How to really be there for your friend when she needs you the most

There will always be ups and downs in life, and when someone you care about is going through the tougher moments, it can be confusing to know how you can help – some people prefer privacy, others heal with extra attention. If it’s someone you’ve known for a long time, you’ll have a general idea of what will comfort him or her, but if it’s a new roommate who you’re just starting to know, these tips may help.

Let them know you’re there.

Whether it’s a family crisis, trouble at work, or just a rotten day, it’s comforting when friend reminds you that they’re there for you. It could be a simple “checking in” text, a hug, or a light knock on the door – even if they don’t respond, they’ll appreciate the concern. I’ve gotten into the habit of leaving little notes or mailing cards, just because I want them to know I’m thinking about them. It’s really just showing that you’re there, you care, and you’ll be ready for when they reach back.

Make sure they know you’re listening.

There are times when I’ll call a friend, or they’ll call me, just to vent about something annoying/awful happens. It’s kind of important to keep asking questions so that they know you’re engaged in their story and ready to take the time to listing to the whole thing. Tell me about it. Fill me in. Start from the beginning. These phrases can help release all of the worries that have been stuck inside someone all day, or even all week. The conversations aren’t always two-sided, you might find yourself doing a lot of uh-huh-ing or nodding, but you’ll be able to see/hear how much it helps after an hour (or two or three).

Give them the superstar treatment.

When someone is sick or feeling down in my house, my family doles out “Super Star Treatment” — it’s our way of trying to help someone feel better. At school, a housemate came down with a nasty bug that was refusing to quit, so I yelled (yelling may not always be the best sentiment to a stuffed up, head-achey person) that she would be receiving SUPER STAR TREATMENT. My enthusiasm scared her at first, trying to convince me between coughs that she was fine, but all it really meant was refilling her water, replacing empty tissue boxes, and nudging more medicine towards her. Super Star Treatment can be used in all different kinds of situations — helping a friend who is stressed out about a test (ask the study questions, flip flash cards, run out to Starbucks) or getting over a break-up (buy their favorite snack, turn the couch into a cloud of comfort, let them pick the movies or songs to cry to). The point is to make them feel a little less sick/stressed/sad/etc until they actually are.

Use hilarious/delicious distractions.

Sometimes you feel weird for no reason at all, just one of those days when the sky looks darker and the crowds feel elbow-ier and WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT WAS THE LAST BAGEL? Yeah. We’ve all been there. When it’s happening to someone you care about, try to think of all the things that could make them feel better. It’s SNL: The Best of Will Ferrell for one friend and a trip to the diner for another, and Jimmy Fallon’s “Ew” sketches for me. For your friend, it might be a favorite song, movie, ice cream, joke, dance move, store, or, if all else fails, a hug so tight that it feels like their ribs might crack (in the most loving way).

When there’s really a long-term problem, look for outside help.

Sometimes, though, there will be situations when your help will not be enough – this might be because you’re far apart, you don’t fully understand what they’re going through (which is OK), or you just feel in your gut that it requires more attention. Maybe you’ve noticed they aren’t eating enough, or sleeping more than usual, or have lost interest in what normally makes them happy; try talking to them about it first, but if it seems to be continuing to the point where their health is at risk, share your concern to an RA, counselor, or family member. They may get angry and say that it’s no one’s business how they’re feeling, but when it comes down to it, it’s better to react than to wait. Friends help friends feel better.

Shannon Slocum is a writer from Connecticut. She enjoys sitting on the floor, binge-watching 30 Rock, and singing “Moon River” to her less-than-impressed dog, Jeter. Her enthusiasm for books, television, and film is shared on her blog.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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