Human connections are essential. The health of our relationships with ourselves and those around us define our social wellbeing. Support can mean many things, from lending someone your car to merely listening to them when they reach out.
Everyone goes through stressful periods. These times, it’s the strength of a person’s support network that can have a significant impact on their mental health¹. Whether it’s financial trouble or personal problems, having a supportive group consisting of family and friends to fall back on is critical.
If you find yourself struggling to support a friend, coworker, or family member, remember these actionable steps for success.
Be sure to listen actively. Listening means giving someone your full attention. If you feel like you can’t dedicate all your attention to someone, suggest a time when you will put everything else aside and truly listen.
Ask questions to dive deeper into the topic. Be an active participant in the conversation. Ask your friend to better elaborate on their emotions and desires. Sometimes people can come to their solutions if they can talk through their thoughts with someone who’s genuinely engaged.
Don’t try to diminish someone else’s problems. Whether you think they’re overreacting or you’re just trying to be helpful by mentioning your problems, comparisons can be a bad idea. Understand that what your loved one is going through is upsetting to them, and they need your support, not a lecture.
Ask if there’s anything you can do to assist your friend in their time of need. You don’t have to help directly with their problems to be useful necessarily. For example, a friend going through a messy relationship breakup may benefit more from cooking them dinner than calling up their ex.
Sometimes, you can do little things to support someone you notice is struggling, like picking up their favorite snack from the store when you know they’re worrying. If you live with the person, you can pick up a few extra chores or any other little thing that might make their day easier.
Remember, if they don’t want help, don’t push them. Sometimes you can provide more support just by listening.
Sometimes, you may not be able to provide all the support that is needed. If a friend is unable to work through a stressful situation or become seriously worried about their mental health or safety, don’t be afraid to suggest seeking professional help. Offer to go with them or help them set up an appointment.
You can be supportive to others by being positive. Don’t bring up negative ideas or worries that will only worsen the situation.
Imagine a close friend expresses concerns over a new relationship they’ve started. Instead of adding to their worries, try to offer uplifting insights. Talk about the good that could come of their new relationship, not the bad. And if they want to talk about the negative, then be willing to listen.
Now is not the time to impart any judgment. Put aside any biases or unsolicited opinions and focus on your loved one’s emotions. As much as you may think you understand that person’s position, you will never honestly know what it’s like to be in their shoes. How they’re doing at that moment is unique to them, so don’t tell them how they feel, let them tell you.
If you do sign up to help a friend in need, make sure you commit 100-percent. If someone trusts you enough to reach out, they are putting their faith in you to keep your word. Promising to help someone only to abandon them can have devastating effects on someone already in a vulnerable position.
It’s not selfish to acknowledge that by supporting others, we also help ourselves. Research suggests thatcompassion breeds happiness, health, and longevity². Surely you’ve noticed the fuzzy, happy feeling that often accompanies acts of altruism.
Supporting others helps us work through our problems. Think of it as a dry run. Offering support to others lets you see their emotional expressions from an outside position, and better prepares you for regulating your own emotions later.
Further research suggests that being a shoulder for someone else to lean on can even help combat depression³. Supporting others is what’s called prosocial behavior. It encourages positive social interaction and bolsters social wellbeing.
So the next time you notice someone is struggling, don’t be afraid to offer your support. By providing a helping hand, you’ll be doing good not just for your friend but also for yourself.
More information about how to better support those we care about most can be found in our follow-up article, How to Support Someone During Tough Times.
(1) Ozbay, F; Johnson, DC; Dimoulas E; Morgan CA; Charney D; Southwick S (May 2007) Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice
(2) Pogosyan, M (May 2018) In Helping Others, You Help Yourself
(3)Doré, B; Morris, R; Burr, D; Picard, R; Ochsner, K (March 2017) Helping Others Regulate Emotion Predicts Increased Regulation of One’s Own Emotions and Decreased Symptoms of Depression