be willing to Facetime or have a phone call soon? I've been feeling overwhelmed and making plans has been hard.
Allow check-ins and clarify what would be helpful.
Oftentimes, when we express that we are having a hard time, people will offer their support and help. While it may go against your "I got this" attitude, try not to shoot it down. Getting a text from someone asking how we are doing or if we need anything feels nice, confirms we aren't alone, and gives us new opportunities to connect.
One thing that may be helpful, though, is sharing what kinds of check-ins would be best for you. Do you want them to check in each week to make sure you're ok/safe? That you're sleeping/eating well? That you're getting to therapy? To see if you're ready to meet up?
While people want to help, they don't always know how to.
Giving direction is helpful for all!
Note who pushes back.
It is rare, but not unheard of, for someone we share our struggles with to use it as an opportunity to remind us of everything they're going through or be angry. Take note of who reacts this way and try not to immediately blame yourself for being open.
More often than not, it is a clear sign that they need to prioritize their own wellness or are in a habit of disregarding their/others emotions. This isn't yours to carry. You have enough to hold. Prioritize connecting with people who make you feel supported, heard, and respected.
Meredith Waller MSW, LCSW
Based in Boulder, CO and offering online counseling throughout Colorado
-Certified Shame-Informed Treatment Specialist
-Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional