It’s a hard fact of life that at some point in life we will be relied upon to support a loved one or friend through a difficult time or period.
I’m sure most of us have been at the end of a rant on a phone call or had a social catch up where we have sat through the toils and troubles of our counterpart.
Having someone to just ‘be there’ to support is vitally important.
Research is clear the social support plays a key role in healthy mental health, one study suggests that among 2,320 men who had survived a heart attack, those with strong connections with other people had only a quarter the risk of death within the following three years as those who lacked social connectedness.
According to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “Social connections like these not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have social support from family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”
Being a pillar of support is therefore important to our basic needs as a human being, but what are the key actions we should deploy to ensure we are providing our best support?
Top Tips to Being an Excellent Support Person
Be A Good Listener
Just being about to listen without judgement is your number one tool. You’d be surprised at how much good a listening ear could do for someone going through a difficult time.
One of several ways to be a good listener is to first know your barriers. This means knowing when expressing sympathy or offering unsolicited advice is appropriate and not talking about your personal experiences as it can sometimes make it feel like you’re making about you instead of them.
You should also try to avoid trying to spin their situation into a positive one too soon. You may need to just be compassionate and understand how they’re feeling at that moment. You should also try giving them time and avoid explaining things away, especially if they’re upset.
Provide Practical Solutions When You Can
As we discussed, it isn’t always wise to offer uninformed advice to someone going through a difficult time. However, if you do feel you have the ability to, you should help them look for solutions to whatever challenges they’re facing.
This could mean suggesting they get counseling if they’re battling anxiety or depression or providing other outlets that might help their mental health. Whatever the case, try and work together with them to help find practical solutions to whatever it is that they’re going through.
Give Them Your Time and Physical Support
Time is the best gift that can often go a long way to show you care. Perhaps you can help them get the shopping done, look after the children or simple run some basic errands or housework.
Every person’s needs are different during hard times, but by finding out what your loved one needs, you should be better able to help them through.
Your friend may need to tell the story many times or may still be emotional weeks after you would have begun to move on. Respect that everyone’s process is unique. However, if, after giving it plenty of time, you think your friend is stuck in the trauma, you might gently ask, “How do you see yourself getting through this?” or refer them to further help.
Avoid Reckless Behaviour
A couple of glasses of wine with a girlfriend is standard but don’t support binges, drinking too much or other reckless behavior. Some people may want a few drinks, or more, when going through a difficult time. You will need to provide a strong voice of wisdom by suggesting moderation.
Being a great support person can be hugely rewarding and challenging at the same time. However, it is important to also know when being challenged can be too much.
If you start to feel the following it could be time to make a change:
Impatient as nothing is changing, and the situation remains
General stress, anger and resentment at the situation
Sadness as you missed the way things used to be
Resentment and anger as you feel that your friend's issue is taking up all of your time or attention
Taking care of yourself while helping a friend means recognising that your own needs are also important.
Supporting someone might require a lot of your time and energy and it can be easy to neglect your own self-care. Self-care can be anything that helps to rebuild or sustain your emotional, physical, mental or social balance.
If you or your loved one need further help, I am always here to support – you can get in touch by clicking here.