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Do you have friends struggling? Learn how to support them

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

Being supportive is not easy. Sometimes it's hard to know what to say or do. When you see a friend devastated, you might feel paralysed by the thought that your response could be awkward, or even make things worse.

The good thing is that there are effective support strategies with which you can help those struggling.

Here the strategies:

1. Don't downplay your friend's issue.

One sentence you often might have said or heard is "It'll be fine, you don't need to worry".

This downplaying it is perceived as a denial or ignoring of the feelings of the other person.

Instead practice empathy and compassion. Try to understand them, value their opinion and abilities and make them feel cared for.

A better response would be: "I understand that you feel (upset, worried,...)... This must have been hard for you to..." "You are a... (caring, motivated,...) person".

2. Listen actively.

Empathising too fast and trying to give some advice is most probably not what your friend is expecting from you.

Best is to give the person a safe space and time. It's about them, right? So please don't assume anything. Ask questions, be attentive to the non-verbal language and acknowledge. It can be just a "mhhh" or "I hear you". You can support them to elaborate more with "what happened after?" or "how did you feel after that?"

3. Support first emotionally then rationally.

Both type of supports are important, but wanting to reframe the situation offering a different (more positive) perspective won't work if you haven't connected with the person emotionally first.

For the reframing allow your friend to explore him-/herself and be careful that the new perspective you're helping to create is not negating his/her feelings, as said in 1).

4. Maintain your status.

Just talking about the problems and sympathising to the extent, that you both end in a spiral of negativity doesn't help anybody.

Reconnect with yourself, your source of mental fitness and help the other to calm down, relax. You can also search for a distraction to interrupt the feeling of getting stuck and retake it whenever you both have a better state of mind.

5. Don't take charge.

Good intentions giving your advice or opinion might make feel your friend helpless. Directive support let others feel they might not be able to handle the situation on their own.

Be more subtle and facilitate the other person's choices and help them to organise their thoughts and come to the solutions. This will reinforce their self-esteem and confidence.

Providing support to your friends is good for both them and you. Receiving social support improves people mental health. And this creates a strong "weapon" against the stress and anxiety of though times.

Let be the "war for kindness" be the only war.

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