Being There for Your Friend
1Listen to your friend. Listening is one of the most important things you can do for someone who is hurting. Active listening shows that you care about your friend and she is being heard. Often, intently listening is more valuable than any other gesture.
- When you’re really listening make sure that there are no other distractions. This means don’t check your phone, don’t try to talk to other people.
- Try to make eye contact with her while she’s talking. You don’t need to stare, but eye contact shows that you’re paying attention and that you’re engaged. It’s also a good way to avoid being distracted.
- Let her know you can be the person she can call any time of day or night. Sometimes friends will lean on you, other times you will lean on them. Being a friend means being available, even when it’s inconvenient.
2Ask open-ended questions. Instead of jumping in with your feelings, perceptions and experiences, ask questions about your friend’s experience. When your friend talks about her break-up, for example, ask her about what she’s feeling and what she needs from you.
- Instead of asking, “Are you sad?”, consider asking “What emotions are you feeling?” and “Is there anything I can do to help you?”.
3Spend time with your friend. When people are sad, it’s easy to want to crawl into a cave and want to be alone. But humans function better when social needs are met. Too much isolation can cause mental and physical breakdown. Think about enjoyable experiences that you can have together. Being there physically for your friend and engaging in fun activities will help bring cheer to your friend.
- Offer to come over and hang out, watch a movie, or get food together. Any way that you can spend quality time together is beneficial.
4Give physical comfort. Touching is a language all its own and it can be used to convey the idea that you are there for your friend, that your friend is safe with you. It’s good to check in with your friend before you offer physical comfort, because she may not appreciate touch.
- A hug can be truly important and healing. If your friend is upset, especially if she’s feeling highly emotional, a hug or even a touch on her arm can send the signal that you are here for her and that she is safe.
- If your friend is uncomfortable with touch, bring your dog over or encourage your friend to cuddle with her cat. Animals can be very comforting and many people feel safe petting a dog or cat.
5Learn to empathize, not sympathize. Sympathy is about feeling sorry for someone, rather than feeling pain with your friend. You want to feel what your friend is feeling and let her know that you’re engaging in their pain with her.
- For example: say your friend Mary recently lost her husband. Sympathy would be saying “Poor Mary. I feel so sorry for you for losing your husband.” Empathy, on the other hand, would be saying “Oh Mary, I feel your pain about losing your husband and how much you loved him.”
6Make life easier for her. When a friend is experiencing something that hurts her deeply, it can be difficult to do even the most basic activities. Let her know that you’re here to help by taking on some of those tasks and making life easier for her.
- You can offer to cook meals, or help clean the house. Housework, especially, has a tendency to fall by the wayside when someone is upset.
- You can offer to go shopping, or drive her to a doctor’s appointment.
- Think about ways to help that will be most helpful to your friend and bring her some cheer.
- Always ask your friend how you can help instead of assuming that something will make her feel better. Don’t make assumptions when you are there to help.
7Send her gifts. Who doesn’t cheer up even a little when given a gift? This can help your friend remember that people still care. You can’t always be physically present for you friend, but you can make sure that she doesn’t feel like she’s suffering alone.
- Bake her favorite cookies and mail them to your friend with a note telling them how much you care for her.
- Pick up something that reminds you of her and send it with a card.
- Send her little things to make her laugh: a funny card, a funny story about something you saw, pictures of the two of you doing silly things from a long time ago. Keep it light and think about what will make your friend smile.
Distracting Your Friend
1Go for a walk. Sometimes a change of scenery can help distract your friend from whatever it is that is upsetting her. Take a walk around your area and keep your eye out for cool or unusual, or funny sights.
- Be present. Instead of talking about whatever the problem is, look at the color of the sky, or discuss what that weird smell might be. Watch the animals and engage with the environment.
2Have a movie night. Movies and tv shows can be a great way to help your friend keep her mind off her troubles, at least for a little while.
- Avoid upsetting films. For example: if her father has recently died of cancer, avoid movies where a parent dies, or where someone has cancer. Likewise, if your friend has recently been dumped, movies about relationships tend to be the wrong way to go. Keep it light and enjoyable.
3Be Silly together. Silliness is a great way to distract from pain and encourage smiles and laughter. After all, “laughter is the best medicine” as the age-old saying goes. Laughter also has health benefits and improves some bodily functions.
- Take a stroll back in time to childhood. Make snow angels or a blanket fort, only talk to each other in outrageous voices, or replace walking with skipping or jumping.
- Do some silly art, such as drawing silly self-portraits or writing silly poems.
4Do something new together. Doing something new and unusual is a great distraction and can increase happiness. It means that you’re having to think about the new thing instead of focusing on whatever it is she’s upset about.
- Try a new workout class at the gym, make crafts together, plant a garden, or paint.
- Don’t spring a new thing on your friend without checking with her first. This could overwhelm and upset her, which is the opposite of what you want.
5Help someone else together. Helping other people lowers stress, heightens compassion, and heightens capacity for resilience. Someone who is going through a difficult time has need of all of these things.
- Volunteer for something. Volunteering is a great way to foster community, do good in someone else’s life, and participate in something important. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, or volunteer to walk dogs at the animal shelter. Be a reading buddy for children or offer time at a nursing home.
- Help cheer up a different friend. Sometimes working together to help someone else in their problems can help cheer someone up, because it helps take the focus away from one’s own life difficulties.
- Do something nice for someone else. You can cook for a different friend or create a card from both of you.
6Take a trip. Sometimes a great way to distract your friend from unhappiness is to take a trip. Travel introduces new sights and new places and keeps your friend from wallowing in whatever unhappiness she’s dealing with.
- You can opt for a long vacation: touring Europe, or hiking the John Muir trail, or road tripping through Canada.
- You can also choose something smaller: a weekend getaway at a nearby beach, a couple days backpacking in the mountains, or road tripping to the next city to see a band you both love.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
1Allow your friend to be sad. Avoid saying things like “cheer up.” This is one of the worst things you can say to someone who is upset, especially if she’s struggling with depression or anxiety. When you say this you’re telling your friend not to be sad. Telling someone to “cheer up” is putting focus on you more than your friend. You’re saying that your feelings of discomfort about her unhappiness is more important than her unhappiness. And that is something a friend should never do. It’s important to experience emotions, even when they are unpleasant.
- Don’t tell someone how to feel; everyone is entitled to feeling and expressing emotions.
Resist avoiding your friend. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say when confronted with a friend who is in pain. Don’t avoid your friend because you feel awkward about talking about her problem. Instead, focus on what you can say that is supportive. Often you don’t need to say anything other than “I’m so sorry. I’m here for you if you need anything.”
3Keep the focus on your friend. Don’t make her pain all about you. This is a mistake that a lot of people make! You think that you’re relating to your friend and her problems, but instead you’re turning it into a you-fest.
- You can relate to your friend, but make sure that it doesn’t turn into you telling lots of stories how you went through something similar and that you’re just fine now.
- For example, don’t say: “I know what it feels like to be broken up with. Remember when Jordan dumped me in front of everyone? I was feeling so awful about it all the time, but I also got over it. I’ve been doing really well about the break-up lately.”
- Instead, consider saying something like this: “I know that it really hurts right now. I can promise that you’ll feel better later, but right now you’re going to feel really unhappy. I’m here for you in whatever you need.”
4Avoid offering solutions unless they ask for them. Often people don’t want you to offer them solutions, especially when they’re venting about a situation. What many people want is to feel like they’ve been heard and that someone knows what they’ve going through.
- For example don’t say: “I know your cat just died. Maybe you should hit up the shelter and get a new one. There’s so many cats that need a good home.” This feels invalidating about the emotions your friend has about her dead cat.
- Instead you might say: “I was so sorry to hear about your cat. I know you loved her so much. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
Knowing Your Limits
1Take care of yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your friend’s emotions and problems you may need to take a break. It can be draining to be the constant emotional support for someone else. Make sure that you aren’t their only means of support. There is a difference between being supportive and being a caretaker to a friend. Know the difference, and be prepared to set limits.
- If your friend is always calling and wanting you to do things for them, be prepared to say no. It’s ok to acknowledge your other responsibilities. Say: “I know you are hurting and would like a friend. I care about you and want to help you. I need you to respect my time, too and tonight is not a good time for me. Let’s find time this weekend”.
- Don’t let your life slip. Keep engaging with other friends, going to the gym, and doing other regular activities. Don’t let your friend take over all of your time.
2Know when to encourage your friend to seek professional help. Sometimes people can’t deal with emotion and events on their own. In that case, as a friend, you may need to recommend that she get professional help. There is nothing wrong with needing a little extra help, especially with things like marriage break-ups, the deaths of loved ones, and illness.
- Watch for signs of depression: difficulty with concentrating or remembering details, difficulties with making decisions, decreased energy, insomnia or excessive sleeping, sad anxious or empty thoughts, physical pains and issues that do not go away with treatment, thoughts or discussion of suicide, feelings or worthlessness or helplessness.
- When you’re discussing the idea of seeking professional help, don’t tell your friend that she is sick and needs to go into therapy. Say something like: “I know that you’re really hurting and I think it might be a good idea to talk to someone who can really help you. Remember that I’m here for you.”
3Call outside help if your friend is in danger. If your friend is in a violent or abusive situation, or if she is threatening to commit suicide, the best thing you can do as a friend is to call emergency services. This is a situation that you are not equipped to handle, and it is best left to experts. Being a friend means prioritizing safety. Make sure your friend is safe and that her life is not in danger.
- If you suspect abuse, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or live chat online with http://www.loveisrespect.org/.
- If you believe your friend is suicidal, you can call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK).
A new student joined our class in the middle of the first term. He is shy, quiet and serious. I heard about his personal tragedy through my friends. What steps should I take to cheer him up?
You can always start small. An occasional “hi” in the hallway is awesome, then try to talk to him. Maybe sit with him at study hall or lunch. Try to avoid talking about his tragedy first-hand though, you don’t wanna seem to overbearing. Ease into it little by little. If he says he doesn’t wanna talk, don’t force him to.
Ask a Question
If this question (or a similar one) is answered twice in this section, please click here to let us know.
- You can’t always cheer someone up. Sometimes you simply have to allow your friend to be sad or upset. Simply make sure that they know you’re there for them in whatever capacity they need you to be.
Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 99,434 times.