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  • Jenny Simon MC, LPC, PhD

Community Care

What is Community Care? How can we create a community that cares?

In the summer of 2019 Nakita Valerio's Facebook post went viral, “Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need community care is how we fail people.” Nakita wrote an article for in April 2019, “Community care means showing up; it means that when you find yourself in the position of being able to give more than you need to receive, you do so.” Her website states that "Nakita is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada.” Overnight, she coined the phrase community care. This idea gives me hope in a time of uncertainty and violence.

I want to participate in this movement. I want to show up and give back. I think we do this by noticing when people are struggling or in distress. We can engage in community care by identifying common mental and emotional concerns in people around us. Let’s look at common ways that people struggle and then define how we can help.

Three common human concerns are sadness, worry, and a lack of focus. When we see people in this type of distress, we can provide care in very simple, easy ways! Let’s define the signs of struggle, identify how we can care, and then we can have the opportunity to go deeper, if we choose.


Depression is a big label. Sadness is a good substitute.

Things you will see:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol

  • Acting impulsively

  • Aggression or anger

  • Change in eating habits (eating more, eating less)

  • Change in sleeping habits (usually more tired)

  • Concentration problems

  • Dramatic mood changes

  • Feeling trapped

  • Feeling worthlessness or guilt

  • Frequent aches and pains

  • Frequent illness

  • Hopelessness or helplessness

  • Irritability or Restlessness

  • Lack of energy

  • Loss of interest in activities

  • Making statements about how people would be better without them

  • Negative self-talk

  • Sadness

  • Tearfulness or frequent crying

  • Tiredness

  • Withdrawal from friends

Things you can do as a community that cares:

Identify directly what you are seeing, “You seem down lately. What is going on?”

Describe the things that have changed, “Last month you were really excited and today you seem frustrated.”

Ask the person directly, “Are you ok?”

Offer phases that you support them and see them:

  • "I care"

  • "I'm here for you"

  • "Is there anything I can do to help?"

  • "Do you need someone to talk with?"

  • "Your life makes a difference to me"

  • "I understand" (If You Really Do)

  • "It's OK to feel this way"

  • "You aren't weak/defective/broken"

  • "What do you do when you get sad?"

Give them quality time: don’t try to fix it, just be a good listener.

Provide resources outside of you that are anonymous

Bring up therapy: “It might help to talk to a neutral person about what you are going through.”

If you want to go deeper:

  1. Do research on depression and ask the person about their unique sad symptoms and how sadness shows up in them.

  2. Ask about their support system, “Who do you call when you feel down?” “Are there religious or spiritual communities that you are connected with?” “Who are the good listeners?”

  3. Ask about self-care, “What do you do to engage in self-care when you are sad?”

  4. Suggest letter writing or journaling as a great way to communicate frustrations and sadness.

  5. Suggest that they watch a sad movie and allow themselves to cry! Give them permission to feel


Anxiety has a stigma. You can call it stress, worry, or getting worked up.

Things you will see:


  • Apathy

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Feeling trapped

  • Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness

  • Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion

  • Frequent anger, frustration, or hostility

  • Frequent crying

  • Frequent feelings of guilt or shame

  • Frequently feeling annoyed

  • Inability to sleep, nightmares, or disturbing dreams

  • Increased irritability

  • Increased or decreased appetite

  • Little interest in appearance

  • Mood swings

  • Nervous habits or fidgeting

  • Panic

  • Racing, repetitive thoughts about worries, fears, and doubts

  • Sadness

  • Trouble learning new information


  • Arguing

  • Being late for meetings

  • Constant tiredness, weakness, or fatigue

  • Discomfort when talking to others

  • Excessive gambling or impulsive buying

  • Feeling defensive or worried

  • Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs

  • Increased number of accidents or falling

  • Increased smoking, alcohol, or drug use

  • Isolation

  • Neglecting their appearance/hygiene

  • Nightmares

  • Poor performance

  • Procrastination

  • Repetitive or compulsive behavior

  • Social anxiety

  • Weight gain or loss without diet


  • Body aches and muscle pain

  • Cold hands or feet

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Faintness or dizziness

  • Frequent “allergy” attacks

  • Frequent colds or infections

  • Gritting or grinding your teeth

  • Headaches, jaw clenching or pain

  • Heartburn, stomach pain, or nausea

  • Pounding/racing heart

  • Rashes

Things you can do as a community that cares:

Identify directly what you are seeing, “You seem stressed out.”

Describe the things you are seeing. Stress is the body’s warning signal that something is not right.

Offer phrases to normalize the experience of stress:

  • “Many people feel stressed about ______ (money, school, work), there are ways to feel better.”

  • "It's OK to feel this way"

  • "You aren't weak/defective/broken"

  • "What do you do when you get stressed?"

Give them quality time: don’t try to fix it, just be a good listener.

Never say calm down, it doesn’t work and usually creates more tension.

Bring up therapy: “It might help to talk to a neutral person about what you are going through.”

If you want to go deeper:

  1. Get them up and go for a walk! (Outside is better)

  2. Pause and reflect on their successes, celebrating mini success matter!

  3. Ask them to plan 15 minutes each day to unfocus. DO NOTHING.

  4. Do progressive muscle relaxation with them. (Tense each muscle and release, from the toes up or the head down)

  5. Ask them to create a gratitude journal

  6. Ask them to take 3, 3-minute breaks in your day to listen to soft, relaxing music

  7. Have the person create a self-care plan, put activities in your phone and set alarms to do them.

  8. Offer yoga

  9. Offer walking meditations

  10. Offer to download relaxation apps onto their phone. My favorite is Insight Timer:


Things you will see:

  • Lack of social skills

  • A need to be first, now, cannot wait

  • Overwhelmed by lights, sound, information

  • Everything is irritating

  • Distractibility, inability to pay attention

  • Hyperactivity

  • Impulsivity

  • Frustrated

  • Disorganization

  • Stress intolerance

  • Missing work or social engagements

Things you can do as a community that cares:

  1. What are they eating for breakfast?

  2. Are they sleeping?

  3. Was there a change in medication?

  4. Did they just experience a trauma? Lack of focus is normal after a trauma.

  5. Are they getting too much screen time? Screen stimulate the nervous system and shut down the frontal lobe.

  6. Ask about the history of this lack of focus. When did this start?

  7. Ask them, “What helps?”

  8. Simplify instructions and simplify choices. Give short directions and have them repeat them back to you. (Don’t expect group or written directions to have an impact.)

  9. They need to feel engaged or they will tune out.

  10. Encourage exercise, it helps work off excess energy, and it helps focus attention. Outside is a safe place to escape and release energy.

  11. Keep as predictable of a schedule as possible, do what you say you are going to do.

  12. Teach self-calming or relaxation techniques to help them become self “experts”.

  13. Help them organize. Start with a list of what they need to do first

  14. Prepare them for schedule changes or anticipate problems.

  15. Break difficult tasks down into smaller segments, giving them an opportunity for success.

If you want to go deeper:

  1. Engage in active listening.

  2. Get up and take a walk (in nature) with them.

  3. Have the person identify a friend to call when they feel alone.

  4. Look into guided meditations. (There are so many free apps for your phone)

  5. Ask the person to help someone else.

  6. Suggest a nap and good sleep.

  7. Listening to music is a great helper.

  8. Meditation is useful for regulating the nervous system.

  9. Laughter is the best medicine.

We can engage in community care by looking out for each other. Instead of ignoring, we can notice and offer support. We are a community that cares, don’t be afraid to reach out and notice that someone is upset.

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