How to Help a Friend in Crisis

Two Female Friends Praying With One Another
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Times of crisis and stress strike unexpectedly and hit hard. Because of the physical and emotional effects of stress, it’s important for us to have some stress management strategies in place when a crisis does hit. Because the effects of stress can be contagious, relieving stress shouldn’t be a burden for anyone to carry alone. Having a friend during a stressful life event can make a huge difference.

Helping Your Friend De-Stress During a Crisis

But knowing how to help a friend, however, can be tricky. Here are some strategies for offering support to family members and friends in need:

Bring Food

There’s a reason why bringing food is the classic "good neighbor gesture:" It’s appropriate for a wide range of relationships, from very close to a mere acquaintance, and it really does help people feel better when they’re going through a crisis. Bring your own meal and drop it off, or help coordinate the food-bringing efforts of your group (so the whole neighborhood doesn’t all show up with food on the same night), and you’re doing a real service.

Lend a Hand

When people experience crisis, they’re often overwhelmed. Just getting from one day to the next can be challenging and draining. Offering to lend whatever type of hand they might need can be a wonderful way of supporting your friend. Whether it’s taking out the trash for a neighbor, grocery shopping for a friend, or taking your mom’s dog to the vet, helping with the daily tasks that may prove to be too much for someone in crisis is an excellent way to help.

Get Them Out

When faced with an illness or crisis, or when you’re a caregiver, it’s possible to become so consumed with the crisis that it’s difficult to get out and do things that would relieve stress, like exercising or seeing a movie. As a supportive friend, sometimes it helps just to take a loved one out and help then get away for a few hours. Taking someone to dinner, for a walk in the park, or to see an uplifting film can be a fun way to lend support.

Provide an Ear

Sometimes you can’t find a solution or fix people’s problems. Sometimes all you can do is listen. Fortunately, that’s enough to make a big difference most of the time. (In fact, sometimes a good, supportive listener is far more comforting than the best advice-giver!)

Lending a supportive ear or a shoulder to cry on can be more difficult than it sounds (which is part of why therapists are in demand), but it can be transformative to the friend who needs a good listener.

Point Them to Resources

If you’re close enough with someone, and you see that they may need more support than you can provide, you may want to point them in the direction of other resources in addition to offering what help you can. Helping them find a therapist or support group, or other resources available in the community, can be beneficial for people who are too overwhelmed to look on their own, or need an outside perspective to recognize when they need additional help.

Even small gestures can help a friend or neighbor manage a very difficult time. Being there can help them de-stress and help their health. 

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.