By: William Waters, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist
During this pandemic, many of us struggle to find ways to be supportive to those that are clearly having a difficult time coping. We ourselves might be that person struggling. We have all heard the phrase “We are all in this together,” but sometimes it does not feel that way. There is something about the social isolation that can bring a sense of being let behind. This blog is about how to “be in it together” with a friend who is struggling.
First, are the warning signs. I am not talking about a friend texting you, and telling you they are suicidal. If a friend does say they are suicidal, we should help them call the crisis line, and reach out to a counselor, family, or care-giver. If it is an immediate need, call 911!
What I am really talking about here are the friends that stop talking to you, or any one else, or the friends that begin to message a lot more than usual, and just seem stressed and agitated. Many teenagers feel at loss when this happens. “I do not know what to do!” or “I just want to help, but nothing I do seems to work.” These kinds of statements are very common. Many of us feel uncomfortable with things that are not working out smoothly. But, maybe what you are already doing is actually just fine and perfect. If you cannot fix your friends, how should you feel, and what can you do?
Here are some tips and tricks that might help them (and also you) feel more confident in what you are doing–even if your friend does not seem to be getting better:
- Listen. Active listening is when you do not interrupt, but also ask for clarifying questions to what they mean. Be gentle in your listening. Validate their experience.
- Being available. You might need to set some boundaries on how much time you give, but being available is a message in, and of itself. Let them know you can talk between set hours if it becomes overwhelming.
- Be prepared for repeat conversations. Many people that are stressed often have to repeat the conversation over, and over to process it. With good listening and questions you might help them see it differently and break the loop, but don’t be in a rush. People often have to do this on their own.
- Ask about feelings. Stresses that people talk about are often about feelings of some sort. For example, shame, sadness and loss, embarrassment, fear, and anger. Finding these links can sometimes break the repeat loop. It is probably one of the hardest things to do. People like to avoid their true feelings. Courage is needed.
- Kindness. It is good luck to be nice. It just works.
- Encourage them to do something different. Often times a good sleeping schedule of eight hours on a regular basis does wonders!! Seriously! Other things like going on walks are good too, but if they are already doing that, suggest they take a different path. Look around and see things differently. Eating healthy, cutting back on drugs and alcohol if that is involved, and reaching out and talking to others are also things that just seem to help. Just one small goal a day, and checking it off can be the push needed to kick-start feeling better.
- Things out of your control. It is important to recognize that a lot of things are out of your control. If their parents, or where they live has a lot of yelling, and fighting, you cannot fix that. If your friend is really depressed, you can help with the steps above. If you only focus on how you did not make a big enough difference, or any difference you can see, you might get feeling down yourself. This is not your fault. It can be a beautiful thing to care for others, but you need to care for you, too. Take time for you. Decompress with a friend or family.
- Bounce it off with your parents/caregivers/or the sage in your neighborhood. Your elders might give you really bad advice, but sometimes they have some good stuff. They have likely been through this type of thing before, even if it seems they have it all backwards. Share the situation and information when you can, listen to their response, and think how you it could be translated to your friends situation.
A great center piece to all these things is reminding yourself of who you are. Take some time to write down and explain to yourself what you value in life. Examples are being a good friend, showing compassion, having fun, spreading love, caring for yourself, thrills and spills, being healthy, etc. The list can be long, or really short. Feeling secure in your beliefs about yourself will help you help others find their way too.