7 ways to help a friend – what your friend wishes you knew
Seeing your friend or loved one going through a tough time can be really difficult, especially if you haven’t been through something similar. I wish my friends had known some of the specific ways they could be there for me. I’ve been through that, being the only one or the first one going through a particular challenge, and here’s what I wish you knew:
1) Be there for them
That’s such a common phrase but what does it mean? What you’re aiming for here is to be a stable positive force in your friend’s life. Check in regularly and consistently – for example, that might be a text to ask “how’s it going? Saw this and it reminded me of the time we [went to the city]” a few times a week. Or send a joke or a funny picture.
Why this works: If you do this consistently, you're showing you’re available for them. They might not take advantage of it, but knowing someone is there and cares at least a bit is really helpful.
2) When in doubt – ask what they need
It’s ok not to know what you’re supposed to do. Asking what they need shows that you care about what they are experiencing, rather than trying to force your own solution on it. A good principle to remember is that hanging out with you should be fun, reassuring and supportive – but everyone is different and don’t be afraid to ask them what they need.
Why this works: They feel cared for, and asking what they need makes it easier for them to ask for help.
3) Don’t expect them to text back
I realized after quite a while that when I’m going through a tough time, one of the first things that happens is that I stop being reliable with my friends. I avoid hanging out with them, and don’t reply when they message me. It takes a special person to keep trying to make contact, but I really appreciate it even if I don’t show it at the time. So even if your friend is taking longer to reply than usual, don’t get upset with them (and don’t call them out on it!).
Why this works: If it’s a bad time for them, they might be thinking they “don’t deserve friends” or something similar. If you still keep trying to make contact, it shows that you can handle it if they are like this sometimes, that you accept them regardless.
4) Do an activity together
It’s good to get them out of the house (if they’re up for it). Ideally the activity would be something not too intense, like going for a walk or going to the movies. I love going to Dollar Tree and browsing for a while, or to the mall – that could be something you could do together.
Why this works: It’s a little bit of distraction that can bring comfort for a short time. Going to the movies requires less effort for them than a sit-down meal at a restaurant.
5) Don’t avoid them if you don’t know what to say
They are already likely to be keeping to themselves. I know it’s tough when you don’t know what to say. But 99% of the time, saying something is better than saying nothing. If you say nothing, they’ll assume that you don’t care about them, or only like them when they are feeling good and happy. It reminds them that they are going through something when people are awkward, or show them too much pity, or avoid them.
Why this works: If you say something, it shows you care and you’re not scared off by what they’re going through right now.
6) Listen to them, without judging, without advice
This should really be the first tip. Try as much as you can, in every interaction, not to “fix” the problem. For me, “problem-solving” is the worst response – and probably the most common. Instead, if they are talking about negative stuff, ask brief gentle questions to understand more and show you want to listen. Don’t make assumptions – in particular, try not to compare this to your experience – instead ask questions to understand what they are going through. Pay attention. Take their lead. If they don’t want to talk about it with you, that’s also not required.
Why this works: The main thing this shows is unconditional acceptance – that you can accept them for who they are and they don’t need to be happy or ok. It also gives them an outlet to process what they are going through, which can help with the negative feelings.
7) Send them a session with Oasis
It may be helpful and easier for them to talk to someone who is not directly involved in the situation. If they don’t want to open up to you, it can be really tough for you to help them. But talking to a neutral person outside the situation, who doesn’t know them personally, means they talk openly and honestly about what they’re experiencing without being worried about being judged. They won’t feel like they’re being a burden, because the Listeners are Oasis are there for exactly that – to listen, for as long as needed. Plus the Listeners are trained and experienced in active listening, so you can be sure that your friend is getting the emotional support they need.
Why this works: Sending them a gift (such as a session with Oasis), shows you care. Talking with a trained Listener helps them make sense of what they are going through and get closer to acceptance. Finally, if you send them a gift card, they are much more likely to use the service and get the emotional support they need.
Just wanted to say thank you, to you, the reader. The fact that you wanted to find this article shows that you’re a really good person that cares a lot about your friend and is doing their best to help them. They are really lucky that you are such a caring and thoughtful person.