The only constant in life is change; and from time to time, no matter the heights we reach, we will get knocked down by the curve balls life throws at us. It can come in a myriad of forms. Sometimes wrapped in a heartbreak, sometimes morphed into a loss of a loved one or even a mental health issue due to life circumstances; the process of healing and getting back on our feet may not be a smooth ride, and so we often come across so many resources that educate us on ‘how to move on’ and ‘how to deal with grief’, everything that focuses on what the individual having a hard time should do. However, our role in other people’s lives who are having a hard time is seldom discussed. If you know a friend or a family member having a difficult time but you are rendered helpless about where to even begin, here are a few things you can do.
What’s worse than having to deal with challenges in life is to deal with them feeling like you’re alone in this. This is when your loved ones might need the most support from you. Hard times like having to go through mental health issues such as anxiety or depression can make them question their worth and make them feel unloved, but gestures that portray care can uplift their spirits and make them feel like they’re appreciated and looked after.
These gestures of care need not be grand or expensive, they just have to encompass the message that they’re not alone and there’s always someone who cares about them. These gestures can be anything from buying them flowers to cooking them a meal or even leaving a chocolate treat on their desk. Call them up and check up on how they’re doing and if they need someone to talk to about something. Make plans with them or invite them to places because they might tend to isolate themselves further when they’re having a challenging time. But do ensure that you’re not pressuring them to do things they don’t want to do.
Listening is very much underrated. It is an incredibly powerful skill to possess especially when it’s active listening. Active listening is the ability to be fully engaged in what’s being said while using paraphrasing and reflection to understand someone better without judgement. It is no secret that most of us are not listening to understand but merely listening to reply. You can notice how even before someone else is done talking we already have questions or something to add on.
Most of the time, people going through struggles just want to be heard instead of having unsolicited advice thrown at them. Using active listening with your friends or loved ones can provide them with a safe space to express themselves and their emotions in regards to what they’re facing without the fear of criticism and judgement. It validates the speaker and their struggles and gives them a voice. When trust is built with active listening, it can pave the way to the discussion of taboo topics such as the stigma surrounding mental health and talking about the process of grieving after the loss of a loved one; all of which are important conversations to have.
Moreover, some challenging times might need a little more support than from their loved ones such as professional intervention. Due to the stigma that exists in our society surrounding therapy, many don’t reach out for the help they really need. It is also undeniably a scary process to convince ourselves to find help and confide in a therapist we just met and be vulnerable. When I wanted to reach out for help, it was incredibly daunting for me to do it all alone and I wish someone was there with me telling me that it was okay and that everything was going to be fine. Thus, in the light of your friend considering to reach out for help, you can offer help to look for resources available or even fix appointments on their behalf. Again, remember to not pressure them into finding help but instead encourage them by stating why it can aid them. It is important for them to be ready to reach out.
Being a caretaker of someone who is dealing with a hard time is not easy. As much as it’s important to help a friend, it is equally important to take care of your needs. Spending a lot of time taking care of them and doing things for them might even take an emotional toll on you, leaving you feeling mentally drained. Thus, it is important to know your limits and set aside time for yourself to recharge. Understand that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Only when you have the capacity to help, you can provide quality help to your loved ones.
Difficult times are unavoidable but they can be bearable with your loved ones by your side. By showing them, you care, practising active listening, assisting them to find help when they need it and not forgetting to take care yourself in the process can be where you can begin to play your part to help your loved ones. But remember, as much as you want to help someone, you can only help someone who wants to help themselves. Some might want to face their battles alone so it’s important for us to understand and respect their decisions to do so.