How to Help a Friend Through a Tough Time
Concrete ways to offer love and support.
Like a boat out at sea, life is often unpredictable. Some days, the sun shines and a gentle breeze fills our sails, nudging us towards our destination. On other days, storm clouds gather and our vessel is flung across choppy waves. Sometimes, our boat overturns.
Whether it’s a rocky relationship, health issues, or an impending burnout at work, we often sense when our loved ones are going through a tough time and need help navigating into calmer waters.
Sometimes, we hesitate to reach out because we’re afraid that our advice might make things worse. Other times, we want to help but are not quite sure what to say or do. Below, we share a few simple ways you can offer assistance to someone in their time of need.
Hold the space for them
When a friend shares about a problem that you might have encountered in the past, it is tempting to jump straight in and offer your advice based on your experience. However, resist the urge to command the agenda. Simply let your friend unload their worry and anxiety. The ability to get things off one’s chest instead of holding it in and pretending that everything is alright can be liberating, especially if your loved one is a person others frequently depend on.
Being able to confide fully – without fear of judgement – in another person is a healing process in itself, so refrain from interjecting with phrases such as “I told you so.” or “You shouldn’t have done that.” Simply listen and be fully present.
Ask specific questions
A friend who is not feeling their best might let self-care slide. So when you’re checking in with them, be specific with your questions. Instead of asking “How are you?”, try drilling it down to “When did you last eat?” or “Did you manage to sleep well last night?”.
Their replies might also give you the chance to help them in concrete ways. You could offer to cook them a meal or send over a meditation audio clip that can help to take the edge off their sadness. If they are feeling exhausted, you can also offer to help with such chores as walking their dog. Making plans to do things together, such as a virtual yoga class, is one way to boost the endorphins while providing the comfort of companionship.
Curate the information you share
When someone is struggling, they are already dealing with negative emotions and can be particularly sensitive to bad news. Telling them that a mutual friend just lost their job or sending them a news article about a natural disaster will only add to their mental burden. Instead, keep the information flow positive. Focus on sharing music, movies, or articles that uplift, inject hope, or evoke laughter. What we consume mentally has the power to shift our emotions.
What we consume mentally has the power to shift our emotions.
Patience is key
Anyone who has battled depression or weathered a rough patch in life will recognise that the healing process is not a linear path. Your friend might seem fine for a few days before plunging back into a funk.
Care for your friend the same way you might a plant. Provide sunshine and check in on them daily, but resist the urge to place a timeline on their progress. Don’t get frustrated if you feel like your efforts don’t seem to move the needle. Don’t take it personally. Know that the recovery process is different for everyone. Some people need more time to heal. As a friend, simply show up, hold the space, practise compassion, and regard them with love and kindness. At the end of the day, remember that the rainbow comes after the storm.