What does it really mean to look out for others? This question is especially relevant in the current season; exam results have recently been released, and some of us may be undergoing an emotional time reckoning with our grades. Furthermore, while the exciting festive season of Christmas has arrived, it may also be a turbulent period for those who have lost someone, those spending this season alone, or perhaps those of us who may be struggling with our mental health. The holiday blues are a real but oft unspoken experience. Hence it is imperative that we make an effort to look out for each other.
Think about it – at your lowest moments, what do you crave the most? Many of us would likely answer that we would appreciate a show of concern from those that we are close to. As such, it would be nice if we, too, could equip ourselves with the necessary tools and mindset to offer comfort and assurance whenever we can. This article seeks to impart you with some of these useful tools, so that you can master the art of looking out for those whom you care about. Read on!
Being conscious of changes in behaviours or tone
The key to being aware of when others may need extra care and concern is to look out for any shifts in their normal behaviour or tone. This task might be easier said than done. On a daily basis, it is natural for you to prioritise your own well-being, and focus on looking out for yourself (source). In that sense, it might not be easy to keep track of how others typically act, and consistently look out for multiple people. Some levels of empathy and awareness are required here. Looking out for others would mean genuinely caring about their wellbeing, and noticing if their behaviour becomes slightly abnormal. If the feelings that they express, or the way that they present themselves sees great enough change to be a call for concern, do not hesitate to check up on them immediately.
Be willing to devote your time and energy
Before stepping forward to properly care for someone, be prepared to invest your time and energy in being there for this person. From looking out for the changes in their behaviour, to approaching them, to following up with any form of help that they might require, all of this would require a certain level of devotion on your part.
On a day-to-day basis, it might be difficult to extend your care to multiple people, especially if they require greater attention, such as having a listening ear. As such, identify when intervention from other parties might be required. For peers who are facing one-off troubles, a simple, comforting conversation might be sufficient. However, for peers who show signs of greater struggles in their lives, greater patience and sensitivity might be required on your part. If they express that their mental health has taken a toll on carrying out daily activities like going for classes, eating and sleeping – do not hesitate to offer to consult with other parties. Some resource persons could be trusted peer supporters, adults, or even counsellors. The NUS University Health Centre (UHC) also has useful information on how to support individuals in distress on their website, here.
Identify their love language
According to the author Gary Chapman, there are five kinds of love languages: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, and gift giving (source). While many of us might relate the idea of love language to the context of romantic relationships, these love languages can actually apply well to platonic friendships as well! For close friends, and people whom you know well, think about what kind of love language that they would appreciate receiving the most. For instance, if your friend typically initiates linking arms with you, or embraces you with warm hugs, perhaps they would benefit from receiving quiet acts of physical touch, rather than elaborating greatly on their troubles.
Unsure of what sort of concern your peer prefers? Here’s a tip to test the waters: Gently try demonstrating a form of love language that you think they might appreciate. If it might be words of affirmation, perhaps drop a few encouraging remarks, and observe whether they react positively to you, if at all. However, always be aware of personal boundaries, and know when consent is given or not. If the person is uncomfortable with physical touch, or is in general not responding well to your acts of concern, be conscious of their discomfort and take a step back. While your actions are well-intentioned, not everyone might want you to look out for them in the way that you’re trying to, and that’s okay!
Knowing when to give space
The art of looking out for others is also knowing when to allow them breathing space. The boundaries and preferences of each person can be extremely subjective, hence requiring you to practise empathy and being unafraid to voice out your concerns when in doubt. Everyone has different ways of coping with their troubles. Some of us may prefer a period of introspection as opposed to being supported by others. If the peer that you have reached out to expresses that they would like to be given more space, or if they flatly reject your concern, it is time to respect their boundaries and take a step back. This does not mean backing out of their lives completely – it simply means looking out for them from afar; being conscious of their behaviours and feelings, without being intrusive.
Indeed, this process is a complicated one. For instance, there are peers who may be less direct in expressing their needs and wants – certain people may be hesitant to reach out to others, even when they desire greater care and concern; others may be too polite to explicitly say that they would prefer not to receive such attention. The best way to clarify any doubts is to make your intentions clear, and ask the person what they want directly (e.g. ‘Do you want to talk about something?’, ‘Can I give you a hug?’). Furthermore, being able to pick up on behavioural cues and body language would be extra useful.
Be mindful of your own mental capacity
Understand your own mental state, before deciding to look out for others. After all, how do we care for others if we are not mentally well ourselves? It is important to apply all of the aforementioned tips to yourself, too. Only when you feel at peace with your own mental health, then will you have the capacity to reach out to others, and share their burdens.
Need some self-care ideas? You can refer to this other article we did, where we featured the mental health hacks that other students on campus had tried out!
Regardless of whether it is the school term or the holidays, it is always important to check up on each other’s mental health (including yourself). Life is filled with ups-and-downs, but having someone there to look out for you can make the low points feel a bit better. Hence, it would be great if we could all endeavour to be that person for someone else. If you have any stories about looking out for others, or about others who have cared for you, do share them on Instagram and tag us @nusresidentiallife!