Being a Great Friend: Helping Someone Through Trying Times

When a loved one reaches out to you for support, do you struggle to find the right words to say? Take a look at how you can be there for a friend or a loved one in need.

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The current health crisis is causing the world around us to change rapidly. We all have to learn how to quickly adapt to this new way of living. While this transition is easier on some of us, a lot of people might struggle and experience stress, anxiety or even depression. 

Having someone to rely on for support is critical to helping individuals deal with any difficulty in life. Since most of us are in a state of lockdown, feelings of loneliness are common as well. In such times, reaching out to people who matter to us is critical. In turn, it’s equally important to reciprocate and be there for our loved ones – especially those who might be struggling right now. 

This guide will equip you with some simple tips and strategies that can make you a better friend and offer support to a loved one in need.

Take a look at some recommendations:

Don’t: Ignore the Warning Signs

Do: Be Attentive

With the chaos surrounding us amidst the outbreak, it’s all too easy to miss the warning signs in a loved one. When not identified or addressed early on, mental health concerns get harder to treat. Paying attention to these signs not only allows you to identify problems early on, but also acts as a form of emotional support. Studies show that people often value listening support more than tangible ways of helping. 

The key, then, is to listen to your loved ones. Check in with them and attend to what the other person is trying to convey. Watch out for warning signs – including loss of appetite, poor sleep, feeling sad most of the time, or being afraid of being alone. When you’re speaking to them, block all other distractions and focus your attention on that person. Maintain eye contact while speaking to them, and use encouraging phrases such as ‘hmm’ or nodding your head to convey that you are paying attention.

Don’t: Offer Unsolicited Advice

Do: Help Make Sense of the Situation

More often than not, a person who seeks your help and support is just looking to feel understood.

While talking to them, help them make sense of the situation and together try to understand the problem better. You could do this by imagining yourself in their position and telling them how you would also be struggling like they are right now. You could also ask non-intrusive questions regarding the situation. For instance, you could ask them, “What about this worries you? What are you feeling about this? What do you think is the real problem?” 

If you have factual information about the problem at hand, provide it in a simple manner. Be honest about what you know and don’t know, and offer to help with finding more information. Provide them with the reassurance that you are with them and that they are not alone.

Don’t: Say It’ll All Be Okay

Do: Help Re-appraise the Situation

It’s almost impossible to guarantee that things will turn out okay for someone. We cannot control the situations we face in life, so saying something like, “Everything will be alright,” can seem like superficial and ingenuine advice. Even in the current scenario, we don’t know how and when things will get better. This can make it difficult for us to provide assurance about such things to someone who is stressed or upset about the pandemic in particular. 

When someone is experiencing negative emotions, you can help them evaluate the situation in a more positive light. For instance, if your loved one says, “I hate staying at home, there is nothing to look forward to,” you can point out that at least they are able to stay safe and spend time with their loved ones.

Help them think of the positives in a situation – if nothing else, try to show them how this situation will teach them important lessons in life. This change in thinking can help regulate emotions in a healthy manner. 

Don’t: Be Dismissive of their Feeling

Do: Acknowledge and Accept their Emotions

We are all collectively dealing with a crisis at the moment. A natural reaction to someone’s state of sadness might be to say, “We’re all feeling that way” or “Oh, it will go away”. However, this will do little to help the other person feel better. Instead, it might leave them questioning their feelings, which can make them feel worse.

On the other hand, acknowledging and validating a person’s feelings is an excellent way of expressing your support. You can use statements such as “I’m so sorry. I can imagine this is very difficult”, “I can sense that you are feeling really terrible,” or “This is an incredibly tough time for you.”

Recognising the emotion that someone is feeling and reflecting it back to them can help them feel understood. It can also encourage them to share things with you more openly. You can do even better by helping the other person recognise their strengths and reminding them of their ability to cope with the difficulty at hand.

Don’t: Offer Help if You Can’t Deliver

Do: Refer Them to a Therapist

As much as you’d like to be a constant source of support for someone, it is virtually impossible to always be available to help a loved one in need. Be aware of your limits and refer them to an expert whenever necessary. 

In many situations, the best way to help is to recommend that your loved one reach out to a mental health expert. Try doing your research on good therapists who are providing online therapy. There are multiple platforms that make this task easier by providing a listing of qualified professionals who offer therapy at affordable rates. Offer to help your loved one book an appointment, and check in with them after their session. 

Life is chaotic and overwhelming. Now more than ever, we all need a little bit of love, support and care. With these guidelines in mind, you can do your best to help your loved ones navigate through these trying times.

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