How to help a friend through a tough time
We all have rough times in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we always know what to do when someone we care about is struggling. Whether it’s short-term blues, mental health challenges or an impending burn-out, often we can sense when loved ones need a bit of extra help. But sometimes we’re so scared of getting it wrong that we don’t reach out at all.
While every situation is different, we’ve got four simple ways you can offer help to someone close to you when they need it most.
1. Be specific when you check in
When someone is struggling, self-care can slide without them even realizing. If you can see the signs – dark circles, unwashed hair, unintentional weight loss – you don’t have to draw attention to it. Just ask about basic self-care.
Try to keep the questions neutral and open-ended. For instance, “Have you eaten?” isn’t as effective as “When did you last eat?” The latter question prompts them to assess their current routines.
Their answers can also lead you to more concrete ways to offer support, like watching the baby while a new mom showers or tidying up so your friend can take a power nap.
2. Offer to make a meal
Stress, exhaustion, depression or anxiety can make cooking feel like a monumental effort. It’s easier to fall back onto junk food or takeaways, and that can lead to feeling even worse.
Offering to provide food is practical, straightforward and actionable. Don’t force it; just make it clear the offer is genuine. If they say yes, organize a time to come by to cook for them or drop off a meal. You could even prepare a large batch to see them through the week.
Our Spinach and Cheese Lasagne is a classic comfort food that travels and freezes well.
3. Let them set the agenda
Maybe you’re sure you have the solution, based on your own experiences. Ever caught yourself saying, “All you need is some yoga/sunlight/leafy greens and you’ll feel so much better”? While you probably have the best intentions, remember that everyone is different. Resist the urge to control the situation, and let yourself be guided by their preferences and needs instead. Ask them what they feel like doing. It could mean helping them shop for groceries, playing a board game or just quietly watching TV.
4. Practice patience, not pushiness
There’s no straightforward path out of a psychologically challenging time. It may be a gradual improvement or more like two steps forward, one step back. Some days they might seem fine, only to fall back into a funk suddenly.
Don’t place timelines on their recovery or progress, and don’t get frustrated if you can’t ‘solve’ it. Instead of treating their struggle as a problem to be rectified, just listen, be empathetic and be present.
And don’t take it personally if the other person withdraws or goes silent. Most likely, they’re just coping the best they can. It doesn’t mean they’re rejecting you.
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