We all get stressed out. Work, bills, relationships, deadlines, health — it can all get to be too much. Sometimes, all the hot baths and ice cream cartons in the world wouldn’t help, and you really need to lean on your support system. But what about when your support system leans on you? Do you know what to do if you notice that one of the people you love most has seemed especially distance and stressed lately, or if they come to you for help?
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It can be tough to know exactly what will help a friend, and how to be that strong person for someone else to lean on, especially when you don’t always feel strong yourself. So to help, here are 12 ways you can be there for your friend who’s having a hard time.
1. Motivate them.
Assume the role of their personal hype-woman. Text them every morning saying, “you got this!” or “you’re going to crush that board meeting!” and send genuine compliments when they’re struggling with self-confidence. If you want to do more, give them a motivational book, or a Congratulations! card when they nail that presentation at work they’ve been worrying about.
2. Make plans for a yoga or meditation class.
Especially if your friend doesn’t want to talk and just needs to relax, invite them to come with you to a restorative yoga or meditation class, or go through your own flow at home for some immediate relaxation and peace. Grab your mat and find your own relaxation while your friend finds hers in Savasana.
3. Send a care package.
The oldest way to let someone know you’re thinking of them is still one of the best. Gather all their favorite snack foods, a book or two, some self-care indulgences like a face mask or body scrub, and send it their way.
4. Get them onto natural, homeopathic stress relievers.
Since stressful times are when we often resort to an extra glass of wine or sleeping pill to take the edge off, offer a healthier alternative that might actually help fix the problem, rather than masking it (like alcohol or sleeping aids do). Make some stress-relieving adaptogen lattes together or give her Calm (aka nature’s Xanax — no, really).
5. Make them laugh.
You’ve heard “laughter is the best medicine,” haven’t you? Cliché it may be, but it’s certainly accurate. Even scientifically, laughter releases endorphins into the brain, reducing stress and increasing happiness. Tell them a funny story, watch Bridesmaids for your next movie night, queue up your favorite funny Netflix show, or send them funny pictures from LOL moments you’ve shared together. They’ll be laughing so hard they might even totally forget what they were stressed about in the first place.
6. Take them on a breakfast date.
After-work drinks might be your social schedule’s go-to, but when your friend’s going through a hard time or is extra stressed, a breakfast hangout could make all the difference in their day. For one, it starts the day off right, and gets them into a happier mindset than going through their usual morning routine would. Also, spending time together in the morning won’t hinder their goals to get to bed early or feel organized with their next day like something in the evenings might. Grab coffee before work or a delicious and healthy brunch on the weekend.
7. Go outside.
Nature acts as a huge stress-reliever. It might be all the fresh air, or that taking a break from staring at screens feels refreshing, but either way, being outside is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress and anxiety. Suggest a hike, walk around the block, or even a bike ride instead of your usual drinks or coffee date.
8. Help out at their home.
Chores like grocery shopping, cooking, or laundry can feel totally overwhelming when you’re going through a stressful time. Surprise them by bringing over dinner one night, send them some groceries through Instacart, or offer to come over and help out with any laundry or quick cleaning that makes a big difference to take one less thing off their plate.
9. Schedule a self-care day
Plan a spa day for them by going to the nail salon for manis and pedis, booking a couple’s massage (it’s cheaper than two separate massages, and it’s not weird if you’re friends, right!?), spending 30 minutes in your local gym’s sauna, or DIY-ing face masks in bath robes at home. Making them feel pampered with self-care will help them relax, and having a fun time with you will get their mind off of her stress.
10. Be a good influence.
Think about what your friend actually needs, and then act accordingly. Don’t ask them to go out if they need to get more sleep and drink less, or don’t encourage them to skip work again if you know that confronting their boss will help alleviate their stress. If they’re doing something you know is bad for them, let them know. It might be easy to always be the agreeable friend who supports everything. But even more than support, they need someone to help bring out the best of them, instead of let them keep tapping into the worst.
11. Consult a professional.
If it feels like a bigger problem than your support can solve or a bad time that your friend just cannot do alone, research psychologists or life coaches in your area and offer to go together. If you’re worried your friend would take it the wrong way, say “I’ve been wanting to go to this great life coach I found to help with my stress at work. Will you come with me?” It’s a non-judgmental way to get your friend to seek outside help that they might not have otherwise.
There’s no better way to show support than to listen and ask questions. It might seem like offering your experience or telling your friend how to fix a problem is what they need. But oftentimes, talking about what you think about a situation they’re going through can come off as judgmental, condescending, or just plain unhelpful, even if you don’t mean to be. Instead, ask them to tell you how they’re doing, and actually listen. Ask follow-up questions instead of giving opinions, or, if you’re unsure what to say, asking what can I do to support you? is a great way to let your friend know you want to be there, and will let you know exactly what they need.