3 Ways to Be a Helpful Friend During Hard Times

It’s tough to know what to say to a friend going through hard times. Even with the best intentions, the right words don’t always come to the surface. Whether it’s a divorce, grief, a health issue, or something completely different, it’s natural to want to support your friend in any way you can. While sometimes it can feel like you get it wrong, read on for three simple ways you can be a helpful friend during difficult times.

Why Is It Important to Have a Support System During Tough Times?

A support system is a network of people you can rely on for emotional or practical support. It could be friends, family, a support group, or colleagues from work. Having one or two people you can turn to when needed can provide that extra support.

Research shows that having a support system can increase your overall mental well-being. Having someone to lean on can help you cope with daily challenges, decision making, and times of crisis.

How to Comfort Someone Going Through a Tough Time ︱ Sharon Stokes

Having a circle of friends or support system can also combat social isolation and loneliness. Both of these can put you at a higher risk of physical and mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

3 Tips for Being a Helpful and Caring Friend During Hard Times

Strong relationships and connections enhance our lives. Having a real friend around to cry and laugh with or talk to can turn a bad day around. However, sometimes supporting a friend through hard times can feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially when you don’t know what to say. But by leading with compassion, the rest will follow. Try these three tips to help your friend through hard times and offer support.

1. Ask the Right Questions

When the conversation starts, it’s normal to begin with “how are you doing?” While this is a good place to start, also ask whether they are solution-orientated or if they simply want an ear to listen.

Sometimes a friend just wants to unwind and talk about their problems. They don’t want you to come up with a solution. They want to talk about how they feel and have someone who will listen to what they say.

woman holding her friends hand and comforting her through a tough time
Sometimes a friend wants to have someone who will listen to what they say (Source: Shutterstock)

In other situations, a person may want to hear actionable solutions to help solve their problem. For this, you can suggest ways to help them take action or ideas on how they could improve their situation. Problems occur when you give a solution to someone who wants you to listen and vice versa.

By asking a simple question about what they want, you can offer the right type of support that will help.

2. Offer Help But Be Specific

Instead of saying “let me know how I can help,” be specific. Here are some ways you could offer help:

  • Can I drop off tacos tonight?
  • Can I pick up your kids from softball later today?
  • Do you want me to do your dishes?
  • Can I do your laundry for you?
  • I’m at the grocery store, do you need me to pick anything up?

Sometimes when a person is low or going through times of crisis, the little things can slip. Offering to do chores around the house or run errands is a great way to show support in a more practical sense. If you can take something off their hands, that’s ideal.

If you’re unsure how to help, ask them what they would prefer. If your friend doesn’t know how you could help, don’t force anything. Just being there is enough during hard times.

2. Be a Good Listener

When someone is telling you their problems, it’s tempting to jump in and tell a similar story that shows how you can relate. However, before you jump into the conversation, take a deep breath. Although you might feel like you’re connecting with your story, sometimes it can stop your friend from being in the space they need to be. Instead, be there with them and listen.

Try to resist the urge to say “I understand” or share a similar experience. This time is about them and giving them the space to say what they need at that moment. Avoid derailing the conversation and shifting the focus to you.

Two friends sitting on the couch listening to each other talk
Being a good listener is crucial to strengthening relationships (Image Source: Shutterstock)

To make friends as an adult, being a good listener is crucial to strengthening relationships. Friendships give us a lot throughout life, not just in times of need.

When to Get Help: Signs That Your Friend May Be Struggling

In some cases, you may know how your friend feels; in others, it may be a completely new situation for you. There’s no single perfect thing to say. By leading with compassion, showing that you care, and offering support, you can be a helpful friend. Even if your friend isn’t ready to voice how they feel, you can still show up for them and be a place of comfort.

Continue to check in on your friend to make sure they are getting the support they need, or are able to vent if that’s what they require in the moment. If your friend is dealing with something serious and struggling to cope, they may need more help.

Signs that someone is struggling include:

  • Isolating themselves
  • Changes in behavior
  • Increasing use of alcohol
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Changes in mood
  • Withdrawing from normal activities

It’s not always easy to spot a friend in need, especially when someone is struggling to cope emotionally. If you notice a change in your friend that concerns you, try to open up a dialogue and see if you can help.

How to Show Emotional Support

Being supportive isn’t always easy, but it is a skill you can learn. Don’t be scared to check in on your friend, and don’t worry that you will say something wrong. Instead, try using the three tips we discussed so that you can be in the best position possible to offer support.

There are so many benefits to having a support system. Being a good friend is important, especially during those extra tough times. Life is full of surprises, some good and some bad. There’s no one right way to respond to a difficult situation. But you can find a way to be there for your friend and help them along the way.