One thing that has been clear recently is that a lot of my friends have been very stressed and/or have been facing lots of challenges. These challenges have mostly stemmed from extremely busy and hectic schedules but there have also been other things as well that have caused challenges. I have tried my best to support my friends and upon reflection, there were a few things that came out of my experiences. This is what I wanted to discuss in this blog post, and I hope some of what I talk about will help you when it comes to supporting your friends in the future.
Please note that what I say is based on my own experiences, but you may have had different experiences.
Providing a safe space is important
Regardless of whether you are supporting a friend via text message, video calls, face to face or a combination of the three, you have to make sure you provide a safe space for them. I have had friends open up to me about things that are causing them a lot of stress, and in these situations a safe space included me being a good listener and not being judgemental. I found that one of the benefits of providing a safe space is that friends are likely to be more honest with you when they are facing struggles. Even if they don’t go in depth about challenges that are personal to them or causing them a lot of stress, if you always give them a safe space then they are likely to feel comfortable in saying things like “I have honestly had a tough few weeks” or “I still feel wobbly in terms of stress”. This is a lot better than them keeping these feelings bottled up. In my opinion, providing them a safe space to talk should be the first thing you think about when it comes to supporting a friend, as failing to give a safe space is likely to make your friend feel worse about the challenges that they are facing.
Every situation is different, so you shouldn’t try and support each friend in the exact same way
There are things that you definitely should be doing when it comes to supporting friends which will apply to every friend such as being a good listener, being empathetic and not being judgemental. However, I found very quickly that I couldn’t apply a one size fits all approach across all my friends when it came to supporting them. This is because the challenges being faced differed from friend to friend, and different challenges required different types of support. For example, one friend has been being through a lot of personal and family problems, and in this case I had to realise that I probably couldn’t do anything to make the situation better other than be a reliable friend and a good listener. On the other hand, another friend is currently struggling from burnout due to being extremely busy with important yet stressful things over the last few months. In this case, I can play a slightly more active role in helping make the situation better in terms of overcoming burnout over the next few months, especially as we can meet regularly in person. I feel that it is important to have that appreciation that every challenge is unique and different and therefore the support you give should reflect this.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if your friend wants some space
For me, the hardest thing when it came to supporting my friends is judging whether they wanted me to check in on them regularly or whether they just wanted space. The reason why I found it hard is that it often isn’t clear cut. As every friend is different, you could have a case where two friends are going through extremely similar challenges at the same time, yet one friend would prefer regular check ins and the other would prefer some space. Giving someone space is essentially a judgement call that you have to make, and I am fairly sure I didn’t get this judgement call right all the time. Reflecting on my experiences, one thing I would recommend is to ask your friends whether they need space. Not only would they be more likely to be honest with you, they would also appreciate the thought.
The worst thing you can do is pressure your friend in any way
For the majority of my friends, challenges have stemmed from extremely busy schedules. Extremely busy schedules are tough to deal with, because it often consists of lots of pressure. I therefore knew that one of the worst things I could do to friends that have very busy schedules is to add to that pressure in any way. Ways you can put your friends under pressure which you should avoid is pressuring them to reply quickly to messages, open up about their worries or expecting them to help you whenever you need it. The best way to think about this is to imagine if the roles were reversed and you were the one that was busy and under pressure. You wouldn’t want any other unnecessary pressure, and therefore you shouldn’t give your friends any unnecessary pressure. I knew that I had to make a conscious effort to not only avoid giving any pressure to my friends, but to also come across in such a way that made it clear that I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on them.