Showing up for your friends going through a difficult time is easier than you think. Here are some ideas to help you show up for that friend that may be going through a difficult time. These are by no means a comprehensive list of actions, but a starting point to becoming more supportive through actions.
Check-in by reaching out to them
If you know someone you care for is going through it, please reach out. It may difficult for them to think clearly when they’re in an emotional state so contacting others might not be attainable for them. Everyone has different preferred communication styles so you’ll have to choose the method to reach out. Try to avoid asking “how are you?” They probably are experiencing a range of emotions so they might not know how to answer. So you can give insight to your feelings or ask something specific like, “how have you been sleeping?” or “what on your mind today?”
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I always feel special when loved ones can reach out to me and offer support without asking too many questions. When I lost my aunt a few years ago, I had friends reach out to me and kept my mind from getting too tangled. Although I was grieving, they helped me through the process by simply being there for me. Does anyone else feel weird about announcing terrible news on social media? And then having to navigate through all the responses. I hate that. By having a strong circle of friends, I didn’t have to worry about that.
Always follow up
I think this is probably the most important step in showing up for others. From the first time you reached out to a later date, your friend could be in a totally different headspace. Follow up by offering to do an activity together. Try to avoid saying the infamous, “I’m here if you need me.” I’ve always hated that saying because it’s so vague and few people actually mean it when they say it. Instead, be specific in how you’d be willing to support.
Say something like, “I enjoy talking to you so let’s continue to call each other to check-in.” Or “I’m free this afternoon to help you run errands or spend time with you outside of the house if you’re up for it.” Being more intentional about offering support creates trust and removes that barrier we get when we’re vulnerable and don’t know to ask for help.
Listen to them without judgment
Whether you are reaching out for the first time or following up, to make your interactions productive, you must listen. There’s a time and place for everything. If your friend is opening up and expressing themselves, try not to judge or give unsolicited advice. Although it may be difficult, holding your tongue could be very helpful. Focus on them and getting them to process their emotions. Trust that when they are ready to receive advice, they will ask.
We’ve been in situations where someone gave us advice when we only wanted to vent or support. I learned by prefacing conversations with the support you need, it can mitigate unwarranted responses. Also, if you find yourself in a supportive role, try asking yourself, “Is what I’m going to say be viewed as helpful?” If you’re unsure of your answer, you might want to come up with something else to say. It’s always better to come off as sensitive to someone’s feelings than abrasive. And it’s okay if you don’t know what to say. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say that might be helpful, but I’m here for you.”
Watch out for warning signs of depression
Everyone processes their emotions differently. So although you may want to give your loved one time and space to process things, checking to see how their coping is important because you don’t want them to go untreated if they begin to suffer from a mental illness such as depression. The major key indicators that someone is depressed is when they begin to withdraw from activities that they typically enjoy. You could try asking them when was the last time they did their favorite hobby or when they talked to another close friend or family member. Also, if they are allowing their emotional state to disrupt their daily life for an extended period of time, you may want to seek professional help to find out if you should intervene.
There have been a few times in my life where I felt I was depressed. I usually count these moments that last longer than a week or two. It’s difficult to ask for help when you’re unsure of what’s happening to you. At the time, I didn’t know what I was experiencing was depression. I didn’t match any of the stereotypical symptoms that I saw in the media. It wasn’t until I did my own research and educated myself further. I even spent some time in therapy when I felt I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my problems. I’d definitely recommend seeking professional help and educating yourself on mental health if you are experiencing recurring moments of doubts, emptiness or loneliness and it’s beginning to impact your daily life.
Don’t take their alone time personally
I think the worst possible thing you could attempting to support someone is trying to judge them for how they decide to spend their time. Sometimes, they need to be alone to process their feelings. Other times, they may need alone time because they don’t want to always burden others with their issues at social gatherings where they are expected to have a positive demeanor. It really depends on the person.
I often find myself needing a lot of alone time. To make sure that my loved ones are in the loop, I try to make sure I communicate how I’m doing, and if I have to turn down an invitation to socialize, I make sure I tell them why. I found that people respond well to “I need time to recharge this weekend,” a lot better than a simple “no, thanks.” Either way, respect that person’s decision and don’t take too personally their decision.
How have you shown up for your friends lately?