How Girls Can Shield Themselves from Stressful Friend Updates

The Dilemma: Let’s say your girl is FaceTiming her friend Jamie, and out of nowhere Jamie starts talking about how she is going to go crazy if she has to keep staying home and is worried this pandemic will never end. Perhaps, Jamie adds: “What if we’re stuck in our homes forever and this is the new normal?! Can you even imagine?” Your girl, who was feeling okay five minutes ago, is now freaking out, and doesn’t know how to stop this conversation. So she sits there barely breathing. What can she do?

Just about all of us are thinking a whole lot about boundaries. There’s, of course, the physical boundary of social distancing; the emotional boundaries with the folks we live with, and hearing from people we maybe were not looking to reconnect with (like, ever). For this post, we’re focusing on the boundary we all need to create when someone calls our girl/us and drops upsetting info (a statistic, a headline, a fear). We may get quickly knocked off-center before we even realize it’s happening. For girls, this is particularly tricky because setting clear boundaries may feel like they’re risking a friendship right when they most need connections. So how do we advise them? What can anyone do? We talked with a couple of experts and created a gameplan.

Note to parents: Before talking to our girls about this, we have to acknowledge the very real tension between girls advocating for themselves and the fear of angering a friend, advises Alison Shaw, owner of her private Bodymind Repatterning in Arlington, MA, counselor and teacher of mind-body health and natural wellness. “Friendship connection is almost always going to win out over advocating for themselves,” she says, “However, it doesn’t have to be either/or. We can give girls the tools they need to be authentic and protect themselves while also tending to their relationships.”




Let’s go back to the example with Jamie from our intro. Here is a framework for our girls to get through these sticky moments:

Step 1: Pay attention to your body’s messaging. Typically, there’s a place each of us holds stress in our bodies, signaling us something is wrong (i.e. Jamie is freaking me out with her talk about this pandemic not ending!). It might be a clenching in the gut (or stomach area), jaw, shoulders or back. As soon as your girl notices that her body is clenched/tight, that’s the cue to pay attention.

Step 2: Envision (and feel) a shield. Next, your girl can take her hand and put it right on top of that body part experiencing the fear. “She can think of her hand as a force shield,” says Alison, “and the stressful words can no longer get inside her body with that shield up.” She can also imagine a shield of her choice protecting her from the other person’s negative words. Maybe, says Alison, it’s a shield made of Teflon or a loud barking dog standing guard, or a lion or a bubble that surrounds her, whatever makes her feel most safe. She shouldn’t just picture it, but really experience how it feels to have that shield up!

Step 3: Address the issue. Your girl doesn’t have to make a huge declaration here (i.e. “Jamie, you’re freaking me out! Knock it off or I’m hanging up!). She can say something like, “I’ve decided I need a break from talking about the virus. Let’s talk about something else. Have you heard (singer’s name here) video she just released?” If she can’t think of anything to say in the moment, she can always say she needs a bathroom break and will call back. While in the bathroom, she can take some deep breaths, put up  her shield (hand over body part that feels tight), decide if she wants to call back and strategize about how to switch topics.

Step 4: Consider hanging up. If the friend isn’t getting the point and continues talking about the virus, your girl can say, “You know what? I totally get that you want to talk about this and you find it helpful. I just really need a break from it. Should we talk again tomorrow?” Or, she can always say, “My mom’s calling and I’ve got to go now.” The point is taking charge of the situation the best she can. She can take some deep breaths and remind herself she’s in control here, and she’s okay.

Step 5: Quieting any guilt. If your girl is feeling guilty about upsetting her friend – and worried about hurting the friendship – that’s normal. Suggests Dr. Ilene Cohen, psychotherapist and blogger for Psychology Today and Psych Central, “We tend to exaggerate how upset the other person is. Even if the person is mad though, that doesn’t mean we did anything wrong or that there’s anything to fix.” We can tell our girls that they can always check in later with their friend and say, “I just wanted to explain that I don’t think by talking about the virus you did anything wrong. I get that it might make you and others feel better to talk about it. For me, it feels better right now to take a break from it. So I hope we can talk about other stuff.” In that way, our friends are clear they’re not being judged; and girls can feel good about taking care of themselves.

Michelle Cove is the Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls how to critique the way girls and women are portrayed in pop culture with an emphasis on creating empowering content. She is also an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and author whose projects have been featured on numerous national platforms including “The Today Show,” The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Sign up to receive a free recording of our talk:  MEDIAGIRLS: “Help Girls Make Healthy Social-Media Choices in this Unsettling Time.”


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