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What To Do If Your Loved Ones Are Talking About Suicide

What To Do If Your Loved Ones Are Talking About Suicide

Let me ask you a question. If a loved one were in extreme pain and suffering excruciating agony, would you call a doctor or phone 911? No doubt you answered yes. In many ways, a loved one who is considering suicide is going through a similar agony. The only difference is that he or she is suffering from a psychological pain which is making their existence unbearable. That is why you must help.

Here are ten tips to help you reach out and support a loved one who is talking about suicide. I am not a psychologist but I am merely offering some advice which is advocated by most of the suicide prevention agencies. This is important, I feel, as our attitudes to mental health are still in the middle ages. Also, the CDC reports that in the USA, there were over 8 million people who reported having suicidal thoughts last year. About 25% of those had actually moved on to the planning stage.

1. Don’t brush it under the carpet

Once your loved one starts to make remarks about ending it all, it is important to sit up and take notice. Something is terribly wrong and the subject must never be a taboo. A life is at stake here. You need to show that you have heard their cry for help. Being there means being prepared to talk about it.

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2. Talk to them and listen attentively

The worst thing you can do is to try and talk the person out of the idea of suicide. This will probably have a negative effect because the person will feel like they are not understood. They really believe that nothing can lift them out of their despondency and hopelessness. You are there to listen and to try tounderstand why they have arrived at this point.

First, you need to give the person your full attention. Make sure you are not distracted by your cell phone. Lean forward and keep eye contact. It is important to ask about the reasons and then repeat them back. This shows you are actually listening! There is no need for any judgmental comments or cheerful platitudes, so avoid these at all costs.

3. Show empathy for them

All the experts recommend that we show empathy rather than sympathy towards a friend or loved one who is suicidal. Dr. Robert Firestone has explained that the person has converted all the negativity in their lives into a sort of destructive and terrible self-critical “anti-self” which takes over completely. That is why they need to discover their real selves. By being close to them and giving them the support they need, we can help them along the path to survival and life.

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4. Ask if they have made any plans

You could ask if they have actually made any plans about how and when they plan to commit suicide. If you think there is any imminent danger of an attempt, then you should call the nearest National Suicide Helpline in your area.

5. Ask about how they have coped with suicidal thoughts up to now

For many people, suicidal thoughts are nothing new. They have been over this ground many times. You could ask them how they managed to cope by not attempting suicide at various times in the past. Psychologists recommend homing in on the positives which persuaded them that it was not worth it.

6. Agree on an action plan

A friend of mine who is gravely ill once told a doctor that she was going to end it all. His reply was, “Well, that is one solution. Now let’s talk about other solutions.” This is the key to developing an action plan with your loved one. You plan out a series of things that have to be done. You both make a commitment to carry out certain tasks. Ask him or her to repeat back what you have agreed on. They will value the structure because they feel they are falling to pieces. You can agree that your loved one will promise not to harm himself in any way for a specific period. This is just the first step. You can try repeating the agreement out loud as this will reinforce the message that you are both in this together and are totally committed. Make sure they have the telephone numbers of the helplines as this will be part of the back up plan, should they feel that they cannot make it and you are away.

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7. Encourage them to recall happy moments and hope in life

You can help a loved one by helping them develop coping strategies. These can include having a box with treasured souvenirs which they can look at which will remind them of the reasons to live. These may be favorite photos and other mementos of happier times. Psychologists often refer to this as a “hope kit.” Another good strategy is to get them to make a list of reasons for living. Both these tasks serve the purpose of moving away from being totally passive which fuels suicidal thoughts.

8. Discuss a safety plan

This can include a list of things to do to cope with overwhelmingly negative thoughts. It could be an outing, sports, cooking, watching a funny video or just going for a walk. Make sure they have your number to call or another trusted friend or relative. They also need the suicide helpline number (International Association for Suicide Prevention). Staying safe and staying active should be key elements in your action plan.

9. Encourage them to achieve mini goals

The action plan will contain mini goals so that the enormity of the task does not overwhelm them. We are there to encourage them to learn skills and coping mechanisms to help with each suicidal crisis. The process is an ongoing one but the sense of weathering the storm will be a forceful message that staying alive is worth it after all.

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10.Try to help them see long term goals

When the immediate crisis has passed, it is important to look at long term goals. These may include getting help and treatment from a mental health provider or a support group. While you cannot fulfil this role, you can at least be there and help them move forward in taking the first steps. Offer to go with them to their first appointment, if they are okay with that.

As suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in the USA, it is better to be vigilant rather than let things drift.

Let us know in the comments how you have helped a loved one who has talked about suicide.

Featured photo credit: Talk/ Matus Laslofi via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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